(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — The Office of Special Programs in the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health recently received a grant from the Association of Schools of Public Health for a Model Rural Academic Health Department, which includes four very unique, rural-focused public health activities.

Of 28 applicant schools of public health across the country, only three were awarded in this funding cycle, including the HSC-SRPH.

Barbara Quiram, Ph.D., director of the HSC-SRPH Office of Special Programs, is leading the partnership team to assist rural counties with public health collaboration, community education on the importance of public health, and strengthening the relationship among the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and counties in which no public health department exists.

Like 153 other Texas counties, Bastrop County does not have its own health department. “A new health department has not been established in Texas in over 50 years, and it is not likely to happen soon,” Dr. Quiram said.

For those counties lacking a health department, there is not a coordinating public health entity. An activity of the Model Rural Academic Health Department (M-RAHD) is to work with the county judge in Bastrop County and convene a group of representatives across the county toward developing a strategy for creating their own virtual public health system.

Milam County does have a small health department but also works closely with five rural neighboring counties, each without a health department, in its public health functions. Similar to Bastrop County, the M-RAHD will work with the county judge to convene a group of representatives from all six counties and develop a strategy to create a virtual public health district.

The HSC-SRPH Office of Special Programs will partner with the health department in Brazos County, the school’s home county, to create a local public education communication strategy to help the community gain an appreciation of what public health is and how it works.

The group’s fourth activity is strengthening the relationship between the DSHS Region 7 Office and counties in the region without local public health departments. The DSHS has established relationships with county/local health departments, but for the most part, in those counties without a health department, it regional staff does not have a contact or counterpart with whom to interact.

As a result, the HSC-SRPH Office of Special Programs will work with the DSHS Region 7 Office in developing a strategy to identify at least one person to form a public health communication link within each of those counties in the region without a health department.

All activities contained within M-RAHD provide practice opportunities for faculty, as well as practicum and internship opportunities for graduate students. Two HSC-SRPH students will be offered graduate assistantships as part of this grant.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its six components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, and the School of Rural Public Health.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell