PITTSBURG — Healthcare professionals and representatives of organizations including the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and University of Kansas School of Medicine (KUMC) visited Pittsburg Thursday to make an announcement at Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK) of the awarding of a grant that will create a new rural medicine residency program for physicians.

“This is the beginning of a future of unlimited potential for us, for Southeast Kansas, for KU,” said Krista Postai, president and CEO of CHC/SEK, at the Thursday event announcing the grant award.

Nancy Rios, deputy regional administrator for the HRSA Office of Regional Operations, who also spoke at the Thursday event, said that HRSA was awarding 27 grants for up to $750,000 each to recipients in 21 states nationwide to develop new, sustainable medical residency training programs.

The award of one of these grants to CHC/SEK for its new Family Medicine Rural Residency Program, a collaboration with KUMC, is part of this larger $20 million multi-year investment initiative to fund newly accredited residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine and psychiatry.

“The health challenges in rural America are clear and urgent,” Rios said. “Of the nearly 2,000 counties, rural counties in the United States, about 75 percent are primary care health professional shortage areas.”

Thursday was an “extraordinary day” said Michael Kennedy, KUMC associate dean for rural health education, who thanked Rios for coming from Washington, DC, to make the announcement of the grant for the creation of the new local residency program.

“I’ve been talking rural medicine for years,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes people listen, and kind of amazing things have happened.”

Dr. Kelsie Kelly, KUMC’s Family Medicine Residency Program director, also spoke during Thursday’s announcement event.

“At the University of Kansas Family Medicine Residency Program, our aim is to develop physician leaders who partner with their communities to decrease health disparities,” Kelly said, “and we do this through our mission of training intellectually curious, compassionate, competent family physicians committed to caring for the underserved. So partnering and collaborating with the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas is an excellent opportunity to meet our mission and aim in supporting rural Kansas.”

Dr. Bethany Enoch, physician and family medicine residency director at CHC/SEK also spoke about the future of the new local program that she will be leading.

“As I was finishing residency and deciding what to do, I was really excited about going into practice, and I love practicing family medicine, and I think it’s the best job in the world,” Enoch said. “The only thing I can think of that could be better or expand that more is to be able to train more and more physicians, who will be excellent physicians to care for all of the needs that we have.”