My time at Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), a nonprofit organization working to improve the economy of 54 counties in Eastern Kentucky, has given me experience in addressing substance use disorder, obesity, and diabetes in a rural setting. I’ve been able to work with individuals, community coalitions, local health departments, academic institutions, hospitals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations at federal, state, and local levels to focus on improving these three priority health areas for SOAR.
Early on, I found myself focusing on the opioid epidemic facing Eastern Kentucky. Eastern Kentucky has some of the highest rates of opioid misuse, overdose deaths, and hepatitis infections in the nation. My time has gone mostly toward helping plan, lead, and execute events to address this epidemic.
My favorite event was the first-ever Health Hack-A-Thon in Kentucky. This three-day event brought people together from all different areas to “hack” into health problems—in this case, substance abuse disorder, obesity, and diabetes―and create innovative solutions. Our participants ranged from high school students to hospital executives. Bringing people together who normally would not work with each other created a unique space to solve pressing problems.
Several of the 19 participating teams have moved forward with their projects from the Hack-A-Thon and started making positive impacts on their communities. One team even developed a smart phone application that―when activated by a bystander, such as a friend or family member―alerts emergency medical services (EMS) personnel that an overdose is occurring and then gives the bystander lifesaving instructions to use until EMS arrives. The Hack-A-Thon showed me not only importance of collaboration and innovation, but also of listening to people and meeting them where they are.