HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Too many Kentuckians are suffering because they don’t know how to access resources available to them. A nearly $3 million grant will help Northern Kentucky University get more of these people in underserved communities connected. 

What You Need To Know

  • Northern Kentucky University received a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to increase the number of health workers in rural and underserved areas in northern Kentucky

  • The $2.9 million three-year grant will support NKU’s innovative efforts in expanding its Human Services and Addiction program

  • The grant will help reduce financial barriers for trainees through scholarship and stipend support

  • It will also provide scholarships for required continuing education credits at NKU for regional behavioral health care workers


Tammy Barrett–Wolcott often has to choose who she has time to help between multiple people in her community who are struggling.

“The last meeting I was in had four people in it. So we’ve got four people trying to reach hundreds, thousands of people. We can’t do it. We can’t be everywhere at once,” she said.

Barrett-Wolcott is the director of the Drug Prevention Coalition in Carroll and Owen Counties.

Those are two of the seven counties out of eight in northern Kentucky that are underserved by health workers, according to Northern Kentucky University.

 A new $2.9 million federal grant awarded to NKU aims to change that.

“One of the things that the federal government learned through COVID-19 is how important it is to be able to have boots on the ground, and have those boots be worn by people of and from the community,” said Valerie Hardcastle, Executive Director of NKU’s Institute for Health Innovation.

Hardcastle said that led to higher vaccination rates in minority and underserved communities.

She said the grant money will help develop paraprofessional health workers in these underserved communities. Those workers will help people suffering from behavioral health issues and addiction.

“A lot of people don’t know there are resources available. And even if they kind of know that there are, they don’t know how to connect with them,” Hardcastle said.

She said the need to develop more workers to connect these people existed before COVID-19, particularly around substance use disorder, but has only grown with more people leaving medical health professions, and increased levels of anxiety, depression and isolation.

That’s where workers like Barrett-Wolcott come in.

“I don’t even know if we can measure how advantageous it is. A lot of people we work with, they have no transportation. They have no money to get transportation. These counties are so big and so vast that it is not uncommon for me to drive 45 minutes to reach one kid,” Barrett-Wolcott said. 

The day she spoke to Spectrum News 1, Barrett-Wolcott was heading to meet families and give them gas cards, so they could get to 12-step meetings that evening.

“Substance use disorders and mental health is such an issue in these small towns. They either don’t know, they don’t have, or they can’t access the resources,” she said. “This is saving people’s lives. It’s literally saving people’s lives.”

Dedicating more resources to these communities is not just a preventative measure, she said. It’s something they need now. Before her current job, Barrett-Wolcott was the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Coordinator. There, she saw the result of people who don’t receive treatment.

“Unfortunately, we can’t save everyone, because everyone doesn’t want to be saved. But occasionally, we have success stories. And one person saved is worth every effort we do. I would almost guarantee that for every person that we have where pavement is, I would say one to 10 people will be saved,” she said. “If we do not get more people on the ground and break this, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be in two years. We have to do something immediately.”

Hardcastle said the goal is to recruit people from these communities who want to help lift them up. 

“And so they are able to embark on their career with a level of trust with community members, as well as a level of knowledge. Who do I really need to call for this type of answer?” she said. “I do believe that we are at the beginning of a trend that’s going to continue.”

Hiring more paraprofessionals also reduces health care costs, as they are cheaper to hire than medical doctors.

NKU is aiming to launch the program in January, putting 30 people on track to make the kind of difference people like Barrett-Wolcott are making at a much larger scale.

The program will provide scholarships, internships and apprenticeships. For more information on the grant, and how to sign up for the program, head over to NKU’s website.