ACC to help with opioid fight

$500K grant funds equipment for distance learning, telemedicine

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Dawn Stone, dean of workforce development at Alpena Community College, talks with Sarah Burt, director of library technology, who is communicating through the college’s video conferencing system equipment on Monday.

ALPENA — A three-year grant will help Alpena Community College implement a new project to address opioid misuse disorders.

The college received a $500,000 grant last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a telemedicine project to address the opioid epidemic. The project will increase rural access to education, training, and health care resources while serving more than 5,000 people, officials said.

Video conferencing units will be installed at Thunder Bay Community Health Service, Alcona Health Center, four satellite centers operated by Catholic Human Services, and 16 regional K-12 schools.

Dawn Stone, dean of workforce development at ACC, said Monday the grant allows the college to acquire the equipment necessary to deliver both distance learning and telemedicine.

The college will teach its regular courses, but hopes kids participating in those will not be elsewhere and possibly tempted to use opioids. The health centers often use teleconferencing equipment to connect patients to health care professionals who are working remotely.

The college has been doing distance learning the past few years and Stone said it’s been successful. She said it’s a positive bridge between the K-12 schools and the college so students don’t have to travel to the college.

Some areas in Northeast Michigan have been hit hard with the opioid epidemic. Stone said the college has been working to figure out how distance learning can help the opioid epidemic by reaching out to partners and talking about what those partners need.

“We identified the fact that distance learning and telemedicine use the same equipment,” Stone said. “We figured out where the need is, where we can deliver distance learning, where we partner with folks who can deliver telemedicine associated with opioid prevention, education, and treatment. We figured out this is the model in which to do that.”

College President Don MacMaster said everything will help the partners reach more people for the opioid epidemic.

In addition to the health centers, the schools “in some cases are … doing health-care related work,” MacMaster said. “They’re seeing that video conferencing capacity is a way for them to, especially in prevention, of getting the word out to young people before they have this problem or issue to deal with.”

Alcona, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties are three of the top 220 counties in the country for opioid use, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Serving the K-12 schools will bring more interaction to the classroom. Stone said smart cameras in the classrooms will automatically focus on the student who is talking. The teacher won’t have to do anything. The TVs are large, Stone said, so students in a different classroom can feel like they’re in the same room as the other students.

“As the teacher walks, the cameras follow them,” Stone said of the equipment. “They can share their screen, they can share their PowerPoints, and you can see the human and the PowerPoint all at the same time.”

MacMaster said the grant will allow for dual enrollment coursework, which means the college won’t have to hire another instructor for each school. Having multiple sites for single class will allow small enrollment classes to run, he said.

“We’re just excited to be able to help out,” MacMaster said. “For us, procuring the equipment serves a dual purpose when it helps with an issue that’s inflicting our region and the people who live there.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.