WKU department receives grant to benefit community health

Laryn Hilderbrandt

WKU’s Institute for Rural Health was awarded a $50,000 grant to purchase equipment, supplies and flu vaccines by the Good Samaritan Foundation for the fourth consecutive year.

Last year the Institute was able to vaccinate 1,500 patients, according to a press release.

The Institute provides medical and dental services for low-income patients in rural areas of south-central Kentucky. The Good Samaritan Foundation Inc., which awarded the grant, is a ministry of the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Director of WKU’s Institute for Rural Health Matt Hunt grew up in south-central Kentucky and, as a child, would wait three to four hours to see a physician. He said he didn’t realize his home area of Butler County was medically underserved as a county until going into health care administration as an adult.

The grant received by the institute covers the purchase of medical and dental supplies, especially the price of one-time use items, in rural communities like the one where Hunt grew up.

Students are also provided the opportunity to gain real-world experience working with patients. According to the Institute’s website, it engages WKU students “in service learning and multi-disciplinary activities within a diverse patient population.”

Hunt said most of the students working with the department are undergraduates in the fields of social health, pre-med or public health. Clinic work is required in some curriculum, but a competitive internship program is also available to prepare students for post-graduation.

“My goal is to instill a heart of service,” Hunt said.

The medical and dental staff go out into the community to administer services. For medical outreach, they mostly see adults at locations that include the YMCA and other non-profits. Dental services are school based.

Renea Watkins, a registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nursing, graduated from the WKU Nursing Program in 1999 and has been working for the Institute of Rural Health since early August. She goes into communities to perform screening services including: bone density screenings, cholesterol and glucose screenings, blood pressures, BMI, influenza vaccinations and worksite wellness.

Hunt said without the grant, the scope of success would not be as broad. His department takes pride in the sheer number of services that doubles each year. Before the grant, they would administer around 3,000 services and now it is closer to 7,000. Student engagement has also doubled.

“The funding we received allows us to offer free flu shots to community members that might not otherwise get the vaccine,” Watkins said. “This is a great benefit for the entire community.”

The Good Samaritan Foundation, Inc. aims to award grants to charitable and educational activities related to health care and health education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, according to the website. The foundation funds proposals on a one-year basis. Follow-up grants must reflect an evolving program.

Laryn Hilderbrandt can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].