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Innovative Saint Louis University-Psychology Community Healthcare Partnership to Target Opioid Crisis

by Jeanette Grider on 10/23/2019
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Saint Louis University (SLU) clinical psychologists Terri Weaver, Ph.D., and Jeremiah Weinstock, Ph.D., have received an $820,000 grant that will provide specialized training for the next generation of psychologists while assisting those suffering from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

The program, Scaling UP, is a federally funded, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) training grant with the aim of preparing and increasing workforce capacity for improved access to opioid use disorder prevention and treatment services. 

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SLU clinical psychologists (from left) Jeremiah Weinstock, Ph.D., and Terri Weaver, Ph.D. Photo by Jeanette Grider

SLU is partnering with Chestnut Health Systems and Family Care Health Centers for the three-year project (2019-2022) which will enhance OUD specialty training, increasing treatment access for underserved patients and supporting prevention services.  

“The opioid crisis is a significant public health emergency with thousands of individuals dying from overdose and other negative drug-related outcomes every year,” says Weaver, a professor in the clinical program in SLU’s Department of Psychology.

“Not only do rates of overdoses continue to rise in Missouri but the crisis has also resulted in a spike in co-occurring health problems such as hepatitis and HIV infections—all carrying an annual price tag of more than $75 billion dollars,” Weaver added.

Weaver says Scaling UP will provide clinical psychology graduate students with training in scientifically-supported treatment approach available for individuals struggling with opioid use disorders and increase capacity for delivering these services to those in need by placing these students within our community partner agencies.

“These treatments result in more favorable outcomes, including decreased substance use, increased employment and improved quality of life.  However, multiple barriers exist for underserved individuals to access these treatments, including limited patient access to psychologists for individuals living in rural or remote areas; high demand for treatment in densely affected areas, limiting capacity for treatment; and a shortage of psychologists who have received specialized training in treating opioid use disorders,” Weaver said.

Training opportunities for clinical psychology doctoral trainees, psychology faculty and community health partners will be expanded by providing Scaling UP-hosted, expert training seminars on topics that are relevant to combatting the crisis. These seminars will include training in specialty therapy techniques such as Motivational Interviewing and Seeking Safety (a trauma-focused intervention).

Orville Mercer, vice president for strategy and innovations at Chestnut Health Systems, shared his thoughts on the collaboration.

“We recognize the importance of integrated care to truly serve every individual who comes to us for help,” said Mercer. “We place a high value on partnerships and collaboration. We are honored to partner with SLU to improve training for those in the treatment field so that they can have a positive impact on people affected by this public health crisis,” he said.

Licensed psychologist Jennifer Gafford, a behavioral health consultant at Family Care Health Centers, says the partnerships have brought together interactions to truly make a difference.

“Our mission is to treat the entire family and community,” Gafford said. “We see firsthand the devastating implications of the opioid epidemic with children who have lost a parent or parents who have lost a son or daughter. Our aim is to increase the community’s access to Medication Assisted Treat (MAT) through community outreach and the integration of primary care, behavioral health and peer counselors – partnering with patients to support them in their journey back to a meaningful and purposeful life.”

“Also part of Family Care’s mission is to train a primary care workforce to care for the medically unserved and our partnership with SLU allows us to do just that,” Gafford added. “A part of the integrated primary team, graduate students are able to support patients in their goals towards a better life.”

Four SLU graduate students -- Jasmine Desdune, Hannah Fitterman-Harris, Katherine Kelton and Lindsey Poe   -- are currently participating in the program.

“The Scaling UP grant provides valuable training in a setting that offers a range of services for individuals who may otherwise be unable to receive life-changing treatment,” said Fitterman-Harris. “From detoxification to weekly group services, this grant allows students to contribute to the work conducted in a well-established, substance use disorder treatment facility. The Scaling Up grant also provides students an opportunity to work alongside other healthcare professionals from different training backgrounds. This multidisciplinary approach to treatment will offer students additional perspectives to help inform the best possible comprehensive care to clients.”

Lindsey Poe says having the opportunity to work at Chestnut Health System has provided her with a variety of valuable clinical experiences as well as the opportunity to serve patients.

“Chestnut uses many evidence-based practices, including motivational interviewing, collaborative care, seeking safety, and community reinforcement approach,” Poe said.  “Considering the rising use of technology in practice, having the opportunity to use tele-health equipment to provide assessment and treatment services to rural, medically underserved patients receiving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for OUD is invaluable experience.”

“My colleagues and I have also been trained in the Illinois Medicaid Comprehensive Assessment of Needs and Strengths (IM+CANS) and will complete additional trainings, including Computer Based Training for Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT4CBT). We are grateful to have this opportunity to join the interdisciplinary team at Chestnut and to provide these clinical services to medically underserved patients in the immediate area,” Poe added.

Two special events are planned for October and November.

Kickoff Program: Oct. 31

Narcan Training Session: Nov. 7

Click here for additional information on the Scaling Up program and upcoming events.


About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

About Chestnut Health Systems

Chestnut Health Systems is a non-profit organization that has cared since 1973 for persons needing behavioral health services. Chestnut provides substance use disorder treatment, mental health counseling, primary health care, credit counseling and housing and supportive services. It is a leader in substance use-related research. Chestnut provides services in Granite City, Belleville and Maryville, Illinois. 

About Family Care Health Centers

As one of the leading community health care providers in St. Louis, Family Care Health Centers is dedicated to providing comprehensive primary health care services to the residents of St. Louis. With two state-of-the-art facilities in the metropolitan area, Family Care also works to improve the overall health of the communities it serves by reducing barriers to health care. Family Care also provides care at a third site located within Places for People.