A new federal program will reimburse up to $ 75,000 in student loans for health clinicians treating addiction in underserved areas.
“The goal is to ensure that sites that provide evidence-based care have the manpower to provide care,” said Israil Ali, director of the Division of National Health Service Corps, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services agency that oversees the program.
Employees at 89 Massachusetts drug treatment facilities may potentially be eligible. Some of these sites include the Spectrum Health Systems treatment centers in Worcester and North Adams, the opioid treatment center at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, and programs run by Baystate and the Springfield Public Health Department.
The Substance Use Disorder Loan forgiveness program is an extension of another program run by the federal agency, which provides loan repayments to physicians working in underserved areas. The addiction program offers $ 75,000 in loan repayment in exchange for a commitment to work at a designated site in an underserved area for three years. There is a similar program for part-time workers. It is open not only to doctors, but also to nurses, pharmacists and addiction counselors.
The program was launched on December 27 to tackle the growing epidemic of opioid addiction in the country. It is funded with $ 75 million for the first year, and program officials hope to repay loans from 1,100 clinicians.
Gabriel Wishik, a doctor who works for Boston Health Care for the Homeless, started working there through a loan repayment program from the same federal agency. Wishik said being able to offer a loan repayment helps attract qualified applicants and increase the number of clinicians working in the field.
Today, people with substance use disorders often struggle to find treatment, and the state has struggled to open new treatment beds. The program will do nothing to address the persistent problem of low reimbursement rates, including from public insurance programs, for drug treatment, which makes it difficult for these units to be profitable.
But Wishik said “there is a shortage at all levels of the treatment continuum,” including the workforce.
“There are a lot of competing career paths. It’s one way to get people into this career, ”he said.
Correction: The number of clinicians whose loans will be repaid has been updated, based on corrected information provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.