HAZARD, Ky. (May 14, 2012) — Kentucky was well represented at the nation’s largest rural health conference conducted April 17-20 by the National Rural Health Association in Denver.
Fran Feltner, director of the University of Kentucky Center for Excellence in Rural Health (CERH) and others from the CERH were selected to make presentations at the 35th annual conference.
Feltner and employees of the Kentucky Homeplace Program presented information about the Improving Diabetes Outcomes (I DO) study. More than 600 Kentuckians have participated in I DO, an initiative that promotes a series of nurse-led diabetes self-management education sessions complimented by community health workers (CHW). The one-year study, which began last summer, was made possible by a grant from the Anthem Foundation and focuses on improved blood glucose control through healthy lifestyle choices including medication adherence, improved nutrition and increased physical activity.
Most Eastern Kentucky counties have unusually high rates of diabetes. Unfortunately, this is a major contributing factor for serious health complications like blindness, lower extremity amputations and heart disease.
“Anthem’s gift is enabling us to study the effectiveness of training CHWs to work with a nurse educator to enhance participants’ learning experience so they are empowered to better manage their condition and lead healthier lives,” Feltner said.
A community health worker is typically a person who lives in the community they serve. They are knowledgeable of community resources and play an important role in connecting some of our most vulnerable population, many of whom have chronic conditions and are either uninsured or underinsured, with access to medical and social services they may otherwise go without.
“While many states in the nation now utilize CHWs, Kentucky has been among the more progressive states having begun our program nearly two decades ago,” said Feltner, noting that a research poster from the CERH pertaining to future roles CHWs may hold in addressing health disparities was also featured at the national meeting. “Being able to share at the national level what we are learning in our own community is a way to help our nation identify strategies that can be adopted on larger scales to address health disparities like diabetes.”
The Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network (KARRN) also was selected for a presentation. Representatives shared their experience in utilizing a community-based network to address neurological conditions in a rural population. In 2008, Patrick Kitzman, a UK associate professor in the Division of Physical Therapy, began working with the UK CERH and Cardinal Hill to form a community network with a goal to improve quality of life for rural persons with spinal cord injuries and other neurological conditions.
With collaboration from Kentucky Homeplace, Appalachian Regional Healthcare, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Rehabilitation and numerous other community agencies and individuals, KARRN has now expanded to include state level partnerships that focus on additional projects to address a broader range of neurological conditions including stroke and traumatic brain injury.
“One of our primary objectives is to find community resources to assist people in re-integrating back into their home communities following a neurological injury or illness,” Kitzman said. “Whether that means finding an organization that can build a wheelchair ramp to their front door, or helping them work with their primary care doctor to prevent secondary health complications, or connecting them with KARRN partner, KY AgrAbility, to show how to adapt their tractor so they can still work on their farm, we help connect people with resources to make their daily lives more enjoyable and productive.”
The CERH was established in 1990 to address health disparities in rural Kentucky, including a chronic shortage of health professionals and residents’ poor health status. The center accomplishes this mission through health professions education, health research, health care service and community engagement.