Thirty Years of Excellence

Thirty years ago, the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health opened its doors in Hazard, Kentucky. During November 2020, the Center kicked off an anniversary celebration with a series of videos and articles that highlight the many people, programs, partnerships, and contributions that have enabled the Center to remain dedicated to its mission to improve the health and well-being of rural Kentuckians.

“This is an exciting time for the UK CERH,” said Director Dr. Fran Feltner.  “Although the pandemic changed our plans for an in-person celebration, we are looking forward to spotlighting the initiatives that are moving our mission forward, as well as honoring the individuals who had the vision to establish the center and help lay our foundations.”

Established to Address Health Workforce Shortages and Health Disparities

The UK CERH was established during the January legislative session of 1990 and tasked with addressing health workforce shortages and health disparities in Kentucky’s rural communities. Ten months later, the Center opened its doors in the former ARH hospital and accepted their first family medicine residency cohort. Shortly thereafter, the center seated their first class of physical therapists, followed by several other degrees being offered close to home, including nursing, social work and medical laboratory science, all of which has resulted in the Center now having more than 1,000 graduates. The vast majority of the UK CERH graduates are working to meet health care needs in rural communities across Kentucky. Many of them are serving in advanced roles as leaders, mentors and industry experts.

Just a short year after the Center’s opening, the Kentucky Office of Rural Health (KORH) was established by a federal-state partnership authorized by federal legislation. It was a natural fit that the UK CERH would serve as the federally-designated KORH to begin developing a framework to link small rural communities with local, state and federal resources while working toward long-term solutions to rural health issues. The KORH assists clinicians, administrators and consumers in finding ways to improve communications, finances and access to quality health care while ensuring that funding agencies and policymakers are made aware of the needs of rural communities. The KORH administers the Kentucky Student Loan Repayment Program and the National Health Service Corps.

Research Centered Around Health Disparities

Much of the UK CERH’s research has centered around health disparities. One of the UK CERH’s early research projects led to the establishment of Kentucky Homeplace, a highly successful community health worker (CHW) initiative that has served over 100,000 clients in the last 25 years. Today, Kentucky Homeplace is a robust operation with 22 CHWs who help underserved clients in 30 rural Appalachian counties access much needed health, social and environmental services. Kentucky Homeplace is supported by a long-term partnership with the Kentucky Department of Public Health.

“Our 30th anniversary is the perfect occasion to recognize our successful long-term programs like Kentucky Homeplace, KORH and our local academic offerings. It's also a great time to showcase some of our newer initiatives,” said Dr. Feltner.

New Ways to Explore Mission and Goals

In recent years the Center has established a research conference, a rural health magazine, and a youth leadership and research development program. Appalachian Research Day: Come Sit on the Porch is an annual conference hosted by the UK CERH with the purpose of sharing local research findings back to the community. Healthy WAY is a leadership and research development program for high school students. The Bridge Magazine is published quarterly with the KORH, to highlight best practices and innovative solutions to Kentucky's rural health challenges.

Partnerships to Make Communities Stronger

The Center’s work continues to make communities stronger. Through partnerships with other organizations, the UK CERH has been instrumental in creating grass roots opportunities like the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky to invest in our community leaders, Project CARAT for individuals needing durable medical equipment, Operation Change for women who want to take charge of their health, and Eastern Kentucky’s first ever Stroke Survivor and Caregiver Support Group.

“It would be impossible for the Center to do all of this work alone,” said Dr. Feltner. “The cornerstone of our success has truly been in the relationships we have cultivated over the years. We could never accomplish all we have done without our dedicated staff members, faculty and our many valued partners, both at the University and in the community.” Join the UK CERH 30th anniversary virtual celebration on our website and Facebook to see the video series highlighting the many programs, projects and events that have helped to shape the Center as it is today. 

Thank You Messages

The UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health thanks all of our community partners, employees, faculty and students for 30 years of rural health excellence. We were honored to receive special congratulatory messages from top leaders at the University of Kentucky.