Grantee Profile
St. Claire HealthCare/Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center (on behalf of the Northeast Kentucky Substance Use Response Coalition) 

The Northeast Kentucky Substance Use Response Coalition serves an 18-county service area in northeastern Kentucky (central Appalachia). The coalition is a formal network of eight health care and social service organizations working on building a community-based approach to address the opioid crisis. As part of the Network Development Program, the coalition, through the Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center, is deploying regional training with a focus on implementation of three evidence-based strategies including continuing medical education, mentoring, and youth prevention education. Overall, the project aims to increase access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), particularly in the primary care setting. 
 

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently interviewed David Gross, KaSandra Hensley, and KaLeigh Hemminger, from the Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center, about participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s Network Development Program. 
 

To date, what has been an early win in your program?  

KaSandra: One project win for us is the overall interest that we have had in the subject matter. We recently hosted a MAT Boot Camp as an introduction to our MAT mentorship program, and we received more interest than we had anticipated; we currently have a full cohort for our first year of mentees. We have received so much interest from providers outside of our service counties, and unfortunately, have had to be more selective for our events. Recently, the Kentucky legislation changed regulations for physician assistants, so that now physician assistants can prescribe MAT services here in Kentucky, which has also increased the amount of interest that we received over the first quarter of our grant.  
 

How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s grantee program impacting your broader efforts? 

David: To get these programs started from the ground up, some outside funding is needed. This program is crucial to us to get the project off the ground, to get us connected to our region, and to potentially serve a larger service region in the future. 
 

Do you have an example or story that illustrates the value of implementing this project with an engaged network instead of a single organization at the helm? 

KaLeigh: As an area health education center, we were completely new to this kind of grant work and to the opioid epidemic as a whole. We taught ourselves a lot, but if it weren’t for our partners, we would what it is. So, we are thankful for those people around the table, or, these days, in the little Zoom boxes. 
 

What is a piece of advice you would share with an organization launching a similar program?  

David: You have got to be willing to listen to your partners. We are good at bringing people together and since 1985 health care organizations across the region have recognized that we are neutral. But on this particular topic, we are not content experts, which we have been very willing to acknowledge. We listen to our partners. When we go to these different counties to work on projects, we are doing it for the betterment of the entire region, not for the hospital that hosts us.  

When we bring a diverse coalition to the table — community mental health centers, health departments, clinics, hospitals — it can be a little awkward. But, when we start talking about how big of a problem substance use disorder is in the region, we realize nobody can solve this by themselves. It is going to take all of us working together. Very, very quickly we all put any competitive nature aside. Over the years, we have added members based on the grants that we receive. It takes a big tent for us to be able to solve this and we thankfully have been very lucky to recruit a good group of partners that have stuck with us and are willing to work very hard. We do our absolute best to listen to the partners and keep them engaged. 
 

What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic?  
KaLeigh: When the pandemic started, I was really worried about our coalition. We have always been a cohesive and engaged group, but the idea of moving to this virtual platform was worrisome. As much as I miss our in-person meetings and I can’t wait to do those again, the switch pushed us out of our comfort zone. And you know, what they say about being out of your comfort zone — that is where you find growth. I think even after the pandemic, we will still offer virtual continuing education as an option to reach a broader audience. I think it has made us stronger.