2023 rural health faculty experts – University of South Carolina

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.
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.
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.
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 disorders.
News contact: Bryan Gentry, brgentry@sc.edu, 803-576-7650.
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.
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.
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.
Patti Fabel is a clinical associate professor at USC’s College of Pharmacy and executive director of the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center, where she is dedicated to developing innovative ways for pharmacists to be placed in rural health centers. She has overseen pilot programs that demonstrate the value of including a pharmacist to a primary care team as a way to improve patient outcomes, close gaps in care, increase billable revenue and enhance the satisfaction of patients and providers. In addition, since the state enacted the Pharmacy Access Act that allows South Carolina pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription, Fabel is among those who design the training for pharmacists and pharmacy students who want to become birth control prescribers. This expansion can translate into lower maternal morbidity and mortality rates in rural areas where health care providers are scarce.
News contact: Margaret Gregory, mar24@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-760-0255.
Ann Gowdy of the College of Social Work is a licensed clinical social worker who works on solutions for homelessness, with a focus on youth and young adults who are at risk of and experiencing homelessness. Under the mission that housing is a basic need, she seeks to understand risk factors in rural areas, identify available resources, help connect people to services and educate communities that “Housing is Health Care.” Among challenges she sees in talking with young adults experiencing homelessness are that they name mental health access as their top unmet need and that many do not realize they meet the definition of homeless. Originally from Lake City, South Carolina, Gowdy continues to live, work and explore in the state’s rural communities.
News contact: Victoria Montgomery, vmontgom@mailbox.sc.edu.
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.

Topics: Faculty, Health Sciences, Medicine (Columbia), College of Nursing, Arnold School of Public Health


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