GRHIC Partners with Chattooga County Organizations in Housing Assessment and Community Health Survey

Chattooga County Commissioner Blake Elsberry, Madi Barnett, Eva Proels, Zoe Bradley, Matthew Santander, and Chattooga Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cindy McGraw


The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center teamed up with Chattooga Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH), Helping Hands Ending Hunger, and Chattooga Chamber of Commerce to complete a housing needs assessment and windshield survey of housing conditions, such as blight, disrepair, and abandoned properties.


GRHIC assembled a team from Mercer University to take on the project and work with local representatives in Chattooga. In early summer, rising second-year medical student Eva Proels was joined by Zoe Bradley, a master’s preclinical sciences student, and pre-med student John Matthew Santander. Rounding out the team was Madi Barnett, a nursing student from Kennesaw State University.


Students took up residence in Chattooga and set out to assess a designated area that was slated for future improvement and development along a stretch of U.S. 27 in the Pennville and Summerville areas. This corridor included the location of Atrium Health Floyd’s new freestanding ER, which is now nearing completion.


Completing the project was no small feat. In just nine days, these four students collected data on more than 2,000 properties, with 1,100 of those properties in the main target area of Pennville alone. 

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Joan Anderson, JD, MPH, MBA, and Travis Crafter, LPC, deliver Community Resiliency Model training to Berrien County residents.

Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center Trains 1,400 Rural Citizens in Community Resiliency

Over the course of five months, Joan Anderson, a senior rural health program manager, and Travis Crafter, clinical behavioral mental health specialist, both of the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at Mercer University School of Medicine, trained 1,400 people in the Community Resiliency Model (CRM). Participants in this free, skills-based wellness program included middle and high school students, school teachers and counselors, clergy, health care providers, and Mercer School of Medicine students.

In preparation to facilitate CRM in rural communities across Georgia, Anderson and Crafter, who is a licensed professional counselor, completed a 40-hour course through the Trauma Resource Institute. In March, they embarked on a mission to train community leaders and laypeople in essential skills that build resiliency.

CRM is based on biology. It is an intervention approach to mental well-being where individuals learn how to read the nervous system and regulate the body’s response to a traumatic or stressful situation. It uses a set of skills to maintain wellness and to keep the nervous system balanced and in a resilient zone, also called the “OKAY Zone.” When a person is in the resilient zone, they are equipped to manage the ups and downs of life.

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GRHIC Hosts Medical Students as Summer Scholars

GRHIC hosted Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) Summer Scholars, who supported research studies in rural physician engagement, rural domestic violence prevention, and consumer perceptions on farmers' stress. Scholars were supervised by Anne Montgomery, Ph.D., biostatistician, and Laura Ross, MSW, Rural Health Science Ph.D. student and GRHIC research assistant. Scholars completed literature reviews, environmental scans, constructed survey instruments, met with influential health care leaders, supported resource development/grant writing opportunities, and delivered lectures to MUSM and GRHIC staff.

Scholars will participate in the MUSM Student Research Day in October 2023.

  • Rural Physician Engagement: William Harris Malloy (Macon) and John David Adams (Savannah)
  • Rural Violence Prevention: M. Bailey Boyd (Macon) and Final Patel (Savannah)
  • Consumer Perceptions on Farmer's Stress: Andrew Register (Macon), Owen Phelps (Columbus), Lauren Chitwood (Macon), and Christian Castell (Columbus)

McElveen Named Director of the Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance

John McElveen has been named director of the Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance (GAWA). GAWA is a newly formed coalition of farmers, nonprofits, colleges and universities, health organizations, state agencies, agricultural commissions and associations, and agribusiness who work together toward a common goal of aligning efforts to improve well-being of farmers and farming communities in Georgia. The Alliance was established in response to the prevalence of mental health challenges experienced by farm families and communities, which was revealed, in large part, through a joint study conducted by the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture and students in Mercer University School of Medicine’s Rural Health Sciences Ph.D. program.

McElveen, a native of Stilson in Bulloch County, Georgia, grew up on a family farm with row crops, a herd of Black Angus, and a swine operation. He graduated from Auburn University with degrees in architecture and environmental design. After practicing architecture, he moved to leadership positions at Shorter College, Middle Georgia College, and South Georgia College. He most recently served at Columbus State University as associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students. John led in creating the widely recognized CSU Care Team Network, connecting available resources to improve mental health and other challenges within the campus community. John received his master's degree from the University of Alabama, and his doctorate from Columbus State. He lives in Columbus with his wife, Dr. Kimberly McElveen, an associate dean in Mercer University School of Medicine. They are the parents of five children and grandparents to two beautiful grandchildren. John enjoys drawing, painting, building furniture, and traveling.

Barkley Joins GRHIC as Community Resource and Assessment Specialist

Susan Barkley joined the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center this summer. Her background in health care performance improvement spans from critical access hospitals in rural communities to large nonprofit academic trauma centers and national private providers. She previously worked for the State of Tennessee as a public servant and established a nonprofit consulting practice. Susan received her BSE in industrial engineering from Mercer University and MBA from Wake Forest University. Having spent the last two decades all over the Southeast, this Warner Robins native is proud to return to her alma mater and Middle Georgia roots. Susan is passionate about using her skills in the service of others, and she is excited to help the rural communities of her home state access quality care and improve their health.

Crafter Receives 40 Under Forty Honors from Rural Leader Magazine

Travis Crafter, a licensed professional counselor and native of Upson County, was selected as a Rural Leader Magazine 40 Under Forty honoree. Crafter was recognized for his work to improve mental health in rural communities. He joined GRHIC in 2022 as a community resource and assessment specialist and recently transitioned into his current role as a clinical behavioral mental health specialist. In this new position, he takes on the essential responsibility of delivering comprehensive behavioral and mental health support by working with multidisciplinary teams in the assessment, development, and implementation of mental health and wellness programs across rural communities throughout Georgia. Crafter's dedication to the profession of mental health stems from his innate desire to see improvements in the overall well-being of others.

Hancock County Ambassadorship Program Increases COVID-19 Vaccine Awareness

Hancock County saw significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, many concerns such as the high poverty rates, low educational attainment, decreasing population, and poor health outcomes created a challenging environment. Other significant contributions to these challenges were access to care, an aging population, transportation, and lack of health insurance. In this context, Hancock County’s residents experienced the pandemic in an especially acute way in that the county led the state and the nation in per capita deaths at one point during the pandemic.


The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center was awarded a $53,756 contract in October of 2022 by the North Central Health District (NCHD) and Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), to continue to guide the COVID-19 and Flu Vaccine Hesitancy Study for a second year, through September 2023. The overarching goal of this project was to increase COVID-19 and flu vaccine awareness, access, and confidence among African-American residents in Hancock County. A major focus was on African-American males because their rates of vaccination were significantly lower, approximately 30% lower, than those of the African-American women in the county.


The project team consisted of Dr. Kimberly Carr, community resource and assessment specialist; Edson Jean-Jacques, director of demographic research; Dr. Brad Lian, associate professor in the Department of Community Medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine; Ted Reid, community outreach specialist/Hancock County REACH, DPH; and Karen Ebey-Tessendorf, district program manager, DPH North Central Health District.


Previous findings of the vaccine hesitancy needs assessments conducted by the project team in 2021 suggested that community members were more likely to listen to and be influenced by other community members rather than outsiders. Based on these findings, the project team focused their efforts on equipping influential community messengers with vaccine education, awareness, and messaging, and provided research dissemination trainings and strategies via a series of programmatic activities and workshops. The Hancock Community Health Ambassadorship Program (H-CHAMP) was therefore established.

H-CHAMP relied on selected community members as ambassadors to help implement strategies to meet the goals of the program. The ambassadors were Gary Hill, Dennis Holsey, Steve Mayweather, Larry Webb, and Calvin Wilson. They attended various training sessions covering how to communicate and disseminate research findings in the community, vaccine effectiveness and uptake, and the basics of how vaccines work. They also attended community events — such as health and crafts fairs, town hall meetings, fundraising events, and sporting events throughout the year and passed along current COVID-19-related information, encouraging residents to get vaccinated and stay up-to-date with their vaccinations. Their efforts proved successful by increasing rates of vaccination in the county and particularly with respect to males; the male-female difference in vaccination rates was approximately cut in half. The achievements and dedication of these Ambassadors were celebrated at an event on August 18.  

Pictured: Ambassadors Gary Hill, Larry Webb, Steve Mayweather, Dennis Holsey, and Calvin Wilson with Ted Reid of DPH (third from left) at the celebration event.

Hars Singh received the Pediatric Mental Health Advocacy Award at the Children's Scholars Summer Program closing awards luncheon, where she presented her research project “Addressing the Mental Health Crisis: Parenting Programs in Primary Care Pediatric Clinics.” Pictured are Kedrick Williams, DHA, MPH, Mercer University School of Medicine Dean Jean Sumner, MD, FACP, Singh, and GRHIC Executive Director Glenda Grant, MBA.

Children's Scholars Summer Program Concludes

The 2023 Children’s Scholars Summer Program concluded at the end of July. The six-week program included attendance at the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center’s Maternal Health Symposium, which featured prominent health care practitioners in maternal and child health. Following the symposium was Children’s Scholars Day, an intensive all-day experience highlighting tours of Egleston Hospital, Grand Rounds sessions, Q&A with a medical resident, a lunch and learn session with hospital executives, a visual tour of CAPS, and shadowing experiences with pediatric specialists. Rural Georgia pediatricians offered clinical observership opportunities: Dr. Grace Davis at Sylvester Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine in Worth County, Dr. Leah Helton at Hope Pediatrics in Laurens County, Dr. Brittany Lord at Eastman Pediatric Clinic in Dodge County and New Life Pediatrics in Telfair County, and Dr. Jennifer Stroud at CRH Pediatric Group in Coffee County.

Along with Maternal Health Observership summer program participants, scholars presented problem analysis research posters, giving them a platform to showcase research skills and scholastic curiosity by developing an evidence-based solution to address an issue in rural pediatric care. Panel discussions with guest speakers provided scholars with information from real-life experiences of mothers and fathers who have birthed and cared for children in rural settings. The program culminated in an awards luncheon to celebrate scholars' achievements.

Rural Pediatricians Receive Guidance from Children's Expert

Dr. Larry Greenbaum, executive clinical director of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and chief of the Division of Pediatric Nephrology at Emory School of Medicine, held virtual meetings with the rural pediatricians to share his expertise as a specialty physician, including best practices for addressing infectious diseases and kidney issues with their patients. Additionally, he presented the benefits of the Children's Healthcare Rural Access Line, which allows physicians to directly contact providers for consultative support in specialty pediatric care.

Rural Hospitals Move to Next Phase of Pediatric Preparedness

Hospital equipment reviews have been completed and each facility has received recommendations. Facilities are working to gather quotes for needed equipment and supplies so that we can proceed with acquiring the needed items. Likewise, policy and procedure guidance was provided to each facility, and they are in the process of implementing those. Clinical guidelines were reviewed with each facility and they are identifying, with medical staff, the places they want to start with training and simulation. Planning for in-person education days at Children's is underway and the response has been very strong. An in-person meeting is also being planned for October to provide the member hospitals with the opportunity to collaborate, share, and network.

2023-2024 Mental Health Screenings Underway

Following the completion of the pre-pilot mental health screenings over the summer, the Mental Health and Wellness Support and Care team will perform pilot screenings during the 2023-2024 academic year in the Washington County Schools, Jefferson County Schools, and Brentwood School. The pilot screening and consent documents during the 2023-2024 academic year will include links and QR codes to Qualtrics to collect data and analyze results. Students scoring outside of safe parameters will receive additional resources.

Meet our Telehealth Champions

Telehealth Champions are essential to the implementation of telehealth services in rural pediatric offices selected as part of the Rural Pediatric Health Alliance. Champions are tasked with logistics in scheduling patients with specialists.

Anthony Adams is the practice manager at Sylvester Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Dr. Grace Davis' office in Worth County. He is an alumnus of Georgia State University, where he graduated with a BBA in managerial science. Before returning home to Georgia, he played collegiate football in Massachusetts and remained an active fitness enthusiast. He looks forward to assisting patients with the best quality of care.

Alisha Cross has been employed by Coffee Regional Medical Center for 11 years and has been practice manager of CRH Pediatric Group, Dr. Jennifer Stroud's office, since 2017. She holds a bachelor's degree in adult and career education and has two children and five grandchildren. 

Beverly Perdue is a Licensed Practical Nurse. She graduated from Heart of Georgia Technical College. After graduating, she began working at Eastman Pediatric Clinic, Dr. Brittany Lord's office, as a pediatric nurse and has been doing so for nearly 26 years. Beverly has embraced the opportunity to help patients and their parents, making sure they have the highest level of care. Beverly also enjoys spending time with her family and fishing.

Chris Scrivner is a practicing prosthetist/orthotist in Dublin, Georgia, and is the practice manager at Hope Pediatrics,

Dr. Leah Helton’s office. He is

a graduate of Mercer University, where he met his wife, Loren. He then went on to graduate from Northwestern University with a master’s in prosthetics and orthotics. He has been at Hope Pediatrics for nearly a year and has grown in his love for pediatrics. 

Kathy Sheppard, a native of Washington County, has been an office manager with Dr. Jennifer Tarbutton's practice, Children’s Healthcare Center of Sandersville, for the last 12 years. She has worked as an office manager for the last 25 years in different health care settings, including orthopedics, OB/GYN, and general surgery.

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 CME fall conference.

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

Pediatric CME Conference

October 27, 2023

9 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center will host an in-person CME conference in the Presidents Dining Room on Mercer University's Macon campus.


DEA to Host Listening Sessions on Prescribing Controlled Substances via Telemedicine

In response to the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) unveiled plans for permanent rules governing the prescription of controlled medications through telemedicine. In determining permanent flexibilities, the DEA is hosting a series of public listening sessions to receive comments from health care practitioners, experts, advocates, patients, and other members of the public to inform DEA’s regulations on prescribing controlled substances. Listening sessions are scheduled for September 12-13, 2023. 


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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

Rural Trauma Training

All Rural Counties

Glenda Grant

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

Rural Counties TBD

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

All Rural Counties

Joan Anderson

Hancock County COVID-19/Flu Vaccine Hesitancy Needs Assessment


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

The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center works with rural partners to enhance health education through health fairs. 

We encourage these community members to join us:

Upson County | September 23

Host: Dissipating Disparities

Washington County | October 7

Sponsored by State Representative Mack Jackson

Putnam County | October 28

Are you a vendor wanting to participate in a health fair?

Submit the application below.



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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