Tarleton receives Texas A&M System grant to study rural health-care needs


STEPHENVILLE (December 3, 2015) — Tarleton State University is studying the accessibility and availability of health care in small and rural Texas counties thanks to a $25,000 grant from The Texas A&M University System. The research will impact state and national health-care policies.

The grant—the Chancellor’s Challenge Award—is one of 10 made available through the system’s Area 41 Institute. The goal of the institute is to harness the collected assets of The Texas A&M University System and provide ideas that address critical state and national challenges, including an expensive and insufficient health-care system. The A&M System is made up of 11 universities, seven state agencies, two service units and a comprehensive health science center.

The Area 41 Institute also provides grants for research on water scarcity, food insufficiency and safety, transportation, energy and the quality of public education.

Tarleton’s research, conducted by Drs. Syed H. Jafri, Edward Osei and Steve Steed, focuses on the scarcity of health-care providers in underserved parts of Texas. It looks at cost-effective options to bridge the gap between areas with a deficit of primary care physicians and medical specialists and those with a surplus. Steed is dean of Tarleton’s growing College of Business Administration and a long-time board member of Texas Health Resources.

Two Tarleton graduate students, Sanya Gupta and Sydney Brunson, and two undergraduates, Gregg Langley and Mary Pfalzgraf, are helping with the research. Dr. Aeliya Jaffar, a health-care specialist with Cigna-HealthSpring Inc., is providing technical assistance.

“Texas ranks at the top of the list when it comes to a shortage of primary care physicians,” said Dr. Jafri, professor of economics. “The shortage is worse in small and rural counties. Accessibility of clinicians, clinical facilities and specialized programs is also a challenge and becomes worse as more people take advantage of the Affordable Care Act. Health-care services simply aren’t available in many areas even though people have the insurance necessary to obtain medical help.”

“Our overarching goal is to provide a better understanding of health-care needs by developing availability metrics that include more than a focus on primary care physicians,” said Dr. Osei, senior research economist at Tarleton’s Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research. “We’re creating a more comprehensive list of the types of health-care providers available to rural Texas residents, including a concentration on specialists in cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic diseases—the state’s top three medical challenges.

“In addition, we’re developing a user-friendly GIS map to display health-care provider information by county,” he said. “We are confident that our research will help local and state policymakers improve health-care provision in Texas.”

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