Faculty Q&A: Dr. Nicole S. MacFarland

Faculty Q&A: Dr. Nicole S. MacFarland

Dr. Nicole MacFarland, wearing a hot pink suit, sits behind her wooden desk in her office at Senior Hope Counseling. She is smiling at the camera.

Dr. Nicole S. MacFarland is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior and a Clinical Assistant Professor with the School of Social Welfare. She is also the Executive Director at Senior Hope Counseling in Albany, New York. For many years, Dr. MacFarland has worked tirelessly to help address the opioid epidemic across the life-cycle, which is devastating countless numbers of families and communities. She notes that the opioid epidemic is “one of our nation’s greatest public health crises to date.”


What about the public health field interests you most?

I was drawn to public health after graduating from the University at Albany School of Social Welfare in 2014 with my PhD and working in the field of addictions treatment services at Senior Hope Counseling, Inc. for the past 16 years. Senior Hope Counseling is the only free-standing, OASAS (Office of Addiction Services and Supports) licensed, non-intensive, outpatient clinic in New York State catering exclusively to the age 50+ population suffering from substance use disorders. As the Clinical Director of Senior Hope from 2004-2012 and Executive Director since 2012, I am very aware of the devastating impact opioid addiction has on our community and society-at-large. I am very interested in public health with a focus on geriatric addictions because this area is critical to explore further as a public health concern.


Why does your work focus on adults over the age of 50?

There is a great deal of attention focused on opioid addiction among youth and middle-aged individuals, but not as much for those 50 years of age and older. At Senior Hope, I am focused on the impact opioid addiction has on older adults as a public health issue needing further research and expansion of service care delivery. Additionally, we are a trauma-informed outpatient clinic because the connection between early childhood trauma is highly associated with late-life addictions, mental health and/or physical impairments. Early intervention of adverse childhood experiences is critical to helping decrease the incidence of high medical costs associated with untreated early adverse childhood experiences. As a faculty member at the University at Albany, I am able to engage in ongoing collaborative efforts with faculty from both schools. These collaborations include offering a field training site for students interested in geriatric addictions, engaging in research, developing grants, co-presenting and publishing with faculty from the Schools of Public Health and Social Welfare. I feel that this joint appointment with both schools allows me to utilize my social work and public health background to address the significant issue of geriatric addictions and adverse childhood experiences from both social work and public health perspectives.


How does the opioid crisis impact our communities?

Although alcohol has been the predominant concern among our patient population, opioid addiction as primary drug of choice has ranged over the years from 2%-14% at Senior Hope Counseling. When a client receives services at our clinic and is suffering from substance use disorders, it often impacts three generations: the client, their adult children and their grandchildren. Additionally, the impact their substance use disorder has on the health care system when we examine the cost of their care is profound. It has become very apparent over the years that the opioid epidemic across the life-cycle is a serious public health concern here in New York and nationally. The development of effective treatment modalities can have significant implications for reducing the high costs of medical care associated with complications due to substance misuse over one’s lifetime.


What are you working on now?

I am currently working with OASAS, The Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc., and the Albany County Department of Mental Health, and recent UAlbany graduate Dr. Darren Cosgrove on a State Opioid Response (SOR) grant here at Senior Hope Counseling, Inc. Our work with the SOR grant is designed to address the needs of those individuals 50 and older who reside in rural locations and are in need of services onsite at Senior Hope and offsite. This is an important initiative to bridge the gap in services for those who may otherwise never be able to engage in treatment at our main site. These individuals will be able to receive offsite services at various locations. We are so appreciative to the Commissioner of OASAS for New York State, Arlene González-Sánchez, and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo for all their efforts to develop these new programs and allocate funding to such an important need inherent among our communities.


What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

Most people do not know I frequent thrift shops and antique shops locally here in Albany and in Ogunquit, Maine during family vacations. I truly enjoy finding special treasures at these locations that people have decided to part with for various reasons. I have found some very special items over the years that I will treasure for years to come.


Are you interested in learning more about Senior Hope Counseling? Please take a look at their website and follow them on Facebook! Or, you can contact Dr. Nicole S. MacFarland at n.macfarland@seniorhope.org or (518) 489-7777 ext. 102.