ECU, Eastern AHEC host Rural Health Symposium

Developing community relationships to improve the health of the region was a major direction of the second annual Rural Health Symposium hosted by the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, Eastern Area Health Education Center and other partners.

Approximately 110 participants – including physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists, dentists, psychologists, counselors, social workers and educators – gathered at Eastern AHEC on Jan. 10-11 from more than 20 different counties across eastern North Carolina.

The difference between health and health care emerged as a significant topic of discussion. The symposium was planned to focus on innovative and collaborative efforts to provide better care to areas with limited resources, exploring community, business, and leadership models.

“We’re really trying to think about health instead of health care,” said keynote speaker Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s more than just what happens in a hospital or clinic. How do we ask about things like food, housing, violence and jobs in the context of a health visit?”

With 80 percent of the state being rural, it’s important to address not only access to care but also business and infrastructure in these areas, Cohen continued. “Brody and others who are focused on serving the people of North Carolina are doing great work. We want folks to see what great communities we have here and to build a life and a family here, as well as to care for them.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during the second annual Rural Health Symposium on Jan. 10, 2019.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during the second annual Rural Health Symposium on Jan. 10. (Photo by Jackie Drake)

The discussion needs to be broadened “beyond the four walls of the clinic” to address diverging life expectancy rates and other disparities in urban and rural areas, according to keynote speaker Tom Morris, associate administrator for rural health policy at the Health Resources and Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Symposium topics included oral health disparities, veteran health, mental health and health literacy, school-based telehealth, resilience and wellbeing for health care providers, health careers pipeline programming in rural schools, disaster preparedness, Alzheimer’s disease in North Carolina’s American Indians, the impact of soil health on human health, and more.

A networking event, sponsored by the ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation, was held Thursday evening that allowed professionals to share their projects and progress and make important contacts.

“This symposium is not just for education and knowledge transfer,” said Dr. Lorrie Basnight, executive director of Eastern AHEC and associate dean of continuing medical education at Brody. “This is a setting for people to network and discover new partners and organizations to collaborate with across the region.”

Projects from the ECU Rural Prosperity Initiative were featured, including telepsychiatry in hospital emergency departments across the region, research clusters between the Department of Psychology and the College of Nursing, colorectal cancer screening, community engagement in West Greenville (an urban area with rural applications), and a school-based oral health expansion program between the School of Dental Medicine and Bertie County Public Schools.

“Rural is a state of mind and a state of heart. It’s about community, compassion and commitment,” said Maggie Sauer, director of the Office of Rural Health in NC DHHS. “Yes, there is a lot of need, but there is a lot of strength and a lot of assets in rural areas. These communities know you can’t parcel out health care. Everything has to be discussed, including jobs and the economy, for the health of the community.”

This program was jointly provided by Brody’s Office of Continuing Medical Education, Vidant Health and UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy in association with Eastern AHEC.


-by Jackie Drake, Eastern AHEC