When you hear of the Oregon State University Extension Service, what comes to mind? For most of us, it is their long history of academic/rural partnering to improve local agriculture and natural resources.

While it is true the OSU Extension Service has a rich history of serving and improving local agri-business, it also is very involved locally in less visible but equally important ways that bolster local economies, expand education and add to the health and wellbeing of our communities.

OSU is a land-grant university founded through a series of federal acts in the late 1800s through which the government “granted” federal lands to states to be sold to fund or endow colleges for the purpose of teaching practical agriculture, science and engineering. With a mission to research practical-solutions-to-real-problems, this academic and community partnership took education on improving rural life all over the state.

In the past, the Extension Service took demonstration trains, boats, trailer exhibits and other means to inform on improvements in technology, practice, application and other educational opportunities. This unique focus and mission continues today with the extra advantages of modern communication options.

OSU has extension offices in all 36 Oregon counties and is uniquely positioned to engage with Oregon’s rural communities to cooperatively create solutions to their most challenging issues. As a part of this broad mission, OSU Extension Services is committed to improving health and health care delivery throughout our state. OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Science recently established a Center for Healthy Aging Research where it is studying the impact of biological, psychological, social and physical factors on the aging process with the purpose of helping people live longer, healthier lives.

It has been eight years since Oregon created its innovative Coordinated Care Organizations, a novel health care delivery system designed to reduce costs, improve patient experience and enhance the quality of care (the triple aim). Oregon’s CCO’s quickly recognized the need for new partners to create innovative solutions necessary to achieve their mission. For example, understanding how to most effectively access the health care system was identified as a major patient challenge, especially in rural areas. A partnership between OSU Extension, the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences, OSU Professional and Continuing Education Office and the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization formed to provide quality training for Community Health Workers.

A CHW’s role is to assist patients in navigating the complex structure of health care, improve compliance with care plans and assist patients in appropriate care follow up. Over the past five years the program has trained nearly 200 workers who are practicing across the state. The creation of the CHW has been a very successful adjunct in workforce development meeting a need in a new and more effective way.

OSU’s Extension Faculty’s teaching and training capacity, whether on campus, in local extension offices or online, is extensive, combining academic skills-based knowledge and research with a needed local landscape perspective. This local training orientation makes the OSU program attractive to potential students.

It is my hope that I have expanded your understanding of the broad mission and objectives served by OSU’s Extension Program. They provide a vital service in improving livability within our state and deserve our appreciation, encouragement and support.

Dennis Burke is the former president and chief executive officer of Good Shepherd Health Care System. Burke now does consulting work with Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization.

Article was originally published by East Oregonian.