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East Tennessee Establishes Center for Rural and Appalachian Health

The Appalachian region of the United States contains 420 counties and some of the most beautiful natural resources and landscapes in the world.  It is home to approximately 25 million people, 8.7 percent of the US population. Communities in Appalachia, especially in the rural areas, however, face some of the highest levels of poverty, illness, and premature death in the country, with some areas having health statistics comparable to those of many less developed countries.

The Rural and Appalachian Health Collaborative was initially created to bring together the expertise of several departments in the College of Public Health, along with the Tennessee Institute of Public Health and the Tennessee Public Health Training Center, both housed in the College. The collaborative has effectively generated funding for projects focused on improving the health and well-being of rural Appalachia, and empowering those populations to pursue healthier lifestyles.  To magnify the impact of the Collaborative, the College of Public Health created the Center for Rural and Appalachian Health.

The center will be co-led by Dr. Kate Beatty, assistant professor in the department of health services management and policy; Ms. Ginny Kidwell, Executive Director of the Tennessee Institute of Public Health; and Ms. Paula Masters, assistant dean of Student Services and Director of the Tennessee Public Health Training Center.

“The Tennessee Institute of Public Health’s mission is to foster measureable improvements in the health and wellness of all Tennesseans,” states Ms. Ginny Kidwell. “But the greatest needs are often found in rural areas of the state, most notably in the isolated regions of Appalachian Tennessee.”

Rural Appalachia has some of the highest rates of preventable morbidity and mortality in the country. While the rest of the country has seen improvement in many health behaviors and health outcomes, rural Appalachian communities remain unchanged or lag behind other regions in major health indicators. In some cases, such as the opioid epidemic, the region is among the most heavily affected in the country.

“Rural communities face unique health challenges and many often lack the capacity to address them. Provision of technical services and resources to assist these communities is the primary goal of the Center for Rural and Appalachian Health,” states Ms. Paula Masters.

“The center builds on the great work that has been going on across the college to address the unique issues facing the communities that we live, work and play in,” says Dr. Kate Beatty. “We are building on this momentum and growing our reach with the center.”

Ms. Ginny Kidwell adds, “Working closely with our colleagues within the ETSU College of Public Health, and the Academic Health Sciences Center at ETSU, allows us to form new partnerships and create networks that build and foster collaborations to improve health in our region.”

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