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Congressman Neal Touts $1.89 Million Grant to HCC for Community Health Program

HOLYOKE — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal recently visited Holyoke Community College (HCC) to announce the awarding of a four-year, $1.89 million federal grant aimed at helping families impacted by opioid use.

The funds — $399,676 in the first year — will enhance HCC’s existing Community Health Worker training program with the goal of increasing the number of CHWs qualified to work on integrated opioid-use disorder teams in area health centers in medically underserved communities.

The grant comes from the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We all know someone who suffers from this epidemic,” Neal said during a press event outside the HCC Campus Center. “This disease touches all people from all walks of life. We must continue to work together to combat this critical public-health and safety issue, and I am grateful for the good work HCC continues to do in this realm.”

HRSA’s Opioid-impacted Family Support Program supports training programs that enhance and expand paraprofessionals’ knowledge, skills, and expertise. It aims to increase the number of peer-support specialists and other behavioral-health-related paraprofessionals who work on interprofessional teams to provide services to children whose parents are impacted by opioid-use disorders and other substance-use disorders, as well as their family members in guardianship roles.

HCC’s partners in the grant project include Behavioral Health Network, Holyoke Health Center, and the MassHire Hampden Country Workforce Board.

“Funding to launch this new program could not come at a more critical time for our community and economy,” HCC President Christina Royal said. “COVID-19 has made clear how essential community health workers are in addressing the wide range of physical, behavioral, and mental-health issues faced by members of our community. Through this program and with our partners, we will not only have the ability to support more families struggling with substance use, but we will also be creating more jobs in a sector central to our region’s economic growth.”

Community health is an emerging healthcare field and community health workers are typically employed by agencies to focus on underserved populations, conducting home visits and connecting clients with needed services. They do not provide medical care.

Five years ago, HCC became one of the first colleges in Massachusetts to offer a community health worker certificate program, part of the college’s Foundations of Health program.

The funding from the latest grant will provide training for an additional 100 individuals (25 students and incumbent workers each academic year for four years) as CHWs in Western Mass. Each participant will receive $3,000 to help defray the cost of tuition, fees, and supplies, and a $5,000 stipend while in Level 1 training.

The grant will also allow for the creation of a registered apprenticeship program with HCC’s partners that will be the first of its kind in Western Mass. Students who enter an apprenticeship after they finish training are eligible for an annual stipend of $7,500.

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