GRHIC's Community Health Reporter Program Is a Crowdsourced Approach To Delivering Health Care Access Data

by Susan Barkley, Community Resource and Assessment Specialist

Community health reporters gathered for an appreciation brunch in their honor on December 8 at Mercer University.


Across the state of Georgia, rural counties struggle not only with access to health care services, but also the visibility of what type of services are provided. To help improve transparency, the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center (GRHIC) established the Community Health Reporter (CHR) Program. This program identifies and engages rural citizens who are part of the local fabric and are knowledgeable about updates to the health care landscape.

Reporters have a wide range of skills. They are data-oriented to help develop and maintain lists of health care providers and locations. Their relationship skills also prove them to be valued ambassadors in these roles.

Since its inception in 2021, the CHR program has achieved significant growth milestones to blossom from an idea into a reality. To begin, the 120 rural counties were divided into more than seventy territories. Reporters have been identified, hired, and trained in 53 of those territories.

The initial design of the program yielded definition around what information was requested and provided tools for communicating and sharing this data between reporters and GRHIC. All of these efforts have resulted in a wealth of data at the county level.

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Reporters Needed

Community health reporters cover 88 of Georgia's 120 rural counties and bring a vast diversity of community and professional representation. Reporters have career backgrounds in public health, government, law enforcement, ministry, health care services, education, community development, and public service.

The Center has 20 territories not yet covered by community health reporters, many of these are located in North Georgia.

Click below for more information about this program and to apply to become a reporter.

Apply Today


Rural Opioid Project

In 2023 the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center and Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) were honored to partner with the Christopher Wolf Crusade (CWC) to provide life care specialists in rural communities to combat opioid misuse. The program is made possible at no cost to hospitals through a grant CWC received from the Rollins Foundation. Cammie Wolf Rice lost her beloved son, Christopher, to opioid overdose after an extended adolescent illness led to a dependence on opioids due to overprescribing. In the search to spare others from the pain she and her family experienced, Cammie developed the role of life care specialist (LCS). LCSs provide patients with evidence-based wellness skills and nervous system regulation techniques as an alternative to opioids. They will be imbedded into five rural hospitals to provide a more personal touch, working one-on-one with patients to develop individual pain management plans for their procedures and after discharge once they are home. Research data will be collected and tracked to show the impact of the project on the community. LCSs improve patient stays, reduce pain perception, increase the satisfaction of the patient and physician and nursing staff, reduce readmission and help families navigate the medical system. 

Coming in 2024: The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center and MUSM have worked with Christopher Wolf Crusade to develop the curriculum for Life Care Specialist certification and will roll out the training, certification, and implementation in rural hospitals in 2024.  

Community Resiliency Model

Resiliency is expanding throughout rural communities in Georgia. From March to November, GRHIC has offered the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) training to 1,676 individuals in 13 counties. Participants in this free, skills-based wellness program included middle and high school students, school teachers and counselors, clergy, health care providers, and medical students.


GRHIC's CRM trainers received invitations to join both pre- and post-teacher planning days. The feedback from these sessions reflected enthusiasm for integrating CRM skills into their classrooms. Following the comprehensive two-day training, the school system invited the trainers to observe classrooms and explore innovative methods for applying CRM skills in that environment. This school system is dedicated to improving its offerings to teachers and administrators by introducing new approaches to classroom management. CRM is an ideal fit for supporting classroom management as it focuses on cultivating wellness practices, not just individually but also within communities.

Coming in 2024: GRHIC plans to expand CRM offerings by developing a CRM skills group to be offered in school systems. This skills group will not replace counseling but add to existing mental health and wellness services. This group will provide children (k-12) with wellness skills to regulate their emotions by teaching skills to help them return to the Resilient Zone when they are bumped into their high/low zone (zones of dysregulation).


We are interested in expanding our reach and providing the biological wellness-based approach to more rural communities. This free training can be modified to meet the needs of any community; presentations can range from 1 hour to 3 ½ hours. 

ECHO Sessions

ECHO is a collaborative learning community model used throughout health care to build skills and communities of practice. The uniting principle of ECHO is “all teach, all learn” emphasizing the value of every member’s experience and knowledge. ECHO is not a lecture or webinar. It is an interactive, collaborative learning experience facilitated by subject-matter experts but led by participants.


The Rural Health Care Ethics ECHO explored issues in end-of-life care, proxy decision making, scarcity of resources, pediatrics, and difficult discharge. Thirteen sessions were provided in 2023 for hospital and clinical educators, chaplains, social workers, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors, psychiatrists, and hospital executive members. The goal of the Rural Health Care Ethics ECHO is to create space for difficult ethical topics to be discussed in an interprofessional and supportive way. Participants gain new skills and tools for dealing with ethical issues in their work and rural practices.

GHRIC is a Project ECHO hub and is leading a network of ECHO programs across the state to bring better coordination and collaboration. The consortium currently consists of 15 members and organizations and meets bi-annually. Members of the consortium work together on promoting ECHO participation, growing ECHO offerings, and supporting the educational needs of rural health care professionals throughout Georgia.

Coming in 2024: GRHIC is collaborating with partner organizations and their ECHO programs. We anticipate adding one new ECHO series that will launch in the winter. Rural Health Care Ethics ECHO sessions on mental health and organ donation are scheduled. Register today.

Faith in Rural Health

Faith in Rural Health (FIRH) is a collaborative program between the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM), and McAfee School of Theology. It aims to support the physical, mental, and spiritual health of people in rural Georgia counties by coordinating the efforts of clergy, physicians, and health care professionals. FIRH assesses areas of need and opportunities for collaboration, works with existing sites for holistic care modeling and student training, and creates relationships between medical professionals and local clergy for synergetic work.

At the start of 2023, six interns from the School of Medicine and the School of Theology engaged in three weeks of community-based rotations, resulting in numerous community engagements and qualitative research in Berrien, Putnam, and Toombs counties. Throughout the year, the FIRH health team participated in public health seminars, Mental Health First Aid training, MUSM youth medical camps, and health fairs (Berrien and Putnam).

Coming in 2024: FIRH will train the first cohort of volunteer chaplains in the Clinical Pastoral Care Program, which provides congregation-based clergy introductory skills for spiritual care within the clinical space. In January, School of Medicine and School of Theology students will intern in Evans and Coffee counties and develop new collaborations in those communities. The FIRH team will conduct spiritual screening simulations for first-year students, host a Faith in Rural Health Summit in the spring, plan another Youth Medical Camp in Berrien County, and continue work on the Farmworkers Telemental Health Program. 

Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance

The Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance (GAWA) built momentum in the second half of 2023 as it works toward the vision of a safe, thriving, and healthy agricultural community in Georgia. GAWA director John McElveen, Ed.D., began work August 1 and engaged with founding partner organizations including the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, Mercer University School of Medicine, Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Foundation for Agriculture, the University of Georgia Extension Service, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Partners gathered in October for a strategic planning summit to clarify GAWA’s mission, vision, values, and goals. The mission of GAWA is inspirational and aspirational: Foster networks of well-being in Georgia agricultural communities through collaboration, education, research, and advocacy.  


GAWA exhibited at the North Georgia Ag Expo in Mt. Airy, the Northeast Ag Expo in Hartwell, and the 2023 Georgia Farm Bureau Convention on Jekyll Island; collectively, these expos had 2,000 attendees. McElveen also attended the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie. Through his participation in these events, McElveen has engaged directly with members of agricultural communities including farmers and their families, health care providers, pastors, farm finance leaders, educators, and representatives of organizations and agencies working to support our farm communities.

Coming in 2024: GAWA will complete a strategic plan and by-laws, firmly establishing the committee structure to ensure measurable work and results, and expanding the advisory council and membership through commitment to a network of well-being that is representative of all sectors of farm families and agricultural communities. 

Maternal Health Observership

An enthusiastic group of second-year medical students from Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) and Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) made up the 2023 cohort of the Maternal Health Observership Program at the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center. Six scholars dedicated their summer to developing a deeper understanding of maternal health, rural pediatric care, and how health disparities in these areas affect families living across rural Georgia. Scholars completed a variety of educational and hands-on learning activities including attending GRHIC’s 2023 Maternal Health Symposium, participating in a maternal health speaker series, completing clinical site visits, attending an educational documentary screening and discussion about the epidemic of maternal mortality, and learning how to develop research skills by creating a scholarly project that focuses on identifying ways to improve maternal health in rural Georgia. Scholars completed 312 contact hours with five OB/GYN physicians at six clinical sites.

Coming in 2024: The New Year will bring continued planning for the fourth year of this summer program with expectation to host more medical students from MUSM, Morehouse, and the Medical College of Georgia. Plans are underway with physician preceptors to align clinic visits and shadowing opportunities scheduled. With consideration that this component of the program generates the most excitement among summer program students, it is important to ensure that students have robust clinical experiences with exceptional practicing OB/GYNs and staff in rural practice settings.

Maternal Health Symposium

The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center hosted its second annual Maternal Health Symposium on June 22, 2023. GRHIC welcomed nearly 90 physicians, medical students, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and other health care professionals to this training event to learn more about health disparities affecting maternal health.

The 2023 symposium’s theme was the Life Cycle of Maternal Health, which focused on how optimum health during all aspects of life’s stages is crucial to positive outcomes: from birth to adolescence, teen years to adulthood, pregnant mothers to senior adults. Seven speakers presented topics on children and adolescents, preconception, pregnancy and postpartum, and menopause.

Coming in 2024: The next Maternal Health Symposium will be held on Thursday, June 20, 2024, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., in the Presidents Dining Room on Mercer University's Macon campus. The program topic is the Maternal Health Care Team. The event will feature the roles, contributions, and support of the health care and wellness professionals and para-professionals, community members, friends and family members. The format will include presentations by individuals and panel discussions. The Maternal Health Symposium is free for all, and certificates of completion will be provided for continuing education credits.

Pediatric Mental Health

During the 2023-2024 academic year, the Pediatric Mental Health Initiative (PMHI) provided services to children in Washington County Schools, Jefferson County Schools, and Ben Hill County Schools. The PMHI was introduced at Brentwood School, and counseling services will be implemented in the 2024 spring semester.


The PMHI is transforming the mental health delivery and access in rural counties by providing free mental health counseling to children via telehealth. In the PMHI model, children receive counseling services from supervised graduate students. MUSM's Marriage and Family Therapy program supports and provides these services, and other Georgia colleges have been invited to participate. This program helps overcome the mental health professional workforce shortages. Additionally, it provides future counseling professionals with valuable and meaningful practicums and internships. These counties are designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas, and many have no mental health services.


Beyond pediatric mental health initiatives, GRHIC also offers suicide awareness training such as QPR – Question, Persuade and Refer, ASIST, Mental Health First Aid, and the Community Resiliency Model, as well as community wellness events that support the normalization and acceptance of mental health.

Coming in 2024:  The PMHI will continue to be offered in Washington County Schools, Jefferson County Schools, and Brentwood School. In addition to the Mental Health & Wellness screening pilot, the PMHI will be continued in Ben Hill County Schools. The PMHI services also will be offered to the second county school system invited to participate in the Mental Health & Wellness screening pilot.


Rural Hospital Emergency Department

Eight rural hospital emergency departments are participating in the Rural Pediatric Health Alliance: Clinch Memorial Hospital, Coffee Regional Medical Center, Crisp Regional Hospital, Dodge County Hospital, Mountain Lakes Medical Center, Taylor Regional Hospital, Upson Regional Medical Center, and Washington County Regional Medical Center.

Emergency department leadership attended training days at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, where they observed a trauma room simulation and learned about ED competency modeling. Telehealth carts were delivered to all emergency departments; demonstrations and trainings have been ongoing. Care guidelines and policies, provided by Children's, are being implemented to enhance pediatric emergency care. Through the Rural Pediatric Health Alliance, each hospital is receiving pediatric equipment and supplies. Every facet of the program is to improve the levels of care the emergency department and team is able to provide for their youngest patients.

Rural Pediatric Training and Support

Six pediatric offices are in the first cohort of the Rural Pediatric Health Alliance: Children's Healthcare Center of Sandersville (Washington County), CRH Pediatric Group (Coffee County), Eastman Pediatric Clinic (Dodge County), Hope Pediatrics (Laurens County), New Life Pediatrics (Telfair County), and Sylvester Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (Worth County). A telehealth champion was identified in each office who will be the coordinator of care for this specialty care hub. Telehealth carts were installed and training was conducted for the health professionals.

The Pediatric Advancement Speakers Series (PASS) provides free virtual online trainings for rural pediatric health care professionals. PASS offered five sessions from June to December. Subject matter experts presented on infectious diseases, cardiology, obesity, and psychiatry. In October, an in-person continuing education event was held, where CME and CNE credits were available for those in attendance. Rural health care professionals also receive Rural Pediatric News, an e-newsletter highlighting pediatric care topics and valuable resources.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Rural Pediatric Scholars participated in a six-week summer experience. The experience included shadowing practitioners located in the rural pediatric offices and Children's Scholars Day, where scholars attended grand rounds, toured Children's Egleston Hospital, chatted with a medical resident, learned about health care policies, and shadowed physicians.

Rural School-Based Mental Health and Wellness


The Mental Health and Wellness Support and Care Team is implementing evidence-based mental health and wellness screenings that identify health and mental health issues and trends in Jefferson County Schools, Washington County Schools, and Brentwood School. During the 2023 summer school programs in Jefferson County Schools and Washington County Schools, a pre-pilot of the mental health and wellness screenings was conducted in the middle and high schools. The successful implementation of the pre-pilot provided the team the opportunity to improve the standardized screening process.

The communication plans and implementation plans for the mental health and wellness screening pilot during academic year 2023-2024 are underway. The screening tool is the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQ). The SDQ for the 4- to 10-year-old students will be administered by the students’ parents or guardians. The 11- to 17-year-old students will self-administer the SDQ. The SDQ screening tools have been digitized. Parents’/guardians’ consent forms and other forms of communications about the screening are digitized and also available in a paper format. These formatting innovations also increase the speed and accuracy of SDQ’s scoring and data collection. Students scoring outside of normal parameters will be offered additional resources.            

Training and News for Rural Pediatric Health Care Providers

Rural Pediatric News is published bimonthly and highlights training and continuing medical education options, recommended reading, physician spotlights, seasonal health and wellness information to share with patients, and more.

The Pediatric Advanced Speakers Series is a free monthly training series for providers to earn CME credits, offered by Mercer University School of Medicine, through one-hour virtual training sessions with subject matter experts in a variety of topics. PASS includes peer-led rural pediatric patient case studies and an in-person continuing education conference.

If you are a rural pediatric provider, please click to register for trainings and subscribe to Rural Pediatric News.

2023 Ongoing Center Initiatives

Maternal Health Improvement

All Rural Counties

Kedrick Williams

Maternal Health Observership

All Rural Counties

Kedrick Williams

Maternal Health Symposium

All Rural Counties

Joan Anderson

Community Health Reporter

All Rural Counties

Susan Barkley

Clinical Ethics ECHO

All Rural Counties

Chris Scoggins

Opioid Misuse Prevention Project

Rural Hospitals

Joan Anderson, Chris Scoggins

ASIST Suicide Training

All Rural Counties

Travis Crafter

Community Resiliency

Model (CRM)

All Rural Counties

Joan Anderson, Travis Crafter

Mental Health First Aid

All Rural Counties

Kedrick Williams,

Glenda Grant

Pediatric Mental Health Initiative

Ben Hill, Jefferson, Washington

Joan Anderson

Barber/Beauty Shop Project

Randolph County

Harvey Moody

Rural Medicine Pathways Events

All Rural Counties

Glenda Grant

QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention

All Rural Counties

Joan Anderson

Hancock County COVID-19/Flu Vaccine Hesitancy Project


Edson Jean-Jacques

Faith in Rural Health

Berrien, Putnam, Toombs/Montgomery

Paul Byrd

Health Fairs

Rural Partners

Amanda Livingston

Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance

All Counties

John McElveen

ECHO is a collaborative learning community model used throughout health care to build skills and communities of practice. The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center is hosting the Rural Health Care Ethics Echo Series October 2023 through April 2024.

Mental Health ECHO: 

January 10, 2024; January 24, 2024; February 7, 2024

Organ Donation ECHO: 

March 6, 2024; March 20, 2024; April 3, 2024; April 17, 2024


Caroline Anglim, Ph.D. HEC-C, Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Professionalism, Mercer University School of Medicine; Donald E. Carter, MBA, M.Div., DBe, Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Professionalism, Mercer University School of Medicine; Brian Childs, M.Div. Ph.D. HEC-C, Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities, Mercer University School of Medicine

Sessions are noon to 1 p.m. via Zoom. Credits: 1 CME credit per hour provided by Mercer University School of Medicine. Registrants will receive Zoom event information for each session.


Volunteers needed for a qualitative study of the understanding and attitudes of rural Georgians toward organ and body donation.

Researchers at the Mason Center for Organ Donation and Transplant Education and Policy, at Mercer University School of Medicine, are looking for residents of rural areas in Georgia who would be willing to participate in a one-time guided interview.

— Researchers are enrolling 15-20 participants. 

— Participants may select an in-person or virtual interview.

— Upon completion of the interview, your personal information will be appropriately discarded.

— Upon complete of the interview, you will be eligible for a gift card.



In 2018, Georgia lawmakers dedicated special funds to establish a new Rural Health Innovation Center tasked with confronting the complex health care challenges and wellness disparities facing rural communities. Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) was awarded the grant funds in 2019 and formally established the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center on its Macon campus. MUSM boasts a longstanding commitment to serving rural Georgia’s health needs, with a mission to educate physicians dedicated to tackling the health challenges in rural Georgia. The Rural Health Innovation Center serves as a critical resource to rural communities to improve access and effectiveness of health care by offering research, collaboration, and training opportunities.



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