COVER STORY: EHF partners with Texas A&M to help rural counties address health challenges
The smell of fajitas fills a meeting room inside the Robertson County Courthouse in Franklin, but the realities of rural health challenges are the main course for this lunch. More than a dozen community leaders from across this small county outside of Bryan/College Station are here to learn what their neighbors say are the most critical health issues facing their communities.
"Our challenge is much bigger than geography," said participant Laura Thibodeaux, a nurse practitioner at a health clinic in Franklin.
Lack of transportation, few mental health resources and a lack of youth activities are just some of the challenges people living in Robertson County say they face trying to be healthy. Residents also worried about where to go for urgent medical care after 5pm and why few neighbors took advantage of preventive health services.
Meetings in Grimes and Madison counties echoed similar concerns. These meetings are part of a three-county rural community convening effort organized by EHF and facilitated by researchers at the Southwest Rural Health Research Center at Texas A&M's University's (TAMU) School of Public Health. EHF's goal is to help each county begin to look for real solutions to specific health issues facing their rural communities.
"We're engaging these communities to take charge of their own health," said Shao-Chee Sim, EHF's VP for applied research. "Leaders in these counties are hearing directly from members of their community so they can better understand and respond to their health needs."
For some county leaders, the effort is shedding new light on their unique health challenges.
"I do not have a grasp on the most critical health needs in this county and this project is helping us identify those," said participant Butch McDaniel, county judge of Madison County. "This effort has encouraged folks to come together and do some good for the community."Members of the Community Health and Wellness Committee in Madison County meet to hear results of focus groups throughout the county.
McDaniel and Thibodeaux are part of a Community Health and Wellness Planning Committee set up in each county. Each committee is made up of local leaders from different sectors: education, religion, government, healthcare and community groups.
TAMU researchers held several focus groups throughout Grimes, Madison and Robertson counties to hear directly from residents. Researchers then presented the results to each county's committee.
"Now these community leaders will tell us what they want to do with the information," said Dr. Jane Bolin, director of TAMU's Southwest Rural Health Research Center. "Change is tough unless you have people on the ground who are champions for the project and move it forward."
TAMU will spend the next few months working with each committee to develop specific action plans specific to their own county health needs.
"We want this project to help rural counties create a system of care that not only helps them receive quality medical care, but that also enables them to get and stay healthy," Sim said.
To learn more about EHF's rural health convening project, click here to email EHF's research team or call 832-807-2564.