Open Accessibility Menu

Eastern Kentucky Substance Use Response Coalition Wins National Award

Eastern Kentucky Substance Use Response Coalition Wins National Award

ahec logoThe Eastern Kentucky Substance Use Response Coalition has been selected as the National Rural Health Association’s “Outstanding Rural Health Program” for 2021.

This competitive, national award recognizes a community, regional, or statewide program that promotes or facilitates the development of rural health delivery systems. Factors considered include coordination of services with other health care agencies to avoid duplication of services; networking and collaboration with other health care entities to achieve common goals; innovation in development and implementation; and lasting impact on populations and areas served. The award will be formally presented during NRHA’s virtual annual conference in May.

The Coalition was selected because of its grant-funded projects and partnerships focused on addressing substance use disorders within 18 northeastern Kentucky counties. Coalition members include St. Claire HealthCare and its hosted Eastern Kentucky Area Health Education Center (AHEC), based in Morehead; Achieving Recovery Together, a recovery community organization based in Winchester; the Clark County Health Department; Comprehend, Inc., a community mental health center based in Maysville; Pathways, Inc., a community mental health center based in Ashland; Tri-State Primary Care, which has clinics in Boyd and Carter counties; the Kentucky Rural Healthcare Information Organization, based in Morehead; and the Gateway District Health Department, based in Owingsville.

Formed in 2018, this group came together because the region’s substance use epidemic was too large for any one organization to tackle on its own. By organizing multiple community partners to work together, it allowed for better coordination of services and reduced any duplication of effort.

"Our Coalition is honored to be recognized by the NRHA as their 2021 Outstanding Rural Health Program,” said Pamela Vaught, President/CEO of Comprehend, Inc., and Chair of the Coalition’s governing board. “As part of the Coalition since its inception, I’ve seen firsthand that both the Coalition members and the staff who provide direction and oversight are committed to providing solutions to the substance use challenges in the communities we serve. I am excited that the Coalition is being recognized for its contributions to making a difference."

Between the Coalition’s six federally funded grant projects, it has brought more than $3.4 million into northeastern Kentucky. Much more importantly, this funding has enabled the Coalition to facilitate meaningful projects, gather data, and establish much-needed interventions within local communities.

Some of the Coalition’s activities have included: conducting interviews with incarcerated individuals concerning addiction, treatment, and recovery; administering a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) of opioid use disorder survey to more than 100 health care providers and administrators; expanding/implementing MAT within four rural health clinics; establishing a series of MAT trainings and an MAT mentorship program for local health care providers; delivering prevention education presentations to hundreds of young students; distributing naloxone (an opioid overdose-reversing medication) and training community members on its use; and creating a jail reentry program called First Day Forward, which pairs incarcerated individuals with a trusted peer recovery support specialist for in-jail programming and post-release linkages to treatment and recovery resources.

While the Coalition’s work has always been important, it is more critical now than ever. As COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across northeastern Kentucky, there has also been a spike in overdoses (including overdose deaths). It is the Coalition’s ongoing mission to create educational, clinical, and preventive interventions that provide help and hope for those who struggle with substance use disorder.

“We are extremely honored to accept this award,” said KaLeigh Hemminger, Eastern Kentucky AHEC’s Outreach Services Coordinator and Director of the Coalition. “When it comes to the work we do, we have a saying within our Coalition: ‘if we can reach just one person, help one person, this is all worth it.’ To know our efforts are now being recognized on a national scale, and that other healthcare organizations may observe and model the types of programming we do, that adds another level to the impact we can have in addressing this epidemic. ”

For more information, please contact KaLeigh Hemminger at 606.783.6506 or