State rural-health office will get $299,999 a year for the next three years to help veterans get care; one of three such grants in U.S.

The Kentucky Office of Rural Health is one of three organizations in the U.S. to receive a three-year, nearly $900,000 grant from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy to improve access to health care for veterans living in rural Kentucky and to improve the coordination of care for veteran patients. The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health in Hazard serves as the federally designated Kentucky Office of Rural Health.

The $899,997 grant, provided through the Rural Veterans Health Access Program, will fund a range of efforts: conducting a needs assessment focused on the resources, programs, best practices and organizations currently available to assist the state’s rural veterans; establishing and regularly calling together a stakeholder advisory group to guide projects; and hosting training sessions and community health days events for veterans, their families, health-care organizations and other community members.

The Office of Rural Health will also partner with community stakeholders to support projects at the local level that address veterans’ access to care. Much of the work will be focused in the 27 counties where Kentucky’s 28 critical-access hospitals — rural facilities with 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds — operate: Allen, Breckinridge, Caldwell, Carroll, Casey, Cumberland, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Grant, Green, Hart, Knox, Leslie, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Marshall, Mercer, Morgan, Ohio, Russell, Simpson, Trigg, Union, Wayne and Woodford.
“This is a project and a population that we’ve been interested in working with for some time. We’re nothing short of excited,” said KORH Director Ernie Scott. “We have a veteran on our staff, a number of veterans working at the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health and most of us here have a direct connection to at least one veteran in our own families. Our veterans are near and dear to our heart. It’s a population with a significant presence in rural Kentucky — more than 40% of Kentucky’s veterans live in rural communities — and it’s our honor to work with them, to support them and to seek out ways we can have a positive impact on their health and their ability to navigate the health-care system.”

Scott said the project also provides an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with the Veterans Health Administration, the country’s largest integrated health system, and to encourage innovative community partnerships between the VHA’s clinics and medical centers and Kentucky health-care professionals.

“There are plenty of efforts taking place here in the commonwealth to meet the needs of our rural veterans, and we’re not here to duplicate those efforts,” Scott said. “Instead, what we hope to do is call attention to any gaps that might exist in the care being provided to veterans and work with partners to develop solutions. We also want to showcase the good that’s being done and that can be replicated in other communities. This project is a win-win for everyone involved.”

The Office of Rural Health, established in 1991, is a federal-state partnership authorized by federal legislation. It works directly with clinicians, clinic and hospital administrators, policymakers and other stakeholders to improve the accessibility of health care services for the state’s rural and under-served residents. The office connects communities and health-care organizations to local, state and federal resources while working toward long-term solutions to financial, quality improvement and workforce challenges.

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