Award-winning Mason professor credits her 'magicians'

Associate professor Lora Peppard received the 2017 Award for Excellence in Leadership from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

Talk to Lora Peppard about the four active grants totaling $10.5 million on which she is the project director, and the George Mason University associate professor pushes the conversation to the teams that implement the programs.

“I have the great fortune of overseeing the execution of these grants,” she said. “I nurture the grants and am responsible for evaluating, translating and disseminating the outcomes, along with describing how they fit into the big picture of things. But I have a whole host of amazing faculty and staff magicians who are simply wonderful at what they do. They really are the ones who make it happen.”

Perhaps, but there is no doubt Peppard is the force bringing together these grants that are focused on preparing community health partners—including physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists and a student workforce—to perform substance abuse screening and early intervention.

For her work, Peppard, who also is director of Virginia’s Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) project, run out of George Mason, received the 2017 Award for Excellence in Leadership from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

“The award is exceptionally meaningful to me because psychiatric nursing is part of my identity,” Peppard said. “My blood and soul is first and foremost as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. This award represents a culminating point of everything I’ve invested my time and effort in for the greater good of behavioral health practice and integration over the last 15 years of my life.”

“What Lora is doing is one of the most significant activities that has occurred at Mason in terms of having an impact around the state,” said Keith Howell, associate dean of research and program evaluation in George Mason’s College of Health and Human Services. “I know from being in these statewide meetings, people are looking at Mason for the first time as a major state university because of what Lora is doing.”

Peppard, who has been at Mason since 2009, is currently leading a state initiative to train and integrate behavioral health services for substance use and depression into medical settings, under a five-year, $8.3 million implementation grant from the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). She also manages three-year SAMHSA grants worth $920,810 and $449,068 respectively, and a two-year, $890,238 integrated-care grant from the federal Health Resources and Service Administration for nurse education, practice, quality and retention.

The $8.3 million grant has had the farthest reach, as it has allowed Peppard’s teams to go into seven clinics and health departments across Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley to help implement SBIRT, an evidence-based public health program used to identify and address risky and problematic substance abuse with common comorbidities such as tobacco use and depression.

Peppard said the clinics have administered more than 25,000 screenings. One in nine of those people screened reports risky or problematic substance abuse. Of those, 80 percent are in the low-risk category, which is where SBIRT’s intervention strategies are most effective, Peppard said.

“Among students, faculty and community partners, we’ve now trained thousands of individuals,” Peppard said. “That’s a huge impact. We are changing the trajectory of people’s lives through these screenings and intervention touch points.”

Patty Ferssizidis, the training coordinator (one of those magicians) on two of Peppard’s grants, credits Peppard for making it all work.

“She’s developed a nice formula for how to implement these projects and meet the goals while making sure everybody who is contributing feels like they are growing and appreciated,” Ferssizidis said. “It’s collaborative and a very healthy work environment.”