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Inroads to Improve Rural Health in Tyler, TX

UT Health Science Center at Tyler opens new school facility.

By Cynthia Yeldell Anderson on June 24, 2020

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The University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at Tyler is on a mission to improve the health of rural east Texans. The university’s School of Community and Rural Health recently celebrated the grand opening of an 89,000-square-foot- building that will serve as a hub to coordinate education, research, workforce and community health initiatives in east Texas.

Gerald Ledlow, Ph.D., MHA, FACHE, Dean of UT Tyler’s School of Community and Rural Health, says by consolidating its resources and programs into one building, the school hopes to be more efficient and effective in improving the health status of east Texans. Through numerous community health initiatives and by increasing the public health workforce, the UT Health Science Center at Tyler is hoping to see health in rural areas make gains.

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“A lot of these changes are not going to happen overnight,†Ledlow says. “It’s going to be a day-by-day advancement of this, and over time, we will know that we made a difference.”

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Three years ago, the UT Health Science Center launched its School of Community and Rural Health. A major focus of the school is improving public health in East Texas’ 28 counties. The school offers two master’s degree programs, one in public health launched in January 2017, and another in health administration launched in August 2019. Both programs help train workers on how to research and implement community health initiatives that result in better lifestyle and behavior choices for rural residents.

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Ledlow says the first group of 16 students graduated in May 2019. He says most of the students in the program are working adults and several have been promoted to higher positions at their jobs since graduating.

Since its launch, enrollment in the school has steadily increased. Approximately 75 students are enrolled in UT’s School of Community and Rural Health, and the school has approximately 22 faculty members, Ledlow says.

UT Health Science Center also offers a Community Health Worker (CHW) Training certification program, which trains workers to serve as a link between patients and the health care team.

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Rolling Asthma Outreach

One of the innovative community health outreach programs the college is using to improve rural health is its mobile asthma van. The van visits schools in the area and teaches children with asthma how to manage their condition and reduce acute events.

For every dollar invested in the program, $1.46 is returned to the community in the form of fewer emergency room visits, fewer patient hospital stays and reduced leave time from work for parents caring for sick children, Ledlow says.

“Students don’t lose as much time in school, and parents don’t have to take off work,†Ledlow says. “A healthier child will be more productive and learn more.”

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A nurse family partnership program is also helping improve the health of rural east Texans. There are eight nurses who visit high-risk mothers in Smith County and provide education to help mothers deliver babies with a healthy birth weight. Ledlow says the nurses conduct hundreds of visits per month and all of that data is collected, such as data from the school’s other programs, to be shared with other organizations in the area working to build a healthier community.

“Rural areas don’t have a lot of redundancy,†Ledlow says. “Our job is to improve the health status of east Texans, and we are happy to work with anyone who has overlapping goals.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Tyler area, check out the latest issue of Livability: Tyler, TX

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