ETSU leading effort to address health professional shortages, economic development in Appalachia

Published 12:09 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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East Tennessee State University’s Center for Rural Health Research is leading an effort to address health care workforce challenges, foster economic development and promote regional prosperity in Central Appalachia.  

Dubbed the Regional Public Colleges and Universities (RPCU) Central Appalachia Health Consortium, this ground-breaking initiative is part of the Appalachia Regional Commission’s Appalachia Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies. In addition to ETSU, universities that are part of this collaboration include Appalachian State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, Ohio University, Radford University and Shawnee State University.  

At ETSU, this venture will be led by Dr. Nicholas Hagemeier, the university’s vice provost for Research, and Michael Meit, director for the Center for Rural Health Research in the ETSU College of Public Health.  

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The consortium will explore a variety of strategies for working together and impacting health and economic outcomes in central Appalachia. These include articulation agreements, local pipeline development, cross-institution internships, in-state tuition arrangements, elective options, streamlined applications and preferred admissions. 

“Central Appalachia faces persistent challenges in health care recruitment, and this collaborative effort seeks to address these issues to increase economic vitality in this region,” said Meit. “Together, the institutions involved in this project will play a pivotal role in preparing a health care workforce tailored to address the specific needs of local communities.”   

This project encompasses 235 counties in six states: Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Of those, only six counties are not in an area designated a primary care health professional shortage area, and just four are not in a dental care health professional shortage area.  

Consortium members will work to implement five major activities as part of this multi-state effort: formalizing relationships between university partners, conducting a needs gap analysis of health care workforce training, research review, developing an implementation plan and developing an RPCU Central Appalachia Health Consortium Landing Page.  

ETSU boasts extensive leadership in Appalachian health and economic development, and the university will serve as a guiding force within the consortium, offering insights and strategies deeply rooted in the unique challenges and opportunities of the Appalachian region. This leadership enhances the consortium’s capacity to address health care disparities, foster economic growth and implement initiatives tailored to the specific needs of central Appalachia. 

“ETSU and its partner institutions in this endeavor want to create a lasting and transformative impact on the health care landscape in our region, and together, through the consortium, we have the resources to do just that,” said Hagemeier. “Ultimately, each of our colleges and universities – as well as our local community partners – are seeking to improve the health and well-being of people in a region faced with persistent inequities that disproportionately impact rural Americans.”