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Mobilizing Resources to Reduce Harm

A pharmacist moves out of the hospital and into rural communities to get a broader perspective on how to address public health challenges.

You might say that Matt Ransom, a hospital pharmacist, really goes the distance to improve health. At least he has since enrolling in UNC Gillings School's MPH Program in Asheville and working with the Toe River Health District to develop mobile harm reduction services in rural Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey counties. In this remote corner of the state, reliable transportation is far from a given. Transportation challenges coupled with the stigma associated with substance use disorders, prevents some residents from accessing the life-saving care they need to prevent overdoses, health complications, and the spread of infectious diseases.

Matt believes working with community stakeholders across three counties for his practicum is a logical extension of his hospital work where he addresses patients' needs one person at a time. As an MPH student, he is learning how to address rural health needs one community at a time. That's where his public health training has been invaluable.

"Having an MPH gives me an excuse to think more broadly in terms of relationships and systems so I can have a bigger influence. I'm learning how to be a public health leader who brings people together to create solutions that are better than any individual or organization could achieve on their own."

It is this broad systems-level thinking and emphasis on building relationships that has the potential transform rural health challenges into opportunities. Matt and his preceptor, Toe River Health District Director Diane Creek, MSW, are already looking ahead. Once they have operationalized harm reduction services like syringe exchange and naloxone, they hope to expand mobile health services to include telehealth, medication-assisted treatment, chronic disease management, even parenting support - whatever someone needs to be healthy no matter where they live.

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