A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentuckians recognized as Healthy Kentucky Champions for work to improve community health

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

In communities across the state, Kentucky residents are coming up with innovative ways to improve community health.

Jeremy Harrell is the founder and CEO of Veterans Club Incorporated in Louisville, and a recent recipient of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s Healthy Kentucky Champions Award.

He’s a combat veteran who served in Iraq.

(Image from Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky)

When he returned home in 2004 – struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury and physical injuries – he said he noticed the scarcity of local resources and support for veterans and their families.

“We’ve realized that in our community especially, isolation is the killer,” said Harrell. “The 17 veterans today – each day – that are taking their lives, unfortunately, is a result of not having the support system that they need.”

Veteran’s Club helps address homelessness and mental health, and provides vocational training.

Kentucky is home to more than 280,000 veterans – nearly 8% of the state’s population, according to data from the Kentucky Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

In Eastern Kentucky, Pikeville Medical Center President and CEO Donovan Blackburn said the region leads the nation in lung disease, heart disease, cancer rates and diabetes.

He’s been recognized for his effort to expand health-care access with the opening of the Appalachian Valley Autism Center, the Mettu Children’s Hospital, and the Heart and Vascular Institute of Eastern Kentucky.

Now, Blackburn said he’s working to develop a robust residency program to create a pipeline of new doctors.

“If you give people the opportunity – young kids especially – the opportunity to be educated here that are from here, that are committed to here,” said Blackburn, “then they’ll more than likely stay here and allow us to continue to grow.”

Another awardee is Western Kentucky University Associate Professor Lacretia Dye, Ph.D., LPCC. She’s a mental-health therapist, yoga trainer and community wellness advocate who has helped Kentuckians with mental, emotional and physical healing.

She said engaging in self-care goes beyond just the individual.

“When I’m well my community is well, and when I heal, my community can get healed,” said Dye. “And if we all looked at it individually in that way, I think we’d take more responsibility.”

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 37% of adults in Kentucky reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, compared with around 32% of adults nationwide.

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