Two groups created by the Kansas Center for Rural Health are tackling the tough issues facing rural health care in Kansas.
Bob Moser, M.D., executive director of the Kansas Center for Rural Health, said the two important groups were a part of the center’s plan when it opened in February 2022. The same Rural Health Task Force that suggested the creation of the center also suggested that the center be a connector to bring people together to discuss rural health issues and consider solutions.
The internal focus: Rural Health Council
So, in April 2022, the center launched the first of the two groups: the Rural Health Council.
The council's purpose was to unite the efforts of faculty and staff at the University of Kansas Medical Center, creating synergy and breaking down silos among separate departments and campuses. That synergy is expected to lead to new projects, interdepartmental grant applications and a better sense of who’s doing what in rural health care research.
Moser asked Heather Nelson-Brantley, Ph.D., program director of leadership and assistant professor in the KU School of Nursing, to be the inaugural director of the council. “My role has been to be a convener, to bring people together and raise awareness,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to see what we do in the schools of Nursing, Medicine and Health Professions, and what we’re doing on the Kansas City, Salina and Wichita campuses.”
Monthly RHC meetings are held via Zoom videoconferencing platform, and attendance averages around 60 people. In each meeting, participants learn about one specific rural initiative from a KU Medical Center presenter. Then discussion of that initiative leads into talk of other initiatives or the work of the six committees established within the RHC.
For example, the council will hear from faculty in KU School of Health Professions and KU School of Nursing on July 18 regarding a collaborative project called the Interprofessional COVID Academic Network (I-CAN). This project, supported by a federal grant, has made it possible for nurses and nursing students in rural areas to obtain certification in pulmonary rehabilitation. The certification trains nurses to treat not only COVID patients but other conditions that cause respiratory distress, such as asthma.
The external focus: Kansas Center for Rural Health Partners
In May 2023, the center convened its second important group: the Kansas Center for Rural Health Partners. Moser said this group, comprising voices from both inside and outside the university, will give health care professionals across the state a chance to enter the conversation on how to improve health for rural Kansans.
“These partners are external stakeholders with an interest in rural health and rural communities. They might be health care providers, health care systems, administrators, economic development officers or simply community members,” Moser said. “It’s easy for the academic side to have our impressions, but to really solve the problem, it’s critical that we make sure to bring in these partners.”
Moser shared one example of how partners can be integral to the center's mission. One partner voiced concern about small rural Kansas hospitals banking enough blood to handle traumas. Moser said the center sent out surveys to 82 critical-access hospitals to learn more about their blood-banking procedures.
“We’ll take that survey information and figure out what’s the best solution for these communities,” he said. The center is doing this work without current support from a grant. “There’s a ton of work to be done, and there’s not always a grant or federal funding out there,” Moser explained.
Larry Van Der Wege, administrator of the Lindsborg (Kansas) Community Hospital, said he’s looking forward to being a partner. “We all face enormous challenges in providing care in rural America, and I believe the education, information and potential resources through a partnership with the Kansas Center for Rural Health could be essential,” he said.
Being a partner allows him “a seat at the table,” he said. “(Our participation) expands the number of contacts to reach out to, as we all benefit from learning from our peers as we work to provide the best care possible in keeping our communities healthy.”