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Nursing school receives $2.6 million for community-based mental health, substance use disorder treatment program
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The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing a five-year, $2.6 million grant for a program to increase the number of advanced practice nurses and licensed clinical social workers treating mental illness and substance use disorders, including opioid use disorder, in nine Georgia counties.

The Advanced Practice Provider Integrated Substance Use Disorder Training Program will provide training opportunities for nurses and social workers in primary care clinics and community-based organizations in Bacon, Bibb, Clarke, Coffee, Floyd, Seminole, Thomas, Tift and Ware counties. The training will integrate primary care, mental health and substance/opioid use disorder prevention and treatment.

Why treat mental illness/substance use in community settings?

Community care settings are uniquely positioned to address the needs of patients with substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions — often serving as the first point of contact, says program director Shaquita Starks, PhD, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FNP-BC.

Shaquita Starks

Shaquita Starks, PhD, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FNP-BC

“Patients struggling with mental health or substance use are more likely to initially seek help from a primary care provider or community organization because of stigma,” says Starks, who also serves as an assistant professor at the Emory School of Nursing. “Sometimes, they may seek treatment or support for something else without mentioning mental health or substance use. Clinicians aware of the common conditions associated with substance use and mental illness can address them, reducing the patient’s risk of disease and death.”

The need for the program

The need for increased substance use disorder and mental health services is apparent throughout the nation and in Georgia. According to the nonprofit Mental Health America, the state ranks 47th out of 51 states (including the District of Columbia) for mental health workforce availability. The state ranks 48th in access to mental health care. The counties in the program have opioid-dispensing rates that exceed 112.5 prescriptions per 100 residents and disproportionally higher percentages of residents who are uninsured and experiencing poverty and social inequality, according to a 2021 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About the program

The program will train 40 advanced practice nurses and 10 licensed clinical social workers over five years and employ a sustainability plan to continue its work. The online curriculum will cover neurobiology, social determinants of mental health, adverse life experiences, relapse prevention, DEI, harm reduction, care for vulnerable populations and trauma-informed care.

The program will also develop partnerships with community-based primary care clinics and organizations that treat substance use disorder and mental illness. Partners include the Addiction Alliance of Georgia, Grady Medication-Assisted Opioid Treatment Clinic, Georgia Poison Center, and Injury Prevention Research Center at Emory.

The program will also partner with three Rome, Georgia-based organizations — Southeast Detox, New Horizons Treatment Center, and Living Proof Recovery — and various school-based health centers.

In addition to Starks, Emory School of Nursing faculty and staff working on the grant include Autherine Abiri, DNP, FNP-C, ENP-C; Gaea Daniel, PhD, RN; Laura Kimble, PhD, RN, FNP-C, FAHA, FAAN; Lisa Muirhead, DNP, APRN-BC, ANP, FAANP, FAAN; and members of the school’s simulation team and Emory Nursing Experience professional development program.

Lisa Marie Reyes-Walsh, PhD(c), DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, CARN-AP, of the Kennesaw State University Wellstar College of Health and Human Services will serve as the project’s partnership liaison and sustainability coordinator. Other participants include Joe Carpenter, MD, of Emory’s Department of Emergency Medicine and the Georgia Poison Center; Jordan Murphy, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC, of the Center for Interrelational Science and Pediatrics; and Orion Mowbray, PhD, LMSW, of the University of Georgia School of Social Work.

The grant will also receive guidance from an advisory board comprised of peer specialists and professionals and community members in the field of addiction and mental health.

The contents of HRSA-supported grants are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, the Department of Health and Human Services, or the U.S. government. For more information, please visit

About the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing  

As one of the nation's top nursing schools, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University is committed to educating visionary nurse leaders and scholars. Home to the No. 1 master's, No. 3 BSN and No. 6 DNP programs nationwide, the school has been recognized as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League of Nursing. The school offers undergraduate, master’s, doctoral and non-degree programs, bringing together cutting-edge resources, distinguished faculty, top clinical experiences, and access to leading health care partners to shape the future of nursing and impact the world's health and well-being. Learn more at

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