Cooperative Extension Service helps UAMS bring more COVID-19 testing opportunities to rural Arkansas residents

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, family and science agents of the Cooperative Extension Service have been providing free, resourced-based information and services to help Arkansans successfully manage their health, finances and family resources.

Through a partnership with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), extension agents are using their community connections to help meet the pandemic-related health needs in rural, underserved areas of the state.

UAMS has a mobile testing unit that travels on average three times a week from Little Rock to rural communities to provide COVID-19 testing. This effort coincides with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s efforts to increase testing capacity across the state.

Destinations are determined depending on counties’ needs. Some of the testing sites are hosted at University of Arkansas System campuses, but 63 counties do not have a U of A System campus, and this is where extension agents’ local connections come into play.

“We have extension agents working in every county in Arkansas, and because they also live in the communities they serve, they have extensive knowledge of the needs of residents and of resources available in their communities,” said Bob Scott, director of the Cooperative Extension Service for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “UAMS is providing much-needed testing to Arkansans, and we are committed to using our networks to help with this important outreach and to support Gov. Hutchinson’s efforts to expand testing.”

Extension’s health leadership team is collaborating with the UAMS Office of Population Health.

“We have agreed that the best way we can assist is to provide referrals to our local community partners who may be able to coordinate these efforts,” said Laura Balis, assistant professor and extension health specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Local partners will select and coordinate sites, find volunteers, promote the testing events locally and assist at the events. Testing events will typically take place between 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Testing events are publicized by the local community partners and by county extension offices.

The mobile unit is expected to visit each county no more than twice in the coming year. The Blue & You Foundation provided funding for UAMS’ van and supplies, and UAMS staff began offering COVID-19 screenings and testing in early April.

“We’ve opened up these testing services for members of the community who want to be tested, and we’ve had an amazing turnout,” said Kristie Hadden, director of population health at UAMS.

COVID-19 testing at the mobile unit is available to anyone who feels they need testing. People do not have to be UAMS patients to be seen. Everyone is given instructions on how to take care of themselves and their families at home and receive a phone call with their test results a few days later.

UAMS’ online screening tool is available at uamshealth.com/healthnow. Phone screening is also available through the UAMS Health hotline at 800-632-4502. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit uaex.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

Source: U of A System Division of Agriculture

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