Funding Unites UA College of Nursing and MHC Healthcare to Battle Opioid Crisis
UA Nursing Professor Rene Love's passion for bringing health care to rural and medically underserved communities is bolstered by an $821,171 grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration.

By Jason Gelt, UA College of Nursing
Oct. 22, 2018

University of Arizona College of Nursing Clinical Associate Professor Rene Love is passionate about bringing health care to rural and medically underserved communities.

Her latest funding, an $821,171 grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration for her Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training program, takes that passion to the next level by partnering UA researchers and students with MHC Healthcare in Marana, Arizona.

The College of Nursing and MHC Healthcare will pool their resources to increase the number of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, or PMHNP, Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates prepared to meet the needs of opioid use disorder, a problematic pattern of opioid use that causes significant impairment or distress.

The Pima County overdose rate in 2016 was 21.9 per 100,000 population, signaling an urgent need to address the problem. Overdose rates have increased 18 percent from 2010 to 2016, with fatal overdoses making up 13 percent of total cases handled by the medical examiner. The partnership with MHC Healthcare will enhance the battle against Arizona's opioid crisis in several ways.

"We're not only going to train our students, but we've got some funding to help train more of MHC's staff in medication-assisted treatment," Love said. "MHC will get some funding to hire a nurse practitioner to help provide services for patients,  oversee students and partner with us to help develop educational components for the students and faculty."

UA students have been placed at MHC Healthcare for several years, though sporadically. Thanks to the new funding, a total of eight UA nursing students – four per year for two years – will receive their critical training in substance abuse and opioid addiction at MHC Healthcare.

In a joint statement, MHC Healthcare executives Jon Reardon, chief of clinical behavioral health, and Avni Patel Shridharani, chief strategy officer, said: "The partnership with the University of Arizona College of Nursing is a very special opportunity to simultaneously achieve multiple shared aims through collaboration. First, we will be able to offer more medication-assisted treatment services for people in our community who are battling opioid use disorder. These grants targeted opioid use disorder high-needs communities, including Pima County. What makes the project unique is that MHC Healthcare will be able to offer medication-assisted treatment services within our whole-person model of compassionate, high-quality care that includes medical, behavioral health, lab, pharmacy, physical therapy and dental services. We believe that this 'one-stop-shop' approach will ensure that patients have the best chance of a meaningful recovery.

"Second, the program will enable MHC to serve as a training site for UA DNP psychiatric mental nurse practitioner students.  The PMHNP students will serve patients alongside teaching faculty at MHC in an integrated team-based model that will prepare them for today's health-care delivery model upon graduation. Lastly, MHC hopes to meet its own future clinical staffing needs by being able to recruit graduates of the program to become primary care providers at MHC Healthcare."

Love's project has three goals:

  • To improve access to care in rural and medically underserved communities in Arizona through new and enhanced partnerships that integrate primary and behavioral health care to educate psychiatric mental nurse practitioner students in opioid and substance abuse treatment during their clinical training;
  • To improve behavioral health treatment techniques through education and clinical training with new partnerships; and,
  • To increase the number of psychiatric mental nurse practitioner graduates trained in opioid and substance abuse treatment by providing behavioral health workforce education and training to students who will practice in rural, border and medically unserved communities.

Love said the impact of the training will have swift and far-reaching effects.

"Until now, our students have lacked access to directed clinical experiences with opioid addiction," she said. "Once these students graduate, they will be ready to provide services wherever they practice. This also impacts patient care for the community because MHC will be able to train more of its staff from the grant funding we've secured. Our students receive training, and more patients will have access to these services in the Tucson area."

A version of this story originally appeared on the UA Health Sciences website:




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Jason Gelt