Buckeye Health Plan and Ohio University Partnership Expands Innovative Healthcare in Rural Southeast Ohio

A recent $750,000 partnership between Buckeye Health Plan and Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is expanding the medical knowledge base in underserved regions to improve health outcomes for area residents.

Buckeye began awarding the funding to Ohio University in 2021 to strengthen and expand the Heritage College’s Community Health Programs in southeastern Ohio. The funding helped expand the college’s Family Navigator Program into three additional counties – Meigs, Washington and Vinton. The college has provided health care resources in southeast Ohio for more than 25 years and patient navigation services since 2012.

“Finding a local partner was key to the program’s success because the needs of each community are unique,” said Brad Lucas, Buckeye chief medical officer.

“In the Family Navigator Program, nurse navigators work through complex social and health problems with pregnant women to support a health pregnancy and baby,” said Beth Longenecker, D.O., dean of the Heritage College’s Athens campus. Services to Navigator patients include pregnancy monitoring, infant development, breastfeeding and smoking/addiction risk education. The navigators follow clients through their postpartum appointment and confirm that mom and baby are connected with a primary care provider.

“With Buckeye’s support, the Heritage College’s Navigator Program has broadened its reach resulting in a 40 percent increase in the number of women who have been served,” Lucas said.

Buckeye and the Heritage College also partnered with the Weitzman Institute to launch a series of Project ECHOs.  These focused learning sessions connect local healthcare providers to content specialists through videoconferencing. The teaching sessions develop local clinical expertise and services in the region’s underserved, rural communities. Providers gain specialized knowledge and self-efficacy to care for patients. So far, more than 150 people have attended 21 sessions through the Project ECHO partnership focused on diabetes, weight management and substance use disorder. Sessions on women’s health and primary care are also being offered this year thanks to the joint efforts of Buckeye Health Plan, Ohio University, and the Weitzman Institute.

“We’re having a positive impact,” said Longenecker. “By partnering with others who also have boots on the ground, we’re able to leverage everyone’s knowledge and better direct our combined resources so we can have a bigger impact on the health of the folks in those communities.”

A video about the impact of these programs can be viewed online.

April 11, 2022
Staff reports