Networks established to support four rural Appalachian Ohio communities’ response to the opioid use epidemic became crucial elements of public health infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a case study by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs faculty and professionals in the Partnership for Community-Based Prevention.
The article, published in the journal Family and Community Health, is co-authored by Carrie Burggraf, research associate; Laura Milazzo, senior research associate; Holly Raffle, professor; and Matthew Courser of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE).
With funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Voinovich School partnered with PIRE and local behavioral health boards and health departments in Ashtabula, Fairfield, Sandusky and Seneca counties to establish the Communities of Practice for Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (CoP-RCORP). A community of practice (CoP) brings together people with common interests, concerns or passions who collaborate to expand and deepen their understanding of a topic – in this case, addressing opioid use and overdose deaths. As the article explains, the CoPs are designed to help rural communities “which are often isolated from urban areas and from one another… nurture their capacity to ideate, share resources and impact their communities, both independently and collectively” in responding to opioid use and misuse and other public health issues.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region, community leaders realized they could use the CoP framework – peer sharing, problem solving and action learning – to facilitate responses to both the opioid epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because this rural, multicommunity CoP was already set up to meet virtually, had experience with exchanging ideas and problem solving and had system conveners (PIRE and OHIO) who were dedicated to holding the space, it was a crucial piece of infrastructure that served the community leaders as they worked in their local settings to transcend the pandemic,” the article states.
The experience validates the CoP model and highlights the role of the organizations that support them, the authors conclude.
“This case study highlights the value of cultivating and nurturing multicommunity CoPs among leaders from rural and Appalachian communities and the critical infrastructure these CoPs provide to facilitate effective responses to a variety of public health issues,” they write. “It also underscores the importance of system conveners, in this case, professional staff from OHIO and PIRE. The CoP structure and facilitation operationalized the desire of rural leaders to connect… to share, co-create and implement innovative solutions.”