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Rural Health Coach Program in Western Illinois

Courtesy of WIU Visual Production Center
Those involved with the program include: (front row, left to right) Thomas Barkoski, Courtney Coleman, Chukwuebuka Ogwo, Mary Jane Clark; and (back row) Lisa Downs, Nancy Parsons, Jennifer Garner, Lisa Lahey, Kelsey O'Connor, Ada Bair, Brittany Trone

Ada Bair, CEO of Memorial Hospital in Carthage, said the Rural Health Coach Program started with an internship partnership between her hospital and Western Illinois University.  She said the goal of the program is to train students and community members who can help improve the coordination between medical care providers and patients.

“These (the coaches) are individuals who are willing to be paired up with a patient who has a fair amount of complications and maybe doesn’t have much of a social network,” Bair said.

“They actually visit with those individuals on a regular basis and help to perhaps better connect them to community resources with the sole purpose of those individuals having fewer trips to the emergency department, fewer admissions because we are more involved in their home life and care.”

Bair said coaches can provide services such as informal counseling and they can arrange transportation to get patients to a pharmacy or food pantry.

She said the coaches don’t need a healthcare background and they don’t need to be university students, but they do need to complete a 16 week course offered through WIU.  She said there is no cost to enroll in the course and there is no cost for patients to participate in the program.

“We are adopting it (the program) from what we saw a hospital and a university do in Ohio. A couple years ago I started working on how to model it for our rural community with a couple of my interns from Western Illinois University,” Bair said.

“And thanks to some of the professors who were very supportive of this (at WIU) we were able to partner with them in order to launch the program this fall.”

She said six people enrolled in the program this fall.

The Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN) and Sarah D. Culbertson Memorial Hospital in Rushville also helped with bringing the program to western Illinois.  Bair said a grant through ICAHN paid for the initial course materials and curriculum development.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.