Rural Health Network Planning Program: Ohio University 

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Elizabeth Beverly, Ph.D., associate professor of primary care at Ohio University of Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, about the development of the Southeastern Ohio Diabetes Care Network. 

 

To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your network planning?  

The first win was actually getting the Network Planning Program grant. We were successful with two previous Health Research and Services Administration (HRSA) grants for rural outreach. With those grants we put together a group of individuals and created programs for patient navigation and community health workers. Creating those programs is what led to this grant. HRSA recognized these efforts as worthy of being a network and that the Southeastern Ohio Diabetes Care Network is a good idea. 

 

What is a tip you would share with an organization seeking to build a network?  

For me, it is about finding the right partners and there is no easy way to find the right partners. It takes time and it is a trial-and-error process. But once you find the right people, it will all work out. Everything starts falling into place when you find the people who you gel with and who want the same goals and want to achieve the same things. It can be a bumpy process. We have found people who we did not necessarily have the same goals with, or we did not align perfectly, but you can learn something from that. You figure out that is not the approach, or this is what I need to find in a collaborator.  

 

How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s Network Planning Program impacting your broader health improvement efforts? 

I am in southeastern Ohio and the only reason people know it right now is because of Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. It is his hometown. But it is a very underserved region and is part of rural Appalachian Ohio. The county where Ohio University is, which is where I work, is the poorest county in the state. One of the big issues is really high rates of diabetes. One in five people here have diabetes, compared to one in 10 nationally.  

We knew that if we could focus on addressing one chronic health condition, that it would be diabetes and we know diabetes affects everything. So, we wanted to keep the network small to start and focus on diabetes, but we know that through community health workers, patient navigation, and free pharmacy and transportation, we are actually addressing social determinants of health and we are not just addressing diabetes. We are really providing holistic care. Once we can do that well, we can expand to help people with other health conditions.  

 

What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic? 

Being in a rural region that is underserved and has a lot of barriers, one of the things that impacted me as well as everyone in the network really has to do with access to the internet and broadband connectivity. I am fortunate. I am here because I have internet connectivity, but I do not even have the best internet connectivity. We have had to plan out how we are going to be able to provide services and do telehealth and that was not something that we thought about when we were planning our network. But for the future, anything that I do and do with my team has to be so focused on virtual platforms and doing telehealth. I am hopeful things will get better but it has been two years and things have not changed yet. I think telehealth, how we connect remotely into work, as well as how people see their health care providers and get information online will continue to stay around.

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