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Partnership Looks to Improve Dentistry in Rural Kentucky

Kentucky’s Appalachian region is getting help from universities to improve oral hygiene.

The Appalachia Rural Dental Education Partnership Plan was announced by Gov. Steve Beshear on Wednesday and it will pull resources from the universities of Kentucky, Pikeville and Morehead State.

The partnership will send UK students to the eastern schools for education and encourage them to start private business in the region, where one in two public school children have dental disease, said Sharon Turner, dean of UK’s College of Dentistry.

“We think that we can do some things to help and that it can be sustainable and that selecting people from those areas that are deeply tied to the geography to those areas with their families there can in fact make a good living in those areas,” Turner said.

Over the past few years, Beshear has announced programs and incentives for rural dentistry practices because eastern and western Kentucky have problems with oral hygiene.

The plan and curriculum is still being written, she said. If the plan is found feasible, UK could start sending eight students to each eastern university every year starting in 2013, but results won’t be seen until 20121 when the students would graduate, she said.

The project is being funded mostly from a $400,000 federal grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has financed some of Beshear’s other rural and pediatric dentistry projects. The University of Kentucky will invest $127,293, $82,035 from Pike University and $47,873 from Morehead State University.

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Robley Rex VA Expands Services to Rural Veterans

The Robley Rex VA is expanding services in its rural health centers in an effort to reach veterans outside the metro area. Physical therapy and occupational therapy is now offered at centers in Carroll County and in Scott County, Indiana.

Since 2007 the VA has increased its effort to reach rural veterans, giving them an opportunity to visit the doctor close to home. Having these services available in more rural areas saves veteran’s time and the VA money, said Shannon Browning, a supervising VA physical and occupational therapist.

The VA pays travel expenses for eligible veterans who travel from rural areas to Louisville’s Robley Rex Center, said Browning. And veterans still get referred to Robley Rex when they could seek services closer to home, she said.

“Generally, in physical therapy we get three to four-hundred consults a month. But Grayson, here’s the catch on this one, Grayson County which is our southernmost out-patient clinic and the farthest away, they’re about a third of our consults,” said Browning.

Grayson County is expected to extend its physical and occupational therapy services sometime within six months to a year, she said. The clinic is currently interviewing for a physical therapist.

Tele-health is also expanding. Veterans can independently or in groups have consultations with mental health doctors and other specialists through videophone. At first, some patients and doctors were skeptical, said Dr. Kevin Pernicano. He recalled one group that had split decisions about the technology.

“And by the end of that particular group they were all just so excited to participate in that. And it was really a wonderful experience to see. It truly expands our ability to reach from para-facility way out in the rural areas,” said Pernicano.

Research shows there’s no difference in care between from face-to-face or tele-health consultations, he said. Robley Rex currently has six units and it received permission to purchase 20 more, he said.