PAEA Provides Update to SAMHSA Leadership on SUD Response, COVID-19 Impact

Earlier this month, PAEA President Howard Straker, EdD, MPH, PA-C, and CEO Mary Jo Bondy, DHEd, MHS, PA-C, traveled to the Rockville headquarters of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), along with PAEA’s Government Relations team, to meet with Assistant Secretary Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, PhD.

The purpose of the meeting — the Association’s third since 2017 — was to provide the assistant secretary with an update on the progress of PAEA’s SAMHSA-funded initiatives to respond to the substance use disorder epidemic in the United States and to share recently published data related to the impact of COVID-19 on PA education.

Since 2018, PAEA has received funding either as a direct grantee or through a subaward to administer three distinct projects. The first of these, the MAT Waiver Training Initiative, began two years ago and is focused on integrating the training necessary to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorder in office-based settings into the curriculum of PA programs. As a result of federal investments through SAMHSA, the percentage of PA programs requiring or offering MAT waiver training has increased from approximately 3 percent in 2018 to more than 70 percent in 2020.

In addition to this project, PAEA has also received additional SAMHSA funding to directly facilitate waiver trainings through the Provider’s Clinical Support System – MAT program and to coordinate the development of a standardized substance use disorder curriculum through the Expansion of Practitioner Education (PRAC-ED) program.

Beyond sharing interim and final outcomes from each of these projects, Straker and Bondy also shared pertinent findings from PAEA’s Rapid Response Report 2 related to the impact of COVID-19 on PA education. Particular findings of note were:

  • More than 55 percent of PA programs report that it is now either harder or much harder to secure clinical rotations in mental and behavioral health for students as a result of COVID-19.
  • A majority of programs — more than 85 precent — indicate that existing clinical sites are now taking fewer students than before the pandemic.
  • More than 75 percent of programs have either delayed the transition of students to the clinical phase, delayed the date of program completion for students, delayed graduation, or delayed matriculation of their next cohort.
  • Just over half of programs — 55 percent — report that students are newly participating in telemedicine appointments as a result of COVID-19.

Following the presentation of this data, McCance-Katz reaffirmed her commitment to publicizing the importance of SAMHSA grantees increasing their clinical training of PA students, particularly through settings such as Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.

“We were grateful for the opportunity to share the progress PAEA has made as a result of funding provided by SAMHSA and discuss the important role SAMHSA has to play to restore the capacity of the clinical education system,” said Bondy. “At this challenging time for our programs, federal leadership is critical to ensure our programs can continue to meet the demand for our graduates’ services.”