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St. John’s Receives Nearly $1 Million Grant to Tackle Public Health Crisis

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Supported by a $944,138 federal grant, a professor in St. John’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has launched a public health initiative to train nearly 1,200 students in the College to identify and educate patients at risk for substance use disorders.

Awarded to St. John’s in September 2015, the grant is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“The reason I feel so passionate about this initiative,” said Olga Hilas ’03Pharm.D., Associate Professor Industry Professional and the project’s director, “is that it empowers our students to go out into our communities and make a difference for patients with risky or harmful behaviors who may otherwise go unrecognized and untreated. It is in direct alignment with our Vincentian mission and values.”

St. John’s used the grant to create the SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) Health Professions Student Training Project initiated in January 2016. The effort incorporates SAMHSA-sponsored online training into the course work of the Doctor of Pharmacy, Physician Assistant, and Master of Public Health programs. It will reach approximately 350‒400 students over each of the next three academic years.

According to Hilas, about 20 percent of the nation’s population has been identified as engaging in risky or harmful substance use. However, she added, “most people will respond to interventions that can be as brief as a five-to-15 minute conversation.”

The College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences received the grant with support from the Division of Student Affairs and Student Health and Wellness. The two on-campus organizations are working closely with the College to implement the training. Kathryn T. Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs, serves as the project’s Codirector; Luis G. Manzo, Ph.D., Executive Director of Student Health and Wellness, is the Assistant Director. 

Hilas was honored on April 12 at the 27th Annual Grants Reception, part of the University’s Research Month. The event, which celebrates faculty whose work brings in financial support from external sources, drew an audience of nearly 100 students, faculty, and staff.  

“I couldn’t be more humbled to be part of this important student-centered public health initiative and for this recognition,” Hilas told the audience. “It is with great enthusiasm that I lead this work along with Dr. Hutchinson and Dr. Manzo, who are among the best collaborators and colleagues to work with,” she said. “I am so thankful for this opportunity.”