UK researcher receives $3.1 million grant to fight health disparities in Appalachia

An initiative from the UK Colleges of Medicine and Public Health to educate people in Eastern Kentucky about cancer prevention has been awarded an additional $3.1 million grant to address the diabetes epidemic.

Since 2004, Nancy Schoenberg, the Marion Pearsall Professor of Behavioral Science at the UK College of Medicine, has been principal investigator of a series of projects in Eastern Kentucky collectively called “Faith Moves Mountains.” The project works to build community support for cervical cancer prevention and a wellness and cancer prevention program and to reduce Appalachian health disparities.

Earlier this fall, Schoenberg and her team of community and university researchers from the UK College of Medicine and the UK College of Public Health were awarded a new five-year, $3.1 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to continue the Faith Moves Mountains initiative and implement a project called “Clinic to Community Navigation to Improve Diabetes Outcomes” in Appalachian communities where diabetes is considered an epidemic.

Faith-based community partnerships

Like the previous projects, researchers aim to target specific health behaviors through faith-based interventions by building relationships with churches in Appalachian communities.

“We have worked over the years with about 60 or 70 churches, faith organizations in general, as well as senior centers, community centers, [and] other environments, to really promote the most scientifically rigorous projects,” Schoenberg said.

“All of my research really focuses on bringing in people from the communities melding their community knowledge and our team’s scientific knowledge to figure out the best interventions and programs to promote health and to decrease health disparities.”

For this project, Schoenberg will continue to draw on existing faith organizations and other partnerships. “We’ll reach out to new churches in new counties and new environments to promote the message of diabetes control,” she said.

Education and self-management

Appalachian Kentucky has rates of diabetes about 46 percent higher than the national average. Even more challenging is that about one-third of those who have diabetes are undiagnosed.

During the project, researchers intend to reduce adverse outcomes by educating people with Type 2 diabetes about self-management and training community-based facilitators to help coordinate healthcare services. To determine the most effective intervention components, researchers will assign participants to one of three groups: a diabetes self-management group, a patient navigation group, or a combined self-management and patient navigation group.

The self-management groups will meet in churches or other community-based venues. In addition, patient navigators will assist with educating and facilitating healthcare appointments at community-based health clinics and check-in with patients to make sure they attend medical appointments and receive adequate follow-up care.

“We want to draw on what we know works to help community members get the diabetes self-management that they need,” Schoenberg said. “Our hope is that at the end of the day, they’re able to take control of their health.”


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