News & Announcements

Rural Health Coach program developed through collaboration


Carthage, IL -- Memorial Hospital in Carthage has collaborated with Western Illinois University to create the Rural Health Coach Program. This new program concept began with an internship partnership between Western and Memorial Hospital.

Memorial Hospital CEO Ada Bair worked with WIU health services management graduates, Claire Jarrell and Evan Gronlund, who served as interns at Memorial, to design the Rural Health Coach Program. After the interns presented the program opportunity to University officials, Bair set the program into motion with WIU, Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN), and Sarah D. Culbertson Memorial Hospital in Rushville to develop the program.

The organizations are now offering the 16-week "Rural Health Coach Program: From Theory to Practice," which includes a student as the rural health coach, serving as a liaison between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery. In addition to helping the at-risk population, the student increases his or her health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support, and advocacy.

“ICAHN is a great partner, and we appreciate their work to help develop the curriculum for this program,” Bair said. "ICAHN also funded the materials, thanks to a grant, that the first students of this program need. Our partners have led to the success of this new initiative."

The program was piloted with Ashley Peterson, a WIU health service management major from Macomb. Through Peterson's internship, the curriculum was fine-tuned, Bair explained.

WIU professors, led by WIU Associate Provost and Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Nancy Parsons, helped choose students and get a pilot program off to a start. Classes began this fall, with staff from Memorial Hospital, ICAHN and Culbertson Memorial facilitating weekly classes at the University.

"The Rural Health Coaching initiative is a wonderful opportunity for our WIU graduate students to gain valuable and enriching experiences working with our regional community hospitals providing care for patients," Parsons said. "This University and community endeavor is a win-win situation for all involved."

The WIU graduate students involved in the pilot project include Lisa Lahey (communication); Courtney Coleman, Jennifer Garner, and Chukwuebuka Ogwo (health sciences); and Thomas Barkoski and Kelsey O'Connor (kinesiology).

“Our rural health coaches are compassionate, resourceful, and non-judgmental students, who also possess great social skills. Developing a rapport with our at-risk patients is important. They are also willing to learn about healthcare from the client perspective and are interested in ‘hands-on’ experience,” said ICAHN Wellness Coordinator Mary Jane Clark. “Advancing this program means that high-risk healthcare patients will be reached sooner and will be given the comprehensive support they need more quickly.”

Comprehensive support is available to the patient through in-person meetings with the Rural Health Coach and also through referrals made to various community agencies including home health, pharmacy, primary care providers, food pantries, etc.  Rural Health Coaches assist clients with multiple chronic diseases, patients discharged at high risk or families determined as high risk, clients with insufficient income to meet medical need, patients who may have frequent falls or those with frequent emergency room visits.

“We are grateful to ICAHN and Culbertson Memorial Hospital for participating and providing faculty for this new program,” said Bair. “Our goal is to build a model that can be used throughout the state and to continue to grow the program. The Rural Health Coach program has vast potential. The goal is always to keep people healthier, and this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

The "Rural Health Coach Program: From Theory to Practice" course is offered through independent study and involves a training module with assigned readings and preparation for meetings with the coordinator.  Client visits involve approximately two- to four-hours of off-campus work each week. Memorial Hospital and Sarah D. Culbertson Memorial will each facilitate students and coordinate those client visits.

For more information about this program, contact Clark at (309) 331-4472 or