By Beth Bowling
University of Kentucky
“In Kentucky, over two million people live in rural and more than 100 Kentucky counties are designated as rural,” said Center for Excellence in Rural Health Director Fran Feltner. “It is vital that we ensure all rural Kentuckians have the opportunity to be healthy and have access to affordable, quality health care.”
Kentucky Office of Rural Health Director Matt Coleman said the mission for both the center and the KORH is to improve access to care and health outcomes for Kentuckians living in rural.
“Having a nationally and statewide recognized day to focus on rural health is extremely important to not only highlight the work being done across the state, but also to give an opportunity to stakeholders and providers to find out what’s going on in their communities,” said Coleman.
“KORH was established by the federal government in 1991 as a way to help support the health and well-being of Kentuckians in rural. We do this a number of ways by providing a framework that links small, rural communities with resources while working toward long-term solutions to rural health issues.”
Since its inception, the KORH has helped clinicians, administrators, and consumers find ways to improve access to and quality of health care through programs like the Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, the Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program, the Kentucky EMS Leadership Academy and many more, while ensuring that funding agencies and policymakers are made aware of the needs of rural communities.
The Center for Excellence in Rural Health, which is the federally designated state Office of Rural Health, has made strides in improving access to education by bringing degrees close to home and securing funding for health care worker loan relief programs. More than 1,000 students have graduated in recent years from rural programs offered at the CERH in Hazard, with most working in rural settings.
CERH Data Analyst Sydney Howard explained that rural health workforce studies conducted at the center highlight the continued need for rural health workers, including physicians, nurses, dentists, medical laboratory scientists, social workers, community health workers and more.
“We have been fortunate to see rural-based health care training opportunities expand in Kentucky in recent years, which is critically important given that more than 30 rural Kentucky counties are currently facing health professions shortages,” said Howard. “Rural Kentucky is also home to 29 critical-access hospitals and nearly 400 rural health clinics, all of which are key in reaching rural populations across the Commonwealth.”
Feltner said, “We are optimistic that Kentucky’s future will be bright with the continued dedication and investment of people and resources to address the needs of rural communities. CERH is proud to recognize the incredible rural health workers, researchers, teachers, students, volunteers and many others in our community on National Rural Health Day and throughout the year.”