LU grant to provide healthcare access to thousands of rural residents

In a time when access to healthcare is vital, Lamar University is proud to announce that it recently received a rural health grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program in addition to a contribution from an anonymous benefactor totaling $260,167 to launch the Lamar University Interprofessional Rural Health Literacy and Chronic Care CONNECT Through Distance Education and Telemedicine Project.

“Rural living in deep east Texas is filled with many challenges,” said Dr. LeAnne Chisholm, assistant professor of the Dishman School of Nursing. “The rural-urban divide is widened by health disparities and a lack of healthcare access.”

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 2016, rural Americans are known to have higher rates of poverty, chronic diseases, smoking, substance abuse and exposure to environmental hazards, coupled with increased disease risk factors and decreased access to healthcare and health education. Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau noted rural Americans are less likely to have health coverage, further decreasing healthcare access.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census Data, rural residents of Sabine County have exceptionally high rates of cancer, heart disease, obesity and poor behavioral health practices such as smoking. The county also falls into the survey’s highest categorized percentage per population of disabled individuals, the data reported.

The project aims to curb these deficits by:

• Providing access to primary healthcare for students and medically fragile rural residents of Sabine County using telemedicine/telehealth services;

•Providing community access to medical specialty healthcare for rural residents of Sabine County using telemedicine/telehealth services;

• Increasing access to physical and psychological screenings for students and residents of Sabine County through telemedicine/telehealth interviews, screenings and onsite follow-ups;

• Increasing access to opioid/substance abuse, health promotion and disease prevention distance education for residents of Sabine County; and

• Increasing access to hearing screenings, hearing loss-prevention education and referrals for hearing loss.

Chisholm added that LU will serve as a distance education hub for health promotion, disease prevention, hearing loss, hearing loss-prevention, hearing loss referrals and opioid/substance abuse information, which will be streamed to community sites in Fairmount and Pineland (Sabine Area Career Center).

Lamar University will serve as hub/end-user site with Fairmount Family Practice Clinic, facilitating home visits with remote telemedicine equipment connecting patients with the nurse practitioner at Fairmount Family Practice Clinic and other medical specialists in distant cities.

West Sabine Independent School District will house telemedicine to connect students and their parents to providers and screening assessments.

According to Chisholm, this project has the potential to impact 10,000 Sabine County residents.

“Telemedicine equipment is expensive and comes with a large learning curve,” she said, adding that the equipment will allow Fairmount Clinic providers and distant specialists to conduct in-depth assessments on patients in their homes and eliminate travel and exposure to crowds. “This is a huge benefit to fragile older adults and vulnerable populations particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This project increases access to healthcare for people in rural areas.”

In addition to providing students from nursing, audiology and other disciplines the opportunity to learn telemedicine/telehealth technology and use it in a meaningful way, the program is also beneficial to Lamar University,” Chisholm stressed.

“Our students will benefit by applying the knowledge they are attaining at Lamar University to assess rural needs and educate residents of rural communities using technology. Exposure to other rural cultures and living environments also helps students to gain empathy and experience the beauty and challenges of rural life,” she said. “A very important part of our mission is to serve the community. When we identify a need, we have an obligation to use our talents and giftings to benefit our community at large.”

The Lamar University Interprofessional Rural Health Literacy and Chronic Care CONNECT Through Distance Education and Telemedicine Project is a collaboration between Lamar University Principal Investigators Dr. LeAnn Chisholm, Dr. Ashley Dockens, Dr. Cynthia Pipkins and Dr. Troy Palmer, Fairmount Family Practice (Sharon Byley R.N., FNP-C), Sabine Independent School District (Dr. Carnelius Gilder, Superintendent), Sabine Area Career Center (Dr. Lana Comeaux) and a generous anonymous benefactor. 

Chisholm reported that the principal investigators will be purchasing equipment through March as funds become available and will begin to utilize telemedicine in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023. Additional distance education equipment for the community partners will be purchased and installed in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023 for full implementation in the spring and fall of 2023. A community needs assessment for educational topics will begin in the fall of 2022.