MATTOON -- The Southern Illinois University School of Medicine plans to work with local agencies and organizations to try to discover and address the region's health care needs.
The "outreach" effort was described during an announcement Monday at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center. It took place in the hospital's Center for Healthy Living, where the project's area office is located.
Brent Todd, program assistant director, said he plans to meet with public health departments, health care providers, social service agencies and others to "find out what the needs are." He said what happens from there will depend on what he finds.
"It's for the people we're helping to decide," Todd said. "We're all here for the same reason: to better the community."
Todd started in the SBLHC location in January and said he recently completed reviewing data about the region from the U.S. Census, the Illinois Department of Public Health and other sources.
Next, he continued, he plans to visit each of the 20 counties in his office's region to find "what you are actually seeing." He said he expects public health departments to be the likely starting point.
"They're going to have a really good idea of what's going on," he said.
Todd explained that the SIU medical school's work could include helping agencies find grant funding or make the proper connections for information or whatever they need.
An example he mentioned was public transportation, and the project could make people aware of transportation programs in place as well as help find ways to start one, he said.
"In rural areas, there are some people who have difficulty getting to health care providers," Todd said.
SIU officials who attended Monday's announcement said the effort marked a change in the medical school's mission of teaching, treating patients and conducting research.
"We needed to be out in the community and do what we could to try to prevent people from what gets them in trouble," said J. Kevin Dorsey, the medical school's dean and provost.
David Steward, the medical school's associate dean of community health and service, said the program covers a total of 66 counties.
There's also an office in Havana for the western part of the state and the school also expanded its office at SIU's main campus in Carbondale, he said.
"It's not a clinical enterprise," Steward said. "We hope we can connect the health care field with all the other people involved in the health."
Representatives of several local agencies and organizations attended Monday's announcement.
Eastern Illinois University President Bill Perry said he thought the university could be "one of many partners" in the project, which could benefit EIU's health studies, nursing and other programs.
"There are many ways we think we can be an effective partner with you," Perry said.