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Arnold School alumnus Graham Adams leads rural health conversation statewide, worldwide

February 16, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

When Graham Adams graduated with a master of health administration from the department of health services policy and management in 1994, he couldn’t have guessed that he would become a statewide, and even worldwide, leader in rural health. His first job after graduating with his master’s degree was as the special projects coordinator with the South Carolina Office of Rural Health, where he continues to work today. Adams returned to the Arnold School to complete a Ph.D. in health administration (2000) and became chief executive officer in 2002 of the non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring equitable access to quality healthcare for residents of rural South Carolina.

What the session reiterated for me is that technology holds a lot of promise in helping us improve access to individual care as well as community health.

-Graham Adams, 2000 Ph.D., 1994 MHA, HSPM

In parallel with his role at the S.C. Office of Rural Health, Adams has served as state director for both the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Southern Rural Access Program. His growing expertise of the rural experience and community health led organizers of the Salzburg Global Seminar’s Health and Healthcare Innovation event “Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals” to invite Adams to participate in a session on The Smart Utilization of Technology.

“What the session reiterated for me is that technology holds a lot of promise in helping us improve access to individual care as well as community health, especially in rural areas,” says Adams, who appears upper left in the photo above (Photo Credit: Salzburg Global Seminar).  

The session covered a variety of ways that technology can improve rural health. Physical activity monitoring devices, telehealth, electronic health records that are accessible to patients, and data for tracking healthcare utilization and outcomes are just a few examples of tools that can be used to help healthcare providers tailor their services to meet patient needs, according to Adams.  

The Salzburg Global Seminar, which convened more than 60 international experts in Salzburg, Austria for the five-day event, was also a reminder for Adams that health should be viewed globally. “The entire world is thinking about population health and how healthcare providers can work more collaboratively with other sectors, and the more developed nations don’t necessarily have all of the answers,” Adams says of the importance of these types of exchanges. “Some less developed countries with more simplified healthcare systems are doing a better job with their grassroots approach to health improvement. We can all learn from each other.”

Access to healthy food, jobs to support their families, safe housing, good schools—these are the underlying elements that keep people healthy.

-Graham Adams, 2000 Ph.D., 1994 MHA, HSPM 

Back home, Adams and his team are doing exactly that with their latest project, the South Carolina Rural Health Action Plan, which was unveiled on National Rural Health Day this past November. Designed as a roadmap to healthy, rural communities, the plan provides actionable strategies of enhancing rural health outcomes over the next 3-5 years. Solutions for attaining improved access to healthcare resources and a better understanding and shared accountability among health organizations and rural communities at the state and local level are also included. It was developed by a task force of 60 rural health experts from across the state and based on lessons from resources such as epidemiologic data sets and community listening sessions. 

“Historically, we’ve focused on assisting rural healthcare providers to ensure they have the resources to meet the needs of rural residents—and we will continue to do that—but we are now taking a step back to look at the root causes that affect both individual and community health,” says Adams. “Access to healthy food, jobs to support their families, safe housing, good schools—these are the underlying elements that keep people healthy.”

Assessing and developing the action plan was an 18-month process that dug into the many factors that impact rural health. The resulting plan is the most visible and comprehensive state-level effort to provide a coordinated common agenda to date.

Key stakeholders (e.g., South Carolina Hospital Association, South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health, South Carolina Community Loan Fund) contributed to the plan and have pledged to participate in its implementation. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has already utilized the plan as a basis for developing its State Health Assessment and its upcoming State Health Improvement Plan, with the shared framework offering yet another way that South Carolina organizations can remain aligned moving forward.

“Discussions around health, housing, job creation and life-long learning have always been siloed, so this plan takes steps to bring all of the stakeholders together,” says Adams. “Together, we will tackle these action items, which are specific enough to be achievable but also organic in that they can evolve over time to address the changing needs of rural communities.”