United Health Foundation Addresses Kentucky Health Challenges

Kentucky has historically ranked in the bottom half of America’s Health Rankings, due in part to the state’s frequency of mental distress and high rates of cancer. Yet, from the United Health Foundation’s perspective, there is cause for optimism.

Perhaps the biggest positive comes from the many local organizations striving to create a healthier Kentucky. United Health Foundation has joined forces with two of them – providing grants and support for initiatives that address some of Kentucky’s most pressing health needs.

Last November, United Health Foundation provided a $930,000 grant to Pathways, Inc., to expand mental health services for children in 10 eastern Kentucky counties by using telehealth technology. According to America’s Health Rankings, Kentucky has seen a 25 percent increase in teen suicides since 2016. 

“With the United Health Foundation as our partner, we will be able to provide life-changing services for children and families who need specialized mental health care,” said Dr. Kimberly McClanahan, chief executive officer of Pathways. “We will also be able to address the shortage of mental health care providers in rural Kentucky through our new telehealth technology.”

The grant allows Pathways to install and operate telehealth technology at its 16 outpatient offices and specialty residential units in the region to connect children to adolescent psychiatrists, eliminating the need for families to drive as long as two hours to access a child’s mental health specialist.

“By leveraging digital tools to expand access to child psychiatrists for people in rural areas, this partnership is helping more Kentuckians get access to the critical health care services they need when they need it most,”  said Tracy Malone, president of the United Health Foundation.

In an effort to reduce oral cancer rates and improve oral health in Kentucky, the Foundation provided a $1 million grant to the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry to launch a project to raise awareness of the symptoms of oral cancer and its links to heavy alcohol and tobacco use.

Eradicate Oral Cancer in Eastern Kentucky is a three-year project that will provide roughly 1,000 oral cancer screenings at local health departments and help connect patients who need additional care to cancer specialists in Lexington.

Kentucky has a growing problem with access to dental care and oral health services, as the number of dentists per capita has declined for three straight years. And the state has one of the nation’s highest incidences of oral cancer.

“This grant from United Health Foundation provides us with the resources needed to target the communities with some of the highest oral cancer rates in Kentucky, and to educate the people of Kentucky on the importance of annual screenings,” said Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

Working together with partners across Kentucky, the United Health Foundation is eliminating barriers to good health.