Bringing Health Care to Rural Kentucky

RWJF Investigator and journalist Michael Millenson's landmark book on quality, and his subsequent crusade, helped radicalize a new generation.

    • June 18, 2012

In 1972, Grady Stumbo and I, with "fresh" PhD and MD degrees, returned to our home in the Appalachian Mountains of East Kentucky to begin a primary health care clinic. The area we chose, Knott County, had never had a clinical facility, an X-ray machine, a full-time dentist, or a hospital. We did not seek governmental funding but sought funding from a wide variety of private sources—for example, foundations, corporations, and individuals. The Washington Post reported on our efforts in l973, with the headline: "Founding a Health Care Clinic on Faith, Hope and $53." By December 1972, we had completed the clinical facility with grants from a variety of foundations and corporations.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave EKHSC a planning grant of $20,000 in October 1972, and a three-year program start-up grant of $400,000 in February 1973. We received capital construction grants from the Kresge Foundation, the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation, and numerous other foundations, corporations, and private individuals. In December 1973, David Rogers, president of RWJF, Gus Lienhard, chairman of the board of the Foundation, Carol Richards, program officer, and Donald Madison, program consultant, came to Hindman, Ky., and visited with us at EKHSC. In its 1975 Annual Report, the RWJF called EKHSC "the crowning Jewel of the Foundation's first three years." In l976, RWJF made a grant of $22 million to the University of North Carolina to duplicate the EKHSC program in locations throughout rural America. All grantees of the Rural Practice Project visited EKHSC to learn about our program.

While the senior staff of EKHC has been involved in various activities over the past 40 years, serving as secretary of the Kentucky Health and Human Services Cabinet, board of trustee member of the University of Kentucky and Eastern State University, Kentucky state senator, initial founders of the Pikeville College School of Osteopathic Medicine, originator of registered nurse programs at local community colleges, the EKHSC primary health care program has remained their chief focus. This month, June 2012, marks the 40th anniversary of my and Dr. Stumbo's return to our home in Central Appalachia. The EKHSC program has been the subject of news articles in publications as diverse as People magazine to the AMA News, the subject of the WNET documentary "No Place Like Home," narrated by Helen Hays, and the NBC documentary, "Health Care in America," narrated by C. Everett Koop. The new University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health Care building, located in Hazard, Ky., has been named the "Bailey-Stumbo Building" to honor our work in rural Kentucky and rural America. Dr. Stumbo and I have received many recognition awards, including the prestigious John D. Rockefeller III Public Service Award given by the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

While we have faced, and continue to face, program-ending financial problems, we have continued to keep our commitment to those who supported us in getting started, and to our people here in the Mountains. And, all of this started with a $20,000 planning grant to EKHSC by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 1972.

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