The University of Alabama has teamed up with Pickens County to provide learning opportunities for students while improving the health and wellbeing of the rural county of nearly 20,000.
The University of Alabama-Pickens County Partnership seeks to provide sustainable health care for the county and “real world” training for UA students in medicine, nursing, social work, psychology, health education and other disciplines. Students will gain practice from internships and other learning opportunities, while Pickens County will gain additional and needed health resources.
When it was feared that Pickens County Medical Center, a 56-bed hospital that has provided inpatient, outpatient and emergency care for the rural county since it opened in 1979, would close, members of the community took action.
They met with UA leaders, including Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the UA College of Community Health Sciences, and former president Dr. Judy Bonner, and what began as a discussion about how to keep the medical center open evolved into a conversation about sustaining health care in the county.
CCHS hosted a meeting in December 2014 that included Pickens County leaders and citizens and UA vice presidents and deans. The conversation centered on envisioning a new model of health care for the county via an academic-community partnership. The idea was coined a Health Care Teaching County.
“A health care teaching county is novel in that in that it provides help for a community and learning opportunities and experiences for students,” says Streiffer. “It will train future physicians and other health care providers where most will practice, and sustain health care in communities that most need it.”
In 2015, $600,000 was obtained from the Alabama Legislature to initiate the Partnership, and with CCHS as the coordinator, the funds will be used to support the Partnership in the following ways:
1. A Partnership Coordinator was hired. Wilamena Hopkins joined the Partnership in May 2016 as coordinator. Originally from rural Archer, Florida, Hopkins, studied health care management at UA and has worked as an event and training coordinator for Maude Whatley Health Services in Tuscaloosa.
“My role is to make sure the community is aware of the Partnership and understands the Partnership, and I’ll be making sure that we are headed in the right direction and that at the end of this year, funding will continue,” Hopkins says. “I will be making sure that we are introducing innovative ideas into the community and providing needed resources.”
2. A portion of funding obtained will support eight projects that address Pickens County health issues. Each project includes a UA faculty, UA student and a Pickens County community organization or similar entity.
Disseminating the Power PATH mental health preventive intervention to Pickens County Community Action Head Start Program
Principal Investigator: Dr. Caroline Boxmeyer, associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at CCHS
Co PIs: Dr. Ansley Gilpin, assistant professor of psychology at UA, and Dr. Jason DeCaro, associate professor of anthropology
Collaboration: Pickens County Community Action Head Start Program
TelePlay: Connecting physicians, families and autism professionals to increase early autism identification in Pickens County
PI: Lea Yerby, assistant professor of Community and Rural Medicine at CCHS
Co PIs: Dr. Angela Barber, assistant professor of Communicative Disorders and the clinical research director of Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic at UA
Collaboration: Dr. Julia Boothe, family medicine physician in Pickens County
Improving Pickens County Residents’ Knowledge of Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes
PI: Dr. Michele Montgomery, assistant professor at the Capstone College of Nursing
Co PI: Dr. Paige Johnson, assistant professor at the Capstone College of Nursing
Collaboration: Pickens County Community Action Committee & CDC, Inc., Pickens County Board of Education, Pickens County Head Start, and the Diabetes Coalition
Development of a Rural Family Medicine Residency in Pickens County
PI: Dr. Richard Friend, director of the College’s Family Medicine Residency
Collaboration: Jim Marshall, CEO of Pickens County Medical Center; Deborah Tucker, CEO of Whatley Health Services
Pickens County Medical-Legal Partnership for the Elderly
PI: Gaines B. Brake, staff attorney with the Elder Law Clinic at The University of Alabama School of Law
Collaboration: Jim Marshall, CEO of Pickens County Medical Center
Improving Access to Cardiac Rehabilitation Services in Pickens County
PI: Dr. Avani Shah, assistant professor of Social Work at UA
Co PI: Dr. Jonathan Wingo, associate professor of Kinesiology at UA
Collaboration: Sharon Crawford Wester, RRT, Cardiopulmonary Rehab Pickens County Medical Center
Alabama Literacy Project
PI: Carol A. Donovan, professor of special education and multiple abilities at UA
Collaboration: Jamie Chapman, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools
Bringing Healthy Food options and ease of preparation home to our senior adults
PI: Jennifer Anderson, director of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UA
Co PI: Suzanne Henson, dietitian and assistant professor in Family Medicine at CCHS
Collaboration: Anne Jones, Pickens County Family Center and Mayor Joe Lancaster, City of Carrollton, Alabama
3. The Partnership also sought recent UA graduates for one-year paid fellowships that provide opportunities to serve in health-related capacities in Pickens County. Four fellows joined the Partnership: August Anderson, Laura Beth Hurst, Courtney Rentas and Judson Russell.
They will spend time in Pickens County in community engagement and leadership development activities, which include seminars on health and public policy as well as social determinants of health. They will also work on projects throughout the year.
Across the country, rural hospitals struggle to survive. Since 2011, Alabama rural hospitals have closed in Florala, Elba, Clanton, Hartselle, Thomasville and Roanoke. Others cut services, notably obstetrical care.
Pickens County Medical Center, which is county-owned and located in Carrollton, Alabama, had seen layoffs and furloughs and had cut programs and reduced services over the years.
What makes this worse is that rural areas are in more need of health care, as their citizens are typically older, sicker and poorer.
In Pickens County, 27 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and health outcome rankings show that the county is 41st among the state’s 67 counties.