Press Releases

A three-day series of community meetings to address healthcare concerns across southern and eastern Kentucky wrapped up in Morehead on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve learned during this tour that Appalachian Kentucky is ready to stand up to daunting health challenges of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and drug overdose,” stated CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.. “It’s not going to be a short fight, or an easy one, but CDC stands with you and I’m confident that together we can save many lives.”

More than 1,000 individuals representing local, state and federal efforts attended the four “Health Impact Series” events as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative.

“Dr. Frieden is a champion for healthcare and an innovative leader for change. He has become a good friend of mine in the fight against prescription drug abuse in our region,” said U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), who then thanked Dr. Frieden “for making this personal house call to our region.”

“We could bring every leader in the world to our region, but without you here to implement the new ideas and changes, it is all just talk,” Congressman Rogers reminded those in attendance. “We need to make things happen, and you are the difference makers.”

Dental Health Grant

During the symposium, Congressman Rogers announced that Morehead State University has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to continue the “Appalachian Rural Dental Education Partnership Program” with the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

Joining Congressman Rogers for the announcement were Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson, ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl, Morehead State University President Dr. Wayne Andrews and Kentucky House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins.

"As we know, numerous studies have shown that poor oral health is a serious risk factor for a number of systemic health conditions, in addition to decaying teeth and gum disease. This is especially true for Appalachia's rural counties," said Gohl. "This grant ties in with SOAR's mission to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity, improve quality of life, and support those working to achieve these goals in Appalachian Kentucky."

“This program promotes the growth of dental careers in Eastern Kentucky and extends outreach into our schools to raise awareness about good oral health,” Rogers said.

The state supported the project with a 22% match.

"The Cabinet for Public Health set a goal of a 25% reduction in children going untreated for dental decay," said Lt. Gov. Abramson. "This investment will give us a running chance to achieve that goal."

“We believe this is the first comprehensive oral health campaign designed for a university campus in the nation,” said Dr. Raynor Mullins, of the Center for Oral Health Research at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry. “We have a huge opportunity in Kentucky’s ARC region to innovate and to also lead the nation with children’s oral health care reform.”

Three other grants were announced during the SOAR Health Impact Series. Including:
•$1.5 million from the CDC and ARC to launch the Appalachian Cancer Patient Navigation Project
•National Institutes of Health grant to develop the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky (CLIK)
•$1.08 million from the CDC for the "Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Boost"

Health Impact

SOAR, launched by Congressman Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear in the fall of 2013, seeks to expand job creation; enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity; and improve the quality of life for Appalachian Kentucky.

According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, this region has a greater prevalence for heart disease (84% higher), diabetes (47% higher) and obesity (26% higher) than the nation’s average. The state’s lung cancer mortality rates are the nation’s highest, at 67% above average.

In addition, Kentucky had the third highest mortality rate of prescription drug overdoses in 2010 (23.6 per 100,000), with the number of all drug overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999 (4.9 per 100,000), according to a 2013 report by Trust For America’s Health. Nationally the rate has doubled.

Common themes in the health discussions included wellness, healthy foods, the smoke-free initiative, a focus on children and coordinated school health, oral health, diabetes/obesity, seniors, the need for mental health assessments and services beginning in early childhood, and the drug epidemic.

Dr. Boyd Buser, vice president for health affairs and dean of the University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, spoke about UPIKE’s success in helping ease the shortage of primary care physicians in rural Kentucky and Appalachia, and the development of additional health professions programs.

"Enhancing team-based models of care hold the most hope for improving the life of all Kentuckians," said Dr. Ron Waldridge, past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and member of the leadership with KentuckyOne Health Medical Group. “I firmly believe that the answer to the healthcare crisis in Kentucky is going to be revealed when all stakeholders can come to the table and share ideas, much like the SOAR conferences provide.”

“We need providers, payors, and communities/churches/employers to place laser-like focus on addressing the patients’ needs,” Waldridge continued. “Lastly, we need patients themselves to be engaged in their own healthcare by becoming more informed consumers who are empowered to make a difference in their own lives.”

Wednesday’s symposium – sponsored by Morehead State University and St. Claire Regional Medical Center – also featured a presentation by CDC Deputy Director Dr. Judith Monroe, who received her undergraduate degree from Eastern Kentucky University and went on to practice medicine in another part of the Appalachian region.

“We aren’t the type of people who stand by expecting someone else to save us – the people of southern and eastern Kentucky like to pull up our bootstraps and hit the trenches,” Rogers said, cautioning that there is no quick fix.

“This is a marathon – in fact, this is the race of our lives,” Rogers continued. “We may not get to see the fruits of our efforts. But, if we endure, our children and grandchildren will live healthier and better than we are living now.”

Health Impact Awards

Emphasizing “it takes multiple programs and great leadership to pioneer the path for a healthier region,” Congressman Rogers presented four  “Health Impact Awards” to celebrate the “great work” in awareness and prevention efforts. Recipients of the award were:

• Rural Physician Leadership Program. This program – a collaborative effort of St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead State University, Northeast Area Health Education Center, and UK College of Medicine – prepares young men and women for careers in medicine, ensuring that the best and brightest students are encouraged to utilize their talents in healthcare right here at home.

• Gateway Wellness Coalition, which identifies community health needs and implements strategies to address pressing health issues in Bath, Menifee, Morgan and Rowan counties. This collaboration between St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead State University and the Gateway District Health Department has launched programs such as “Walking 4 Wellness,” supporting improvements in the local farmers markets and area walking trails.

• Lawrence County Health Department, which launched an innovative awareness and screening project to reduce the rate of colon cancer. They have coordinated more than 600 colonoscopies and processed more than 600 FIT colorectal screening kits statewide, which led to the detection of colon cancer in 40 patients. The health department hopes to conduct 4,000 screenings over the next year.

• Dr. Gerald DeMoss, an extraordinary leader in health education and provision in Eastern Kentucky for more than 45 years. DeMoss established Morehead State University’s Space Science Program, one of five baccalaureate space science degrees in the nation, and initiated key grants and contracts that have provided $6.5 million to the institution and service region, including MSU’s joint physicians assistant program with UK.

For more information about SOAR visit their website at