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Beaver College of Health Sciences receives grant to expand rural healthcare

By Chris Shore; Beaver College of Health Sciences

BOONE—The Beaver College of Health Sciences at Appalachian State University has received a $175,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to support development of telehealth technology and programming to increase rural health training opportunities for future healthcare providers and improve the health and well-being of medically underserved rural communities.

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The grant supports development for a Rural Health Outreach Collaborative (RHOC), which currently includes partnerships with the Wake Forest School of Medicine Physician Assistant program and the High Country Council on Governments Area Agency on Aging.

Dr. Gary McCullough, associate dean in the Beaver College of Health Sciences and director of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Institute for Health and Human Services (IHHS) explained, “This particular program is a pilot program for a hybrid approach to providing preventive health education and training as well as targeted health screenings and assessment to more remote parts of the region.”

Some students and faculty will be working with individuals and groups on site at designated regional locations and others will be working remotely from IHHS in University Hall in Boone. For instance, a physician assistant student, a nursing student, and an athletic training student could be on site working with individuals on fall prevention under the supervision of faculty accessing the session remotely from the Appalachian campus. The technology is capable of remotely connecting consultants, such as a gerontologist from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center or a pharmacist from UNC Chapel Hill, for more specialized needs.

McCullough added, “Many organizations in our region are already being very proactive in improving the health and well-being of its citizens, like the Ashe Health Alliance. We’re excited to partner with our colleagues at the Wake Forest School of Medicine and the Area Agency on Aging, and we’re eager to build new partnerships throughout the region. It’s about identifying needs and working together. The possibilities for improving rural healthcare are limitless, and this is just a first step to explore what we can bring to the table.”

The grant will initially allow the RHOC to establish telehealth access and programming for the aging population in senior centers of Ashe and Yancey counties. The Beaver College of Health Sciences ultimately plans to integrate telehealth technologies into the proposed new health sciences building and place access wherever needs can be met in communities, such as churches, schools, or other public meeting areas. Services will span health science disciplines offered at Appalachian as well as those from the Wake Forest School of Medicine through the previously established partnership between the schools.

The grant was established as part of the 2015 Golden LEAF Health Care Workforce Initiative to improve health care in areas identified as “Health Professional Shortage Areas” by the North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center. The initiative aimed to reduce deficits in the number of professional and highly skilled health care workers in these areas. The Golden LEAF Foundation was founded in 1999 by the North Carolina legislature as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the economic well-being of North Carolinians. Golden LEAF endeavors to strengthen the state’s economy through diverse grant making.

For more information about the Golden LEAF Foundation, visit http://www.goldenleaf.org. More information about the Beaver College of Health Sciences can be found at http://healthsciences.appstate.edu.

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