WVU awarded one of six national rural health research center grants

Impact of environmental hazards is focus of research

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded the West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy Research a four-year, $2.6 million grant to establish a national center devoted to rural health research. The award comes from the HHS Office of Rural Health Policy, which promotes research on healthcare in rural areas.

To qualify, centers identified a nationally relevant topic of concern. WVU’s topic is the impact of environmental hazards on the health and economies of rural communities, said Michael Hendryx, Ph.D., director and principal investigator for the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center.

“Previous research on environmental risks has tended to focus on urban settings. But people in rural settings face potential hazards from many sources, such as pesticides and fertilizer runoff in agricultural areas and industrial environmental hazards including those from the mining, timbering and lumbering industries,” Hendryx said.

“We want to identify what the risks are, who is exposed to them, and what the health impacts are. Then we want to undertake appropriate steps to reduce those risks. Our ultimate objective is to help create healthier environments for rural people across the country,” he said.

The center will have offices in Morgantown and Charleston. The research team also includes Cynthia Persily, Ph.D., professor in the WVU School of Nursing’s Charleston Division, who will serve as deputy director; Joel Halverson, Ph.D., research instructor with the WVU School of Pharmacy; Sally K. Richardson, executive director of the institute and associate vice president for health sciences; and Hilda R. Heady, associate vice president for rural health and director of the WVU Office of Rural Health.

“We have a first-rate leadership team that blends the strengths of the WVU Department of Community Medicine, the schools of Nursing and Pharmacy, the Institute for Health Policy Research in Charleston and the Office of Rural Health and focuses on a new area of community service research and the rural environment, an area that to date has seen very little research,” Richardson said.

Richardson said one of the center’s strengths will be to equip those who serve rural communities with the latest data and information on the healthcare needs of rural populations exposed to such hazards. In addition, researchers will provide policy makers with information on the impact of the environment on people’s health.

Of the six centers funded this year, WVU’s is the only new center. The other five centers received additional funding for this cycle. The centers are:

  • The West Virginia Rural Health Research Center, which will become a part of the WVU Institute for Health Policy Research
  • The Maine Rural Health Research Center at the University of South Maine Muskie School of Public Service
  • The North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center at the University of North Carolina Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
  • The South Carolina Rural Health Research Center at the University of South Carolina Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health
  • The Upper Midwest Rural Health Research Center, which is a partnership between the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center and the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health
  • WWAMI, a partnership between the University of Washington School of Medicine and the states of Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho

For information on the Office of Rural Health Policy see http://ruralhealth.hrsa.gov/.

For information on the WVU Institute of Health Policy Research see  http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/wvhealthpolicy/index.html.


For more information:
Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
hh/asj: 09-12-08

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