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Blue Cross gives local colleges $1 million to combat opioid epidemic

DURHAM — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has invested $1 million to help fund associate degree programs in emergency medical science at five community colleges across the state.

The investment will address health care needs across the state, including the opioid epidemic, by supporting student academic success, faculty recruitment, retention and professional development, as well as state-of the-art equipment and technology, such as simulation mannequins that give students real-time feedback.

Like much of the country, North Carolina has seen dramatic increases in addiction and overdose rates in recent years. Deaths resulting from heroin overdoses in the state increased 884 percent since 2010. Dramatic increases in overdoses emphasizes the importance of adequately trained and sufficiently resourced emergency medical personnel.

“We want to ensure access to quality emergency medical care for all North Carolinians, and that starts with training the next generation of first responders,” said Patrick Conway, president and CEO of Blue Cross of North Carolina. “This investment will provide students with required resources and technology necessary for academic success.”

The investment aims to target combating the opioid epidemic in the state’s most distressed areas, based on statewide data. These areas have some of the highest unintentional opioid deaths in the state.

The five colleges awarded the funding are Brunswick, Lenoir, Rockingham, South Piedmont and Wilkes.

The investment will:

• Support advanced coursework for EMS faculty, with a focus on targeting best practices for patient treatment, clinician safety, and understanding of the opioid crisis — both in safety for health care providers and safety for patients.

• Replace outdated training equipment and technology, including low- and high-fidelity mannequins, to expand opportunities for clinical practice.

• Expand funding for subject matter expert tutors, simulation lab faculty, student scholarships and emergency funds.

Studies show that health professionals that train in rural and underserved settings are more likely to choose to practice and remain in such settings. Additionally, community colleges provide affordable educational opportunities for people living in these geographic areas, allowing students to remain close to home while pursuing a degree, and offer rewarding career opportunities for graduates once they complete their education.

The North Carolina Community College system provides education and training for the majority of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and EMS personnel in the state each  year. Over the past eight years, the system has had 45,412 emergency medical technicians, 6,749 advanced EMTs, and 16,346 paramedics enrolled in EMS programs.

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