The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $974,978 to improve the health and wellness of the rural workforce in four Arkansas counties that currently experience higher rates of chronic diseases, health risk factors, and other health disparities.

The USDA Supporting Health Advances for Rural Employees (SHARE) project, implemented by Winrock and partners including the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, the Arkansas Community Health Worker Association, and Community Health Centers of Arkansas, seeks to improve total worker health in the Arkansas Delta by providing support to employees, employers, nurses, clinical staff, and local community health workers.

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“A healthy workforce is a vital component of comprehensive economic development,” said Winrock’s Senior Director of U.S. Programs, Linsley Kinkade. “This project fosters a culture of health in our existing industries, promotes improved health for our residents, and creates opportunities for both employees and employers.”

The two-year SHARE project will improve health and wellness by conducting worksite assessments and providing health curricula development training, wellness screenings, and training to some of the region’s largest employers in selected counties in the Delta.

These include Chicot, Mississippi, Phillips, and St. Francis counties, each of which ranks in the bottom 10 percent of Arkansas for both health outcomes and health factors, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2021 County Health Rankings. Residents of these counties are likelier to be afflicted by hypertension and coronary heart disease, as well as risk factors including smoking and obesity.

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The project will link occupational health and social determinants of health into employee health promotion programming. This approach will target local employees, employers, clinical staff, and community health workers to increase both health care access and education in the region; these groups represent a network that can improve the health of the rural workforce when properly coordinated.