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Two EKU faculty members were part of the Holler Exchange group that earned first place in the substance abuse category at the recent Appalachian Health Hack-a-thon.

Dr. Clint Pinion and Vonia Grabeel, who both teach in EKU’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, were members of the winning team.

The event, hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), was held at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset. Teams from across the region presented their solutions for some of the most common public health issues in Appalachia: obesity, diabetes and substance abuse.

The Holler Exchange is a mail-in needle exchange program designed to overcome stigma and transportation barriers associated with traditional needle exchange programs. The program also aims to decrease HIV and Hepatitis C prevalence among intravenous substance users. The mail-in exchange program includes one-time-use needles and a sharps container, baseline and follow-up Hepatitis C and HIV screening, telehealth sessions focused on counseling and treatment options, and a buddy system for ensuring needles are returned to a regional healthcare facility for disposal.

Grabeel said her favorite part was the collaboration within her group, which consisted of academics and public and private health care practitioners.

“To come together, work toward a common goal, and produce a product with the potential to move the needle of public health in a positive direction is a beautiful thing,” Grabeel said, “and I am honored to have been a part of the process.

Pinion looks forward to implementing the program in eastern Kentucky.

"The SOAR Hackathon was an excellent opportunity to examine public health issues our service region is currently facing,” Pinion said. “I look forward to working with my Hackathon team to implement our idea in Pike County, Kentucky.”

Two other Environmental Health Sciences faculty members participated.

Dr. James Klyza was part of Sugar Busters, the team that won the Passport Health Plan diabetes challenge. Sugar Busters created a plan to increase pre-diabetic screenings by adding a checklist of health screenings to Medicaid cards. The team also designed an app that would list the screenings as well as incentives for having them performed.

Dr. Paul Rosile also participated in the event as a mentor.

“I had the privilege to work with the team that won the Passport Health Plan Challenge,” Rosile said. “This team was successful because its membership included the perfect combination of backgrounds from physicians, academic public health statisticians, managed care organizations, hospital administrators, and government Medicaid experts.”