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VCU Health launches Community Collaborative partnership for comprehensive EMS training with support of $3.2M federal grant

The First Responders Addiction and Recovery Training Consortium grant initiative aims to bring together agencies at the front line of community response to injury and violence to provide specialized training and recruit EMS from underrepresented populations.

EMS loading a patient out of an ambulance VCU Health is actively recruiting EMS agencies across urban and rural localities to participate in the Community Collaborative partnership. (Getty Images)

By Danielle Pierce

A VCU Health partnership supported by a $3.2 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) aims to address unique challenges to patient response and care facing emergency medical services (EMS) providers in Virginia, especially those in communities with limited access to specialized medical services and transportation.

The Community Collaborative is a joint effort between VCU Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program (IVPP) and the Center for Trauma and Critical Care Education (CTCCE). These VCU Health programs will join forces with EMS agencies across the commonwealth as well as local sexual and domestic violence agencies to create a comprehensive training consortium with a specialized focus on mental health, substance abuse/misuse, opioid overdoses, intimate partner violence and health care challenges.

“In responding to sexual/domestic/intimate partner violence injuries, EMS providers are often at the front line of medicine,” said Carol Olson, strategy and development administrator of IVPP. “So it is imperative that our sexual and domestic violence agency partners are also a part of this conversation and training with the first responders, so responders are better equipped to identify and respond to victims of interpersonal and intimate partner violence.”

A key aspect of the initiative is to support first responders in administering medication and/or devices for the emergency reversal of known or suspected opioid overdoses. The opioid epidemic is also an ongoing concern for medical professionals and EMS providers, as the cases of overdose deaths continue to rise. According to the Virginia Department of Health, an average of seven Virginians died of a drug overdose every day in 2021 — up 29% from 2020. To address these statistics, the partnership will provide training and equipment resources for participating community volunteer-led EMS providers.

Additionally, the collaborative will work to remove barriers that hinder educational and employment opportunities for those who are underrepresented and in underserved areas by providing initial and advanced level training in an EMT and paramedic course in the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic industry.

“It is critical that the EMS workforce represent the communities we serve,” said Marquita Whisonant, assistant director of CTCCE. “This work of this initiative provides an opportunity for those who have never had the same levels of adequate access to education and employment due to proximity, income, or status, while also improving the quality and equality of care for our communities.”

The grant will also provide an avenue to increase diversity and training for individuals to gain job placement in the health care field.

“Increasing diversity in the EMS workforce and providing healthcare job opportunities for underserved populations has been a goal of CTCCE for some time,” said James Gould, director of CTCCE. “As a graduate of the first paramedic program here more than 40 years ago, the profession has been slow to expand diversity. This grant, as well as the excellent team we have assembled, will significantly impact the EMS profession for both rural and urban areas of Virginia for years to come.”

Awarded in October 2023, the Community Collaborative will begin programming this month. VCU Health is actively recruiting EMS agencies across urban and rural localities, in collaboration with partnering sexual and domestic violence agencies, to participate in this transformative training initiative.

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