2023 rural health faculty experts – USC News & Events

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Thursday, Nov. 16 is National Rural Health Day. The University of South Carolina has
a number of faculty members who are available to offer their expertise in rural health
services and research. To coordinate an interview, contact the staff member listed
with each expert entry.

Health disparities

Elizabeth Crouch, director of USC’s Rural and Minority Health Research Center, works toward bridging
gaps in care by examining social determinants of health. She has been honored for
her examination of health disparities among rural and vulnerable populations across
their lifespans, from adverse childhood experiences to Medicare utilization in older
adults. She can talk on how the higher prevalence and higher mortality rates for heart
failure and stroke combined with the reduced access to specialists and lack of services
in these populations mean patients with heart diseases often have multiple comorbidities
that lead to shorter lifespans.

News contact: Gregory Hardy, ghardy@sc.edu, 352-362-7052.


Food insecurity

Amy Weaver of the Arnold School of Public Health convenes the Food is Medicine South Carolina
committee, where helping women and children in rural communities are priorities. South
Carolina is one of 16 states that has “Food is Medicine” initiatives, which are partnerships
between health care organizations and food access providers that address and mitigate
the negative impacts of food insecurity for the health of communities. Food is Medicine
initiatives are expanding nationwide, and Weaver can provide context on how these
programs act as prevention and treatment for diet-related disease. She is available
to discuss rural food deserts and how local agriculture can tie in South Carolina-grown
produce to deliver “produce prescriptions” to health care providers. 

News contact: Gregory Hardy, ghardy@sc.edu, 352-362-7052.


HIV care and prevention

Sayward Harrison, a USC psychology professor, is researching ways to improve care outcomes for two
of South Carolina’s key HIV patient populations: youth and rural residents. Harrison
works with youth living with HIV, HIV care providers and community-based organizations
to explore how smartphone-based technology can help youth overcome barriers to HIV
care. Additionally, Harrison has created USC’s Integrated Care for Recovery (I-CaRe)
Center, which addresses the critical shortage of psychologists trained to prevent
and treat opioid addiction and substance use disorders, with an aim to bring services
to rural areas.

Harrison can discuss the severity of HIV in South Carolina, what her research is finding
and the state’s outlook for HIV health care as well as how psychological services
can be expanded in rural areas to prevent and treat opiod addition and substance use

News contact: Bryan Gentry, , brgentry@sc.edu, 803-576-7650.


Mental health care

Alicia Ribar is the principal investigator and executive associate dean for academic affairs and
accreditation at the College of Nursing, which will expand mental health care in the
state’s rural communities thanks to a $2.6 million, four-year training grant from
the Health Resources and Services Administration. Aspiring advanced practice registered
nurses will engage in rotations at practice partner sites, affording them invaluable
exposure to diverse clinical settings where the demand for health care providers is
acute. The program will educate 100 family nurse practitioners and psychiatric mental
health nurse practitioners, and the first cohort will begin spring 2024. Upon graduation,
students are placed back into their home areas to decrease turnover rates in rural
health care settings.

News contact: Nicole Meares, nmeares@sc.edu, 803-777-9147.


Maternal health

Kevin Bennett serves as the director of USC’s Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare. He has been
active in examining rural health care delivery, systems and policy for more than 20
years. Bennett is available to talk about improving health care delivery for vulnerable
populations, rural residents and those with chronic diseases. The efforts he oversees
to increase maternity care programs in rural health clinics includes research that
delves into the gaps of travel distance for pregnant women and the providers they
choose to visit. He will assume the role of National Rural Health Association president
in 2024.

News contact: Jamie Metz, Jamie.Metz@uscmed.sc.edu.

Peiyin Hung is an assistant professor of health services policy and management at the Arnold School
of Public Health. She has conducted extensive research into how expectant mothers
from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in search of quality maternal care
face dual burdens of long-distance travel and inadequate digital access. Closures
of rural hospital-based maternity units create geographic disparities that impede
access to maternity care for underserved women and pregnant, birthing and postpartum
persons. Telehealth consultations and remote perinatal support for families in remote
or underserved areas require digital technology, yet Hung’s study showed these residents
have the least access to digital technology. 

News contact: Gregory Hardy, ghardy@sc.edu, 352-362-7052.


Obesity and behavioral health

Nursing professor Demetrius Abshire has developed a lifestyle program to address obesity in African American men living
in the rural South. His research aims to identify variables associated with weight-related
behaviors and body mass index to gain insight on which factors may need to be targeted
in future obesity interventions. “Men are largely underrepresented in behavioral programs
that address obesity, and efforts are needed to reach minority men who live in the
rural South where obesity rates are particularly high,” Abshire says. He is currently
evaluating the impacts of two health programs, Game Day Ready and Walking and Health
Education, which are tailored for Black men in rural South Carolina.  

News contact: Nicole Meares, nmeares@sc.edu, 803-777-9147.

USC Centers

South Carolina Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare

The Palmetto State ranks among the 15 states with the highest maternal mortality rates.
Working to decrease infant mortality rates and low birth rates, the South Carolina
Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare prioritizes maternal and child health.  The
center’s iCARE Projects are designed to improve care and provision of rural access
to eliminate health disparities related to pre- and post-natal care. Pediatric patients
receive care across nine pediatric subspecialties, which include cardiology, endocrinology,
pulmonology and nephrology. iCARE service locations that increase access to essential
health care providers are established in 40 South Carolina counties.

News contact: Jamie Metz, Jamie.Metz@uscmed.sc.edu.

Rural and Minority Health Research Center

More than a quarter of South Carolina residents live in rural areas, and the Rural
and Minority Health Research Center help these populations overcome the greater health
care challenges they face than their urban counterparts. Rural patients face disproportionate
barriers to hospital-based specialized cardiac care compared to urban counterparts.
Rural hospitals often struggle with staffing specialists, nurse practitioners and
physician assistants. Acute care is difficult to provide with a national nursing shortage,
which is worse in rural areas. Rural hospitals struggle as communities have higher
rates of uninsured and underinsured people. The center works to bridge the rural disparities
in social determinants of health, which include higher rates of obesity, smoking,
diabetes and physical inactivity, as well as higher rates of poverty and underinsurance.

News contact: Gregory Hardy, ghardy@sc.edu, 352-362-7052.


Why it matters

  • Nearly 1.4 million South Carolina residents live in rural areas and these populations
    face more challenges than their urban counterparts.
  • South Carolina has 67 medically underserved areas, including 14 counties without a
    practicing OB-GYN.
  • Rural residents have little to no access to public transportation. Wages are lower,
    job opportunities fewer, and communities experience higher rates of chronic disease,
    including behavioral health challenges.


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