SPC Healing Lives in San Antonio

October 1, 2018

Public Information Officer


From battling steroids to opioids, AIDS to STD, St. Philip's College lends record assistance to the at-risk in San Antonio following the five-year federal grant 

Active in healing on the front lines of the war on drugs in the nation’s seventh-most populous metropolitan area, St. Philip’s College observes on Sept. 30 the final season of success following a $900,000 administrative capacity building project grant to prevent young adult substance abuse. Themed St. Philip's College and Community Empowerment Project, the increased engagement of the college and its partners in partnering in the use of data to achieve improved substance abuse prevention strategies achieved improved student outcomes on an unprecedented scale, according to Thermajean Jones, the sole project coordinator and the second grant principal investigator for the life of the project.

In 2013, the federal government announced that St. Philip's College and two ethnic minority community-based organizations were the co-recipients of a multi-year $900,000 integrated substance abuse, HIV and hepatitis C virus prevention grant to support infrastructure development and conduct a needs assessment and a comprehensive strategic plan of the campus and surrounding community that included: evidence-based prevention strategiesHIV testingdata collection,performance measurement and linkages to community behavioral health providers of treatment for substance abuse disorders and HIV care services. The population served by the grant included all students and residents in the immediate service areas of the nation's only Historically Black College and University and Hispanic Serving Institution in partnership with the San Antonio Fighting Back and Beat AIDS organizations.

Similar federal grant-funded college-community operations known as Minority Serving Institutions Partnerships with Community-Based Organizations from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have been brought to scale nationwide with operations underway at almost 30 institutions of higher learning in 2013, according to online administration records. The now five-year-old program at St. Philip’s College supported efforts to improve substance abuse and mental health services in local communities such as East and Southeast sides of San Antonio where the college's campuses are located. Apparently the effort at St. Philip’s College was warranted, as Bexar County that is the heart of the college’s global service area ranks third for most STD cases in Texas, according to one recent news report.

“Let me say that the college has a strong commitment in student success," said Jones. "When one evaluates student success, the community is a stakeholder in health care education, prevention and higher education to sustain both viability and a healthy future,” Jones said.

“The results of the grant benefitted the health of San Antonians," said Jones. "Our college has a 120-year-old history of documented and consistent success with building the health knowledge of a concentration of minority adult populations between the ages of 18 and 24,” Jones said. “Data have shown that young people from ethnic minority populations represent the majority of new substance abuse-HIV-hepatitis C virus co-infected populations in America. This federal funding supplement to our operational budget for critical college functions allowed us to aspire to do more than provide additional innovative substance abuse prevention resources for the success of all of our students,” said Jones. “It was extremely significant funding for the purposes of strengthening our institution’s capacity to serve both our student body and transforming the lives of residents in our community. We prepared to serve as an education partner in decreasing the differences in access, service use, and outcomes among these populations. We succeeded magnificently.”

Jones responded to several questions on the successful grant project.

Q: What did the grant do for the community?

A: The grant provided us resources to be flexible and target the top medical issues prevalent in our community---syphilis, opioid in the local community, HIV and the social conditions that surround it. We were part of the citywide team challenged to help people know their status and we contributed in our district (District 2) with more than 479 screenings and at least came 102 from the St. Philip's College team. We performed 25 percent of the tests done! You wouldn’t believe how some focus groups and universities of far greater enrollment do less than 100 tests in their community per year. As chair of the Health Science Department at St. Philip's College, I think we have to be in tune to our community needs and not only the education of our students, but the component of students engaging in the community. I'm looking at how our students can lend a hand going forward, and I'm excited about that. 

Q: Is the community the multi-campus college serves better off following the life of the grant?

A: I think we in San Antonio are all better off now than we were before we received the grant, but people I talk with still have a lack of awareness of how HIV intersects with so many social issues, from poor housing to phobias and stigmas that keep people from being tested. We have given our students accurate information about the transmission of the disease and the free on-campus pre-testing they need to know their status and be confident in who they are. If they were found positive, then there was linkage to care. We have outreach teams coming to St. Philip's College at least twice a week to do free testing. It's necessary when you are dealing with all these stigmas and medications out there for people to become undetectable. Our students know how to tap into resources for the right outcomes... from books to one-to-one counseling.

Q: The grant brought about changes in access to health care that might not have been envisioned by alumni and community members, did it not?

A: Yes, we have students accessing our health centers for reasons our alumni ever experienced. We do the testing of our students in our college health centers. Our team tells our students if you have no money, we provide female and male condoms to prevent other STDs, along with tips and opportunities to talk about sexual health.

Q: Can you speak to the excellent numbers behind your team’s results?

A: We’ve seen more than 1,000 clients, right here on our campus since we started tabulating in 2015, and we have them documented. We are not throwing around numbers to let people know what we are doing, which I just absolutely love. Show me the number, show them the number! I got an opportunity to speak at the HIV Outreach Workshop with HIV Connections in Austin in August, and I spoke on collaborations to sustain similar grants at colleges. The grant experience at St. Philip's College was a best practice grant experience.

Q: During the height of the celebratory season in San Antonio this year, your team had local people focused on the serious work of taking care of their health. Can you elaborate a bit?

A: Yes, a team of four from our college and our community partnered to promote awareness during our 2018 CultureFest collaboration with San Antonio Metro Health. In six hours of service during Fiesta, we were able to have 84 community members tested for HIV. It was an amazing day that was beyond awesome. No one can touch that. They just can't. We were able with our community partners to help the uninsured through an organization that can get them on track and in touch with the resources they need. So 84 successful screenings in a partnership with other city organizations. That was a good collaborative. San Antonio Fighting Back is our primary partner, and if we need more assistance, we reach out to BEAT AIDS as another valued partner in our project. We are San Antonio Fighting Back's largest non-AIDS organizational entity partner, and their only education partner. BEAT AIDS is our backup for testing. Having the nonprofits come in and continue to do the service is one of our most productive sustainability strategies. 

Q: Was the project a worthwhile project?

A: Yes, the fact we as an HBCU were awarded a grant from SAMSA working to end the HIV epidemic is noteworthy in itself. Between that and continuing to push information to our students so they don’t become susceptible to lifelong disease patterns is worthy, as well having our college as an avenue for counseling. There are so many things the students don't know. When you go into a classroom, you would be amazed what they learn. Syphilis is the number one STD. How do you work on this? How do you recover from the opioid epidemic?

"The college's focus on achieving student success through innovative partnerships with ethnic minority community-based organizations is an intended acknowledgement of the cultural, geographic and service-providing linkages local predominately at-risk minority students and residents traditionally associate with St. Philip’s College and its service-providing partners," said Jones. "The grant funding developed and improved the capacity of St. Philip's College and its partner minority community-based organizations to more effectively serve their consumers, at a scale that goes beyond what anyone would have imagined."

SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities. According to the Sept. 19 report Bexar County Ranks Third For Most STD Cases In Texas As Nation Sees Record High Rates by Texas Public Radio reporter Jan Ross Piedad, "Texas Health & Human Services records the number of sexually transmitted infections reported to the state specifically for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. The 2017 data ranks Bexar County third — behind Harris and Dallas counties — for the highest number of infections. Last year, there were 12,475 cases of chlamydia, 4,357 reports of gonorrhea and a total of 1,293 recorded for syphilis in Bexar County.” 

To join the conversation or learn more about the SAMHSA grant experience at St. Philip’s College, contact Jones at 210-486-2711, tjones118@alamo.edu.

About Minority Serving Institutions Partnerships with Community-Based Organizations: The purpose of this substance abuse prevention education and testing program is to equip and empower Minority Serving Institutions located in communities at the highest risk of substance abuse, HIV and Hepatitis-C infections with evidence-based methodologies to increase access to comprehensive, integrated prevention services on their campuses/institutions and surrounding community. The aim is to achieve normative and environmental changes to prevent and/or reduce substance abuse problems as risk factors for the transmission of HIV/AIDS among African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native young adult populations (ages 18- 24) on campus. Participating academic institutions partner with one or more community-based organizations to provide integrated prevention programs to these populations in the surrounding communities. Program eligibility is limited to Minority Serving Institutions because the purpose of the grant program is to prevent and reduce substance abuse among minority at-risk populations.  Data have shown that young adults from minority populations represent the majority of new HIV/HCV infections. Minority Serving Institutions have a documented and consistent concentration of minority adult populations between the ages of 18 and 24.