Remaking Rural Health: A KET Special Report

Building Healthy Communities: Perry County and Clay Counties

“Perry County has a 200-bed medical facility; we have more doctors per capita than all of our urban centers. We have more MRIs and fancy medical equipment than most small countries but yet we’re one of the unhealthiest counties in the nation. And our health-care delivery is more expensive than it is anywhere in the nation for some of the worst health outcomes. We have created a culture where anything that ails you, you can get fixed sometime later. We have to shift that,” Gerry Roll, of the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County, says.

For Roll and others in rural Kentucky, the answer lies not in additional services, but in fostering a community that supports health and makes the healthy choice the easy choice.

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With the Community Foundation, Perry County convened a multi-year community visioning process that mapped a path to a healthier Perry County. The Community Foundation funds projects such as:

  • a hiking club that connects middle and high school students with adult mentors
  • a wellness initiative at a remote elementary school that helps parents and students be active together
  • outdoor classrooms at a middle school that encourage teachers to get students out and moving

“It’s small money, but for us, it’s huge,” says Roll. “It’s not fast. It’s long-term thinking, starting with the kids and working our way up.”

In nearby Clay County, Senator Robert Stivers also believes that changing health outcomes starts with children. Ever since a 2010 Washington Post article declared Clay County the unhealthiest county in the state, Stivers has been on a mission to bring more wellness programs to the school system.

With Stivers’ help, the local school district partnered with Norton Hospital in Louisville and Manchester Memorial Hospital to start a pedometer program with fourth and fifth graders in the district. At the high school, they added daily ROTC training to the curriculum.

“How to impact the health of a county in the long run? Well, you’re looking to try to make some current changes, but you’re also looking at making generational changes. It’s not something you’re going to see next week, but a year, two years, or ten years down the line, it’s changing how people view themselves and how they treat their bodies,” Stivers says.

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Remaking Rural Health: A KET Special Report is a KET production, Laura Krueger, producer, and is funded, in part, by a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.