Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center – Paul Baird, director of the trust’s rural health program, chairs the Berrien County roundtable. Photo courtesy of Paul Byrd
Since opening his family medicine practice in rural Georgia three years ago, Dr. Jacques O’Kane has often complained about the lack of resources for people dealing with addiction.
Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center
Now, thanks to a recent meeting of Mercer University’s new Trust in Rural Health initiative, a collaboration between the Georgia Center for Rural Health Innovation, the McAfee School of Medicine and the School of Theology, he can offer his patients an opportunity to offer support.
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“Someone was putting out flyers about a program they had just started where people could go to these meetings at the church and talk to other people struggling with addiction,” said Dr. O’Cain, who practices in Berrien County. “The other day I had flyers that took me to the doctor’s office and I couldn’t believe it. Two patients said to me, ‘Oh my God, I wish I had a place where I could talk to someone who I’m with. relationship. I passed by.” And I was able to give them these flyers and they attended these meetings.
Building such relationships is part of the Rural Health Trust programme. The initiative aims to support the physical, mental and spiritual health of people in rural Georgia by coordinating the efforts of clergy, doctors and health workers.
The goal of the three-year project, which began in March 2022, is threefold: to assess areas of need and opportunities for collaboration, to work with existing sites to model holistic care and spine education, and to build relationships between medical facilities. professionals and local spirituality for the work of unity. The initiative is currently being implemented in Berrien, Putnam, Toombs and Montgomery counties.
“The idea is to try to address some of the rural health disparities by getting faith leaders and community health providers to work together,” said Paul Byrd, director of Faith in Rural Health and a former pediatric nurse practitioner with 30 years of experience. an old man who works in the biggest. health centers.
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He spent most of last year meeting with religious leaders and health care providers, holding community meetings and conducting needs and capacity assessments. In general, health care providers, clergy and patients agree that health and spirituality are intertwined, Byrd said.
“When we think about overall health, which is mental, spiritual, physical — all of that — I don’t think there’s a difference for most people,” he said. “I just think we’re so (divided) on health care and faith that people seem afraid to talk about them at the same time.
“This initiative is not trying to bring people to church. It’s just trying to connect these two groups of people to help address some very serious health disparities in the community.”
As part of the program, students of the Faculty of Theology and Medicine perform three-week rotations in individual districts. Stut interns are sent in pairs, one from each school, so they can develop relationships and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives, Bird said.
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“We hope that the stakes will change and embrace the goal of creating interdisciplinary partnerships (faith/health) as they move into communities,” he said.
Daniel Pham, a first-year medical student, worked in Berrien County, where he discovered that religion played an important role in the residents’ daily lives. He said he finds it interesting that while both clergy and health professionals have agreed on the integration of health care and religion, both fear that the other side is against it.
“Health care providers weren’t really sure that religious leaders would be excited about the idea of integrating health care into religion and vice versa,” said Pham, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Mercer in 2021.
Tonya Meadows, who graduated in December with a master’s degree in divinity and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Mercer, worked as an intern in Putnam County.
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“The biggest problem I’ve seen is that a lot of people have to go out of the community to get certain health needs, especially when it comes to cancer. Some people have to go to Athens or Augusta to get care. Here, too, there’s a huge the need for mental health care,” Meadows said.
She said there are many resources in the community and many people willing to help, but more communication is needed to connect resources with people in need.
Cecil Kilgore, Putnam County’s religious leader, said early community meetings were successful in identifying the needs of the county’s diverse population. Kilgore is the executive director of Reach2Teach, a division of New Life Outreach Christian Center.
“We’re both trying to save our lives,” Kilgore told religious leaders and health workers. “A lot of times when it comes down to it, we’re dealing with life and death situations. There are times when medicine is the ultimate solution to a problem, and sometimes the doctors have done all they can and you rely. in faith. in Christ Jesus.”
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MACON, a major initiative launched by the Mercer University School of Medicine and Pediatrics in Atlanta to improve children’s health care in rural Georgia, will initially involve hospitals, pediatricians and school systems representing 11 rural Georgia counties. The School of Medicine and Child Management announced the community partners at a press conference held Feb. 23 in the University Center’s Heritage Hall on Mercer’s Macon campus. Gov. Brian Kemp previously announced the affiliation of the College of Medicine and Children on Feb. 22 in the Georgia state capital.
The connection between the School of Medicine and the Children’s School will be funded by a special, long-term endowment of $200 million through 2022 from the Children’s Board of Trustees.
“I believe this is a transformative opportunity for the state of Georgia and for rural children,” said School of Medicine Dean Dr. Jean R. Sumner. “It also perfectly aligns with MUSM’s mission to meet the primary care and health care needs of medically underserved rural Georgia, which we are committed to.
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“We could not be more honored and grateful to partner with Children’s Health Services of Atlanta to provide support and opportunity to care for children in rural Georgia. Children are so important, the children’s health system is a treasure. The goal of this initiative is to improve children’s access to medical care close to home and ultimately helping to improve the lives of Georgia’s rural children.
Mercer Presit William D. Underwood presented to the Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. Jean Sumner at a press conference in the University Center on February 23. Photographer Christopher Ian Smith
One of the top priorities Mercer has already listed is the urgent need for more pediatricians across Georgia. To help increase access to pediatricians in rural areas, Children’s is awarding 10 scholarships through the School of Medicine program in 2023 to medical students specializing in pediatrics and working in rural Georgia for at least four years after graduation. Tuition paid in full.
“We are excited to partner with Mercer University School of Medicine. They are a trusted partner in our rural communities and are well positioned to lead us in meeting the needs of Georgia’s children. We are confident that together we can make an impact on children and families across Georgia,” said Donna. Hyland, CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
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Donna Hyland, CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, speaks during a press conference Feb. 23 at the University Center. Photographer Christopher Ian Smith
In addition, the affiliation will allow the Faculty of Medicine to use its established understanding of the health care needs of rural communities to implement and evaluate the pilot program. The fellows will provide specialized pediatric clinical expertise needed to initiate and sustain these programs designed to support rural hospitals, rural pediatricians, and children’s behavioral and mental health.
“As a pediatrician practicing in a rural area, I am excited about the partnership between Children’s Health Atlanta and Mercer School of Medicine,” said Dr. Jennifer Tarbuton, Chair of the School of Medicine Board of Trustees. “Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is recognized as a leading provider of pediatric care in the nation, and as a graduate of their pediatric residency program, I know firsthand the educational value of this program. These partnerships and planned trials with Mercer are the first step toward the best educational opportunities and pediatric specialists in rural Georgia.
“I am also a proud graduate of the School of Medicine and know firsthand how dedicated Mercer is