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The University of Alabama

UA, Pickens Partnership Aims to Improve Rural Area’s Health, Education

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama has teamed with Pickens County to provide learning opportunities for students while improving the health and well-being 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 UA President 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 it provides help for a community and learning opportunities and experiences for students,” Streiffer said. “It will train future physicians and other health care providers where most will practice, and it will sustain health care in communities that most need it.”

In 2015, the Alabama Legislature appropriated $600,000 for this program, and, with CCHS as the coordinator, the funds will be used to support the Partnership in the following ways:

  • 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 said. “I will be making sure that we are introducing innovative ideas into the community and providing needed resources.”

A portion of funding obtained will support eight projects that address Pickens County health issues. Each project includes a UA faculty member, 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
  • TelePlay: Connecting physicians, families and autism professionals to increase early autism identification in Pickens County
  • Improving Pickens County residents’ knowledge of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Development of a rural family medicine residency in Pickens County
  • Pickens County medical-legal partnership for the elderly
  • Improving access to cardiac rehabilitation services in Pickens County
  • Alabama Literacy Project
  • Bringing healthy food options and ease of preparation to senior adults

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.

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. Pickens County Medical Center, which is county-owned and located in Carrollton, had seen layoffs, furloughs and reductions to programs and services over the years.

Learn more about the Partnership at cchs.ua.edu/pickenscounty.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Kim Eaton, UA media relations, 808-640-5912, kkeaton@ur.ua.edu
  • SOURCE: Brett Jaillet, assistant director of communications, College of Community Health Sciences, 205/348-2041, bjaillet@cchs.ua.edu