UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health, UnitedHealthcare Honor 1st Community Health Worker Program Graduates

The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health (UK CERH) and UnitedHealthcare honored Perry County students Jazmen Fugate and Jayla Ledford for becoming the first two certified community health workers (CHW) as part of the Students Striving Toward Better Health in Self and Community initiative.

“We are very proud of our first graduates and the passion they’ve demonstrated for learning and understanding ways to help people overcome barriers to better health,” said Fran Feltner, DNP, director of the UK CERH. “We are deeply thankful to UnitedHealthcare for their support, enabling us to invest in our up-and-coming rural health workforce in Kentucky.”

The program addresses the shortage of trained health care workers in the Commonwealth with a focus on rural Kentucky. The students received apprenticeship training in areas including Mental Health First Aid, an education program of the National Council for Mental WellbeingAmerican Heart Association certification as a CPR provider, participation in virtual chronic disease self-management classes, University of Kentucky trainings covering HIPAA compliance and data security, and shadowing Kentucky Homeplace CHWs and attending staff meetings. As certified CHWs, Fugate and Ledford will serve as health care advocates providing education and guidance to help Eastern Kentuckians connect with needed care.

The initiative, made possible with a $35,000 gift from UnitedHealthcare, enabled the students to complete a tuition-free CHW curriculum at Hazard Community and Technical College’s K-TECH program, taught by industry experts from Kentucky Homeplace who have a training model built upon more than 25 years of experience. UK CERH also leads the development, coordination and execution of content and programming.

"The program presents a first-in-class partnership that demonstrates how private business, higher education and communities are addressing rural health and opportunity in Kentucky together," said Keith Payet, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kentucky. "We are honored to work with UK CERH to improve the overall health of our rural communities as part of the community health worker program."

The students spent much of the summer completing paid apprenticeships with Kentucky Homeplace to earn 80 hours of required observation and field experience to be eligible for certification through the Kentucky Department of Public Health. A second cohort of CHW students has already been seated for the 2021-22 academic year. The initiative covers the costs for up to 23 high school students, include a UnitedHealthcare virtual mentor internship and a paid apprenticeship. Students from Hazard Independent and Perry County high schools are eligible. 

“The field experience has provided valuable experience on how to access resources in the community to help people who are in need,” Fugate said.  

“The support I have received from the instructors, UK staff and UnitedHealthcare has been phenomenal,” said Ledford. “I would recommend any high school students given a chance at this experience to go for it. You won’t regret it!”

Nationally, UnitedHealthcare is working closely with community health workers, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and other local organizations to help reach vulnerable populations and provide access to care. These efforts reflect UnitedHealthcare’s belief that every person should have access to the care they need regardless of their race, age, level of education, gender identity, sexual orientation, job status, where they live or their disability.

For more information, contact Kentucky Homeplace Director Mace Baker at mace.baker@uky.edu or Kentucky Advance Technology College High (K-TECH) Director Tim Koogler at tkoogler0001@kctcs.edu.