HAZARD — A $1.5 million, five-year project to address cancer and other chronic diseases by promoting screening and prevention in the region was announced Tuesday in Hazard during the SOAR Health Impact Series.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and University of Kentucky said the funding will be used to launch the Appalachian Cancer Patient Navigation Project. Patient navigators will serve as advocates for individuals and help connect them with the right services.
“Patient navigators can help Kentuckians get screened for cancer – finding it early can save your life,” said CDC Director Tom Freiden, M.D., M.P.H. “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.”
Joining Dr. Frieden for the announcement were UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto; Dr. B. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center at UK; Earl F. Gohl, federal co-chair of the ARC; and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05).
“Our commonwealth is only strong if every community is strong,” said Capilouto. “And every community will only be strong when every community is healthy.”
“Better screening means early intervention and saved lives, and we can’t overstate the importance of that,” said Rogers.
In addition, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health, UK announced a program to develop the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky (CLIK). The three-week intensive leadership development program is 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.
“Alleviating the personal burdens Kentucky families face requires a shared, community-based lift,” said Capilouto. “This type of program exemplifies UK’s commitment to sustainable, community-based approaches to address the most serious challenges of the Commonwealth – challenges that deprive individuals, families and communities of a well-being and quality of life.”
Each participant’s organization will receive a $1,500 grant for their participation in this competitive program and completion of their proposed project over a 12-month period.
Applications are currently being accepted through August 29 for the first class of 8-10 individuals. Trainings will be held in October and November. For details visit the Center for Clinical and Transitional Science website at www.ccts.uky.edu/ccts/index.php or contact Beth Bowling at email@example.com or 606-439-3357, ext. 83545.
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to the University of Kentucky,” Rogers said. “UK has helped transform the availability of healthcare 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 held at Hazard Community and Technical College, the second “Health Impact Series” event with the CDC as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative.
SOAR, launched by Congressman Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear in the fall of 2013, seeks to expand job creation; enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity; and improve the quality of life for Kentucky’s Appalachian region.
According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, this region has a greater prevalence for heart disease (84 percent higher), diabetes (47 percent higher) and obesity (26 percent higher) than the nation’s average. The state’s lung cancer mortality rates are the nation’s highest, at 67 percent above average.
“I am thrilled to have such an impressive group of experts in healthcare here this week to focus on our health issues,” Rogers said. “We’re laying out our problems on the table.”
“We cannot shape the future of this region without focusing on ways to improve the quality of life we have,” Rogers continued. “If you’ve ever battled cancer or watched someone close to you go down that difficult road, quality of life is basically non-existent.”
Tuesday’s symposium, sponsored by Appalachian Regional Healthcare, also featured presentations by Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, commissioner of the Kentucky Cabinet for Public Health; CDC Deputy Director Dr. Judith Monroe, who received her undergraduate degree from Eastern Kentucky University; and a panel discussion of healthcare experts moderated by Dr. Nikki Stone, associate professor of the UK College of Dentistry/Medicine and chair of the SOAR Health Work Group.
Through a series of 15 listening sessions this summer, the SOAR Health Work Group “collected lots of innovative strategies for improving health in our region, including many projects that involve re-discovering the healthy benefits of growing our own gardens and cooking together with our families,” Stone said.
Common themes in the health 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.
Kentucky had the third highest mortality rate of prescription drug overdoses in 2010 (23.6 per 100,000), with the number of all drug overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999 (4.9 per 100,000), according to a 2013 report by Trust For America’s Health. Nationally the rate has doubled.
Dr. Frieden and Congressman Rogers have worked together through Operation UNITE’s National Rx Drug Abuse Summit to combat this public health epidemic, and have teamed up once again for the SOAR Health Impact Series.
“Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Kentucky,” noted Commissioner Mayfield. “Part of the kyhealthnow mission is to reduce the prevalence of abuse and overdose deaths. This is extremely important for Kentucky, particularly Perry County, which is one of the top six counties in Kentucky for overdose deaths.”
“We aren’t the type of people who stand by expecting someone else to save us – the people of southern and eastern Kentucky like to pull up our bootstraps and hit the trenches,” Rogers said, cautioning that there is no quick fix.
“This is a marathon – in fact, this is the race of our lives,” Rogers continued. “We may not get to see the fruits of our efforts. But, if we endure, our children and grandchildren will live healthier and better than we are living now.”