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MSU Extension promotes rural health in several ways – Picayune Item

By Bonnie Coblentz

MSU Extension Service

STARKVILLE, Mississippi – As National Rural Health Day is celebrated on November 18, the Extension Department at Mississippi State University works daily to build and nurture this personal and community product.

“The extension work we do around the health of rural communities is exciting and includes more than health issues at the individual level,” said Keith Coble, vice president of the Agriculture Division, of forestry and veterinary medicine at MSU.

“Extension as a whole is engaged in efforts to have an impact on individuals throughout their lives and at the individual, family, community and political levels,” he said. “This work has the potential to affect every community and every citizen of Mississippi.”

There is a mental health crisis across the country – made worse by the pandemic – but most felt in many rural areas. Agriculture and the rural way of life are under enormous pressure due to market uncertainty, climatic challenges and isolation.

MSU Extension responded by creating the PROMISE Initiative, which stands for Preventing Opioid Misuse in the SouthEast. Three in four farmers say opioids are easy to obtain, but only a third say treatment for mental health or substance abuse is also feasible.

David Buys, state health extension specialist, said part of the PROMISE initiative is mental health first aid training that extension workers across the state have absorbed.

“This training enables extension staff to recognize and respond to the mental health needs of farmers, their families and rural residents,” said Buys. “The program teaches officers how to recognize the signs of mental health or addiction issues in farming communities, offer and provide initial help, and guide those in need to professional services.”

Physical health is an important component of a healthy rural population, and Mississippi joins with the rest of the country in the fight to keep health professionals and health facilities in its rural areas. As the number of rural doctors decreases, access to adequate health care becomes more difficult to achieve.

The Rural Medical and Science Scholars Program is an outreach effort to help recruit the next generation of healthcare professionals who will choose to pursue careers in underserved areas of Mississippi. One of the goals of the program is to develop a pipeline of future medical providers.

Ann Sansing, extension instructor, leads the Rural Medical and Science Scholars program. It is designed to help students leaving high school decide whether they wish to pursue a career in health care.

“The goal of this program is to shape students’ interest and understanding in medicine, health-related disciplines, and other STEM fields,” Sansing said. “The program aims to ensure a strong and passionate workforce for the long-term goals of improving Mississippi’s economy and improving access to health care.”

Participants in the five-week course live on campus and take two college health science courses. They visit medical facilities and observe various health and medical professionals, including doctors and dentists.

“Mississippi still has the lowest number of physicians per capita in the country, which limits access to care and contributes to many of the negative health issues that plague our state,” Sansing said. “The only constant in the discussions on health care reform is the need for more primary care physicians. The scholarship program helps meet this need in Mississippi. “

Young people may be healthy, but they need productive activities and an overview of career opportunities to help them make wise choices in life. The Mississippi 4-H Youth Program offers programs and growth opportunities that put the heads, hearts, hands and health of Mississippi youth to work.

Linda Mitchell, Acting Director of Mississippi 4-H, said participants learn and apply the essentials of the 4-H program: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.

“The 4-H program creates supportive environments for youth and adults of diverse cultures to reach their full potential,” Mitchell said. “It offers community-based formal and non-formal experiential learning that enables young people to develop skills that will be useful to them throughout their lives. “

Volunteering and leadership are key traits developed by 4-H, and the result is stronger families and communities. These are important components of health, both in rural and urban areas.

Clean, safe water and strong food systems are other components of rural health.

Jason Barrett, associate professor of extension at the Mississippi Water Resources Research Institute, based at MSU, oversees testing of private water wells and directs technical assistance for the state’s public water supply.

Rachel Carter, Community Extension Planning Specialist at the Extension Center for Government and Community Development, helps individuals and communities build infrastructure that leads to healthy and vibrant communities through a variety of programs and consultations direct.

One such effort saw Marks, Mississippi, open a grocery store after an extended period without access to retail market space.

All of Extension’s health work is built on solid needs data. Data is also needed to measure everything, including the general well-being of a community.

Alan Barefield, extension agricultural economist, works primarily with the economic well-being of communities. It collects and analyzes data on the economic environment in which the health care sector operates, the economic burden of chronic diseases and health problems, and public infrastructure, mainly water and wastewater services. and gas.

Barefield also helps community economic developers with small business development and entrepreneurship and business retention and expansion programs.

“Data-driven decision-making is the key to the success of any initiative, and having community-level data on health outcomes as well as the factors that impact health is valuable,” said said Buys. “We need reliable and up-to-date data to know where the leverage points are and where the greatest needs and opportunities lie so that we can work in these areas. “