Healthy Communities initiative bringing resources together to address disparities

Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) Healthy Communities is possible through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC recognizes both the challenges and opportunities that exist in rural health and have dedicated two full time staff members to provide support through public health expertise, planning, guidance and community level capacity building. 

Through education, prevention and awareness of current and emerging health threats to the region, those engaged in SOAR Healthy Communities are united by their shared goals and vision. SOAR provides the platform to promote innovative programs, aligns stakeholders and drives action through communication and facilitation. Participation in numerous coalitions, working groups and educational events – gaining valuable community input -  the SOAR Healthy Community team continually strive to strengthen community partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders to increase focus on health and disease prevention throughout the region.

Diabetes and Obesity Roundtable

In March, more than 100 people participated in an Obesity and Diabetes Roundtable at Union College. Co-sponsored by Union College of Nursing, people from various sectors gathered to learn new approaches, bring attention to their efforts and network.  The solution-driven event featured experts from CDC and the Appalachian Regional Commission – highlighting the economic impact of diabetes and demonstrating tools that communities could use to demonstrate that impact to local governments or community stakeholders. These tools can help communities implement innovative, evidence based programs to address regional health disparities in access, quality of care and health outcomes.  

Valerie Horn, of Community Farm Alliance, presented the innovative and collaborative approach to increase access to healthy, affordable foods and opportunities for physical activity. She spoke of the work being done in Letcher County, from the creation of summer feeding program in conjunction with the county farmers’ market, physicians writing prescriptions for produce at the farmers’ market and building a walking trail in town.

“I know for people in our community it’s not a matter of choice. They would be choosing or making healthier choices if they were available to them. If they had the funds, the resources to afford them,” Horn said.


Fit and Grit 5K

In June, the second annual SOAR sponsored event to increase physical activity - Fit and Grit 5K Run/Walk was held in Pikeville.  The event, which also consisted of a mini health fair, featured more than 250 runners and 50 community partners.

Proceeds raised from the event went to micro-grants supporting health and wellness initiatives across the region.  This year’s recipients were Manchester Memorial Hospital, Cultivating a Culture of Health in Appalachia, Community Health Initiatives, HomePlace Clinic, and the Pikeville Farmers Market.

Provider Education

More than 500 healthcare professionals and students attended a Provider Education of Substance Use Disorder in October at the University of Pikeville.  The event was also viewed via live stream to 29 remote sites in six states.

Federal, state, regional and local experts shared the science and practice behind addiction and the consequences of addition in communities. Current and future health care providers have a responsibility to provide health care and treatment that will reduce the scope and impact of substance use disorder and related consequences through education, awareness, prevention, and access to services. 

Pikeville Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass spoke of infectious disease complications of Substance Use Disorder.


Hepatitis C has affected more than 53,000 in Kentucky and Kentucky currently has the highest rate of Hepatitis C rates in the nation. Syringe service programs, approved locally and administered by local health departments, can provide lifesaving access to clean needles, overdose reversal agents, infectious disease testing, access to treatment and social services.

"It's important for drug users to not exchange needles to avoid complications such as hepatitis C and HIV," said Dr. Akhrass. "It's not the perfect solution but it's a start."

Other presentations included approaches to treat pregnant women with substance use disorder and their infants that are exposed in utero and may develop Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawal after birth. UK Pathways and Pregnancy and Beyond at Hazard Primary Care Clinic, are working to reduce the impact of substance abuse on these moms and babies through wrap around social services and coordinated treatment.

Various programs, tools and resources were shared with participants with the ultimate goal of increasing awareness and driving action through education.