Press Releases

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Deputy Director Dr. Judith Monroe heard comments and concerns about the high rates of disease and other health-related issues in Eastern Kentucky during a community dinner held Monday night at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset.

“Few regions of our nation suffer as much as Appalachian Kentucky from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer or drug overdose – but Kentucky is not alone fighting these epidemics,” Dr. Monroe assured the more than 300 people in attendance.

Dr. Monroe joined U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th) and Kentucky Cabinet for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Stephanie Mayfield to kick-off of a three-day “house call” to the region.

“CDC is here in partnership with community groups, state health workers, and U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers to help create opportunities for better health,” said Dr. Monroe, who received her undergraduate degree from Eastern Kentucky University and went on to practice medicine in another part of the Appalachian region.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director and one of the nation’s foremost public health experts, was called to Washington, D.C., to testify about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa earlier in the day and unable to make it to Somerset. He is expected to join the tour for stops in Hazard, Paintsville and Morehead on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Monday’s dinner, sponsored by Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, was the first “Health Impact Series” event as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative.

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.

“We cannot shape the future of this region without focusing on ways to improve the quality of life we have, and if you’ve ever battled cancer or watched someone close to you go down that difficult road, quality of life is basically non-existent.” Rogers said. “We are here tonight looking for answers as to why our rates of disease are so high.”

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.

Dr. Frieden and Congressman Rogers have worked together through Operation UNITE’s National Rx Drug Abuse Summit to combat this public health epidemic, and have teamed up once again for the SOAR Health Impact Series.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Frieden and Dr. Monroe in Kentucky,” said Commissioner Mayfield. “Their support of healthy lifestyle, increased access to care, and health policy that improves the wellbeing of society falls right in line with what we’ve been doing here in the commonwealth.”

“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 even 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:

• Lake Cumberland Friends, Inc., which has helped relieve the extraordinary financial burden from individuals battling cancer and other terminal illnesses for 20 years.

• “Pounds Off Pulaski,” a partnership between Lake Cumberland Regional Healthcare and Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce launched two years ago that provides a 12-week weight loss challenge utilizing nutrition, exercise and psychology tools.

• Baptist Health Corbin, which teams up with the Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center to host a free annual event, called “Ladies In Red,” for women to learn about the warning signs of heart disease and the importance of prevention.

• Dale Kirby, chair of the Pulaski County UNITE Coalition, who “has recruited more people to fight drug abuse than everyone else in this room combined” in addition to running the county’s Court Watch Program and serving as a staff member for the annual National Rx Drug Abuse Summits – all in volunteer roles.

For more information about SOAR visit their website at