Transition in Action: Ernie Scott at the Kentucky Office of Rural Health

1- Who are you, and what’s your role at your organization?

Phot provided by Ernie Scott

Photo provided by Ernie Scott

My name is Ernie Scott and I am the Director of the Kentucky Office of Rural Health (KORH) at the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health based in Hazard, KY.

2- How does your organization contribute to improving health in the region?

The KORH, established in 1991, is a Federal/State partnership authorized by Federal Legislation. The mission is to support the health and well-being of Kentuckians by promoting access to rural health services. The program provides a framework for linking small rural communities with local state and federal resources, while working toward long-term solutions to rural health issues.

The KORH assists clinicians, administrators and consumers in finding ways to improve communications, finances and access to quality health care while insuring that funding agencies and policy makers are made aware of the needs of rural communities.

3- Can you share one inspiring story about improving community health from the work you’ve done?
The Kentucky Office of Rural Health (KORH) serves as the administrator for the Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program (KSLRP).*  KSLRP assists rural and underserved facilities in  recruiting and retaining qualified providers by providing student loan repayment opportunities to providers who commit to serving in rural and underserved locations for a minimum of two (2) years.

Each year, we are able to assist over a dozen of these providers through our competitively awarded loan repayment program. These healthcare providers remain in our rural areas long after their service commitment ends, greatly enhancing access and quality of care to our underserved populations, and building healthier communities for generations to come.

4- Why is community health important to you and how do you think it impacts or influences community development?

As a lifelong resident of Appalachia, I have witnessed how barriers to healthcare are not only created by geography, but also by economy and awareness. Many times, it seems we limit ourselves to what we know or what we are comfortable with.  “If grandma and mother had high blood pressure, cholesterol and “sugar” then I will have it to.” Or, “my people are just big-boned.”

I think we all understand genetics plays a factor in our health, but so do our eating habits and activity levels. When we recognize this, each of us can be real change agents of community health across rural Kentucky. Now we understand the focus needs to be on keeping people well, rather than on treating them once they are sick. This “well care” lends itself to a variety of events and opportunities that bring the community together to celebrate and educate.

As a lifelong resident of Letcher County, I view our local farmer’s market as an excellent example of health impacting community development. Many of the vendors are former coal miners who have retrained in sustainable farming practices. They bring local food to local tables, providing access to a larger number of people. The growers can be attributed to economic development for the region.

By partnering with the local healthcare community, people are learning more about healthier choices, and the impact it has on chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. It is now possible, on any given Saturday, to see people standing in line to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. Now, that’s impactful!

* KSLRP is funded through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Health and Resource Service Administration (HRSA) Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW) National Health Service Corps (NHSC) program