Serving Eastern Kentucky

Faith, according to ancient writers, is the essence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

But in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, we are working every day to take the faith people are placing in us as a university into action, making a difference in the lives and health of people throughout Appalachia.

Earlier this week, I traveled to Hazard and southeast Kentucky to celebrate how we are continually finding new ways to serve those in most need of our care.

Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the region, and many chronic illnesses continue to ravage the health and well-being of our people.  And cancer, as it does in so many places throughout out state, has carved a swath of misery and sickness throughout the region.

But we are doing something about it.

Consider just two stories that illustrate our approach and its results:

Dr. Mike Karpf and I joined physicians and surgeons to announce an agreement between UK HealthCare and Appalachian Regional Healthcare to jointly administer and manage cardiovascular serves at Hazard’s Regional Medical Center as well as ARH hospitals throughout the region.

The highly qualified cardiologists well-known in the area for their excellent care, and the providers at UK’s Gill Heart Institute, will enable us to maximize high-touch, high-tech cardiology services that can be provided locally.

This partnership also means that in the circumstances a patient needs the next level of advanced subspecialty care – such as a transplant or VAD – referrals to UK HealthCare will be made smoothly and efficiently and time spent away from home will be minimized by receiving follow-up care back in Hazard.

We are proud to be involved in the partnership, but it is really the people of Hazard, Perry County and eastern Kentucky that are the benefactors.

I also traveled to nearby Letcher County to visit Faith Moves Mountains – a translational research and engagement initiative in our Department of Behavioral Sciences.

Dr. Nancy Schoenberg saw a need in eastern Kentucky and wanted to make a positive intervention in Appalachia to improve health outcomes. At the root of her strategy – and success – was garnering the support of the community. Chief among the assets of the region is the shared cultural identity and sense of community; without understanding that, alleviating some of the region’s chronic health problems presents an even greater challenge.

Since 2004, Schoenberg's team – and she is quick to underscore the impact of her team – have been engaged in community-based participatory research that includes scientists and community members. This is the type of translational science that illustrates our promise and importance to the state we serve.

An article from 2011 explains the work they conduct in the hills of eastern Kentucky. Since its establishment 10 years ago – across six counties in the region – Faith Moves Mountains has:

·        Enrolled 450 women in cervical cancer intervention,

·        Involved 1,200 children and adults in an intergenerational diet and exercise program,

·        And helped 2,400 men and women with smoking cessation and cancer screening programs.

It is an incredible impact across a region in need, but they are not finished.

They launched a new project last May to increase access to healthy foods and continue to develop new projects for review.

In profound ways, the University of Kentucky is renewing the role we play in serving and caring for our Commonwealth.

These are only two examples; there are others.

As I travel the state sharing our mission – telling the UK story and the important ways in which we impact our Commonwealth for the better – I often learn much more than I could share.

Our story – a legacy that endures after nearly 150 years – continues to profoundly touch every corner of our state.

In the mid-twentieth century, Kentucky’s indispensable, land-grant institution birthed a flagship academic medical center and a College of Medicine that values the positive impact of diagnosing and treating illness at the community level.

Through a multi-faceted mission of teaching, research, outreach and care, I have seen firsthand, repeatedly, how we are serving our students, supporting our faculty and staff, and meeting the needs and demands of Kentucky.

I know I come away more energized by what we do.  The dedication, commitment to our fellow citizens and the goodness of our people on the frontlines inspires me.  You and your work are why UK and all of us are here.