Project STEP (Substance Use, Treatment, Education, Prevention), an organization dedicated to expanding public health response to opioid misuse in rural Texas, recently began a study in Madison and Burleson Counties to address substance use issues impacting the communities with a special emphasis on opioids.
“Specifically looking at opioid use, it does not discriminate,” said Erin Marietta, Director of Market Operations, Rural Hospitals at CHI St. Joseph Health. “This is a way for the community to rally together and determine if we have challenges and if so, what can we do to solve those? As members of the community, we all want to create a better environment, but you cannot address it until you know if there is a problem and how deep it runs.”
The project is funded through the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy within the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Marietta stated that it is unfair to say that Madison or Burleson have a problem with opioids and that every entity has their own point of view. Project STEP is meant to involve the entire community to determine everyone’s perspectives on the matter and decide where to go from there.
The grant money from HRSA was part of a broader effort by the federal government to address opioid and substance use disorder in rural communities. Project STEP was one of 99 organizations in the country that received the grant money and one of just two in Texas.
“This grant is really a planning grant,” said Marietta. “It is a year-long project where we are gathering data to develop a plan to, first of all, see what we are dealing with out here. When we have the data we will develop a plan.”
The next step was to form Community Advisory Councils, or CAC, in order to best work within each community. The local council is made up of a number of community figures and organizations. The CAC includes the city office, local non-profit organizations, religious institutions, members of the police and sheriff departments and education officials.
The Madison County CAC was formed in October and meets monthly.
“This is where a lot of the work has been done,” said Marietta. “What kind of questions needed to be asked? How do we get the survey out there and get people to participate. They have been a really great resource.”
The surveys, which were sent out to the community last week and can be found on the Project STEP Facebook page, were created by Dell Medical School in Austin. The completed surveys will remain anonymous and will only be handled by the Dell officials. No city officials involved in the project will see the surveys.
Project STEP officials are eager to hear from everyone in the community. After locals have had a chance to complete their survey, there will also be focus groups held as well as a public forum once the data has been compiled.
The surveys are set to accommodate the individual and their unique situation. After basic demographic information, questions will vary depending on how you answer each.
After the results are shared with the public, HRSA will offer additional funding to help institute plans for the future.
“I feel like it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to support the hospital and do everything we can for the community,” said Marietta. “Having a rural hospital is a luxury these days. There is a way for us to use federal funding to determine if there is a problem and if so, what can we do about it.”
For more information or to fill out a survey, visit the Project STEP Facebook page.