UK, CDC announce two new health initiatives for Appalachia

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, joined by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced during Frieden’s visit to the region Tuesday two new UK initiatives toward improving the health of Appalachian Kentucky.

The Appalachian Cancer Patient Navigation Project will allow UK and its partners to establish an infrastructure to train patient navigators over the next five years in five Appalachian states, a UK press release said. The navigators will serve as advocates for patients and help them connect with the services they need.

This $1.5 million project, funded by the CDC and the Appalachian Regional Commission, will also address cancer and other chronic diseases by promoting screening and prevention in the region. The program is part of a new multi-year partnership with the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

“Patient navigators can help Kentuckians get screened for cancer—finding it early can save your life,” Frieden said in the release. “By training more patient navigators where they are most needed, this CDC grant can help people in Appalachian areas live longer, healthier, cancer-free lives.”

The second initiative announced was the launch of the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky, “a three-week intensive leadership development program designed to enhance research and capacity-building competencies in community leaders who play a key role in using data and decision-making related to health and health care,” Powell writes.

Training for this program is competitive and will begin in October and November. Selected participant organizations will receive a $1,500 grant for completion of their proposed project over a 12-month period. Applications are currently being accepted through Aug. 29 for the first class of eight to 10.

“Our commonwealth is only strong if every community is strong,” Capilouto said in the UK release. “And every community will only be strong when every community is healthy.”

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to the University of Kentucky,” Rogers said in the release. “UK has helped transform the availability of health care in the mountains—improving access to specialists, spending thousands of dollars on cancer research and screening projects, and training students who want to come home to practice medicine.”

The announcements came during a symposium at Hazard Community and Technical College, the second Shaping Our Appalachian Region “Health Impact Series” event with Frieden. “I am thrilled to have such an impressive group of experts in health care here this week to focus on our health issues,” Rogers said. “We’re laying out our problems on the table.”

Tuesday’s symposium, sponsored by Appalachian Regional Healthcare, also featured presentations by Stephanie Mayfield, commissioner of the Kentucky Cabinet for Public Health, CDC Deputy Director Dr. Judith Monroe and a panel discussion of health care experts moderated by Dr. Nikki Stone, associate professor of the UK College of Dentistry/Medicine and chair of the SOAR Health Work Group.

Common themes in the discussions included “wellness, healthy foods, the smoke-free initiative, a focus on children and coordinated school health, oral health, diabetes/obesity, seniors, the need for mental health assessments and services beginning in early childhood and the drug epidemic,” the UK release says.

Compared to the national averages, the prevalence of heart disease is 84 percent higher in the region. Diabetes is 47 percent higher, obesity is 26 percent higher and the state’s lung cancer mortality rates are among the highest—at 67 percent above average—according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. Kentucky as a whole has the nation’s third highest rate of deaths from drug overdoses.

Rogers presented “Health Impact Awards” at the meeting to celebrate the “great work” of these organizations in awareness and prevention efforts, Powell writes. The awards went to Appalachian Regional Healthcare, the UK Gill Heart Institute-Appalachian Heart Center, the Hazard Police Department, the Knott County Drug Abuse Council and Kentucky Homeplace.

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