UK gets $2.8 million grant for Rural Health Research Center to study health-care access in poor, rural U.S.

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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The University of Kentucky has received a $2.8 million competitive grant to establish a Rural Health Research Center that will focus on access to healthcare and substance abuse treatment in undeserved rural areas of the United States, including Appalachia.

“These are very competitive grants that are only awarded every four years,” UK College of Public Health Professor Tyrone “Ty” Borders said in an interview. “We are the only center that received an award that was not previously funded, so we are now one of the seven centers nationally that has received funding for rural health research.”

Ty Borders (Kentucky Health News Photo)

Ty Borders (Kentucky Health News Photo)

The funding was awarded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Rural Health Research Center Cooperative Agreement grant program and will award the university with $700,000 a year for four years. Borders will serve as the Rural Health Research Center’s project director.

“I was pleased to work with the University of Kentucky to support this important proposal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a news release. “The funding will be used by students and faculty at UK to research ways to address key health-care issues negatively impacting individuals in rural areas of Kentucky. The research conducted at the center will look at ways to reduce cost and strengthen access to rural health networks and methods to help rural physicians treat substance abuse and mental health disorders.”

Borders, who is also the editor of the Journal of Rural Health, said he has spent the past 20 years of his professional career focusing on rural health, especially rural access to primary care and substance abuse treatment.

“We are really building upon our expertise, and this grant will allow us to do even more research on rural health and healthcare,” he said.

Borders said the research will focus on rural healthcare access in under-served, impoverished areas across the nation, including Appalachia, rural areas in the Southwest and the Mississippi Delta, among others.

He noted a few of the projects the center will work on with the federal government during the first year, including ones that involve access to substance abuse treatment in rural areas; the role of primary care providers in rural areas, how they are expanding their scope of care and how this affects healthcare access; and the relationship between rural health departments and rural hospitals and how this relationship affects rural hospital’s financial viability.

“Another major aim of the center is to disseminate and translate information to the federal government and to other stakeholders, persons who are concerned about rural health policy issues,” he said.

When asked what he hoped the research center would achieve he said,”I want to be sure we are producing research that really is the best science so that we can inform the best decisions. And, I hope that the work that we produce, the results that we produce, will actually be used by decision makers to try to improve healthcare delivery and access.”

Borders added, “We’ve been doing quite a bit of work in the area of rural health research here at the University of Kentucky, but I don’t think we have really been sufficiently recognized for what we do in this area and having the center will certainly help, because we will have greater visibility as well as additional resources to conduct work in this area.”

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