Improving the Lives of People and Communities: Spotlight on Dr. Kate Beatty

by Michelle Haberstroh

“Every day I get to work with students who will go out into the world and improve the lives of people in their communities.”

This June, we shine the spotlight on JPHMP editorial board member Dr. Kate Beatty. Dr. Beatty is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Services Management and Policy, Director of the Tennessee Public Health Training Center, and Co-Director of the Center for Rural and Appalachian Health at East Tennessee State University College of Public Health. She holds a PhD in Public Health Studies, an MPH in Joint Concentration in Behavior Science and Health Education and Epidemiology, both from Saint Louis University College of Public Health and Social Justice, and a BS in Psychology from the University of Georgia. 

Dr. Beatty is a mixed methods researcher who has expertise in public health services and systems research, rural and Appalachian health, women’s health, childhood obesity, practice-based public health research networks, collaboration between public health and healthcare, and performance management.

I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Beatty about her career path and recent research published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Michelle Haberstroh: You completed your PhD in Public Health Studies at Saint Louis State University. What factors contributed to your decision to attend this university?

Dr. Beatty: I found public health like many students, by almost stumbling into it! I had spent a few years working for an R&D pharmaceutical company and was looking for a change. I started thinking about what kind of work I wanted to do that would take me from the treatment side to prevention and found this thing called public health. When I was looking at universities, SLU stood out for a couple of reasons, including the work of its faculty, the class size, but most importantly its mission for social justice. Not only in the college but the entire university. I loved it so much, I got my masters and doctorate degrees there. Go Bilkens!

Michelle Haberstroh: You are currently an assistant professor for the Department of Health Services Management and Policy at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) College of Public Health. What inspired you to pursue this career path? 

Dr. Beatty: My research, which has evolved overtime, has always related to rural health, either from a health disparities or public health systems focus. Additionally, I really enjoy practice-based work. I truly believe our communities have the BEST questions. ETSU is a wonderful university tucked into the eastern most part of Tennessee, in Central Appalachia. ETSU’s mission is “Developing a world-class environment to enhance student success and improve the quality of life in the region and beyond.” Every day I get to work with students who will go out into the world and improve the lives of people in their communities. Due to the relationships and great collaboration here at ETSU, I get to conduct research into the experiences of those in Appalachia and other rural communities. Go Bucs!

“To focus only on the disparities would do a disservice to the great people that call Appalachia home. There are distinct culture and community assets as well as a renewed interest, nationally, in working to improve the health and economics of the region.”

Michelle Haberstroh: Your research interests span several public health areas, including rural health, childhood obesity, women’s health, and practice-based public health research networks among others. How does your research inform your teaching?

Dr. Beatty: The beauty of being in academia is having my research and teaching inform each other. I try to use my research, or the research of others, to provide additional context to topics such as systems-thinking, social determinants of health, mal-distribution of health care professionals, and health disparities. It is no secret that when the instructor is passionate about a topic, the students can tell. One of my favorite things is learning from the life experiences of my wonderful and diverse students!

Michelle Haberstroh: You are also the co-director for the Center for Rural and Appalachian Health at ETSU. For those of us who are unaware, are there distinct, defining characteristics of a rural, Appalachian community? What are some of the most urgent or persistent health issues facing this community? And what ways does the Center for Rural and Appalachian Health engage this population to help advance and improve the quality of life?

Dr. Beatty: When it comes to health disparities, people in Appalachia die earlier than others. Premature mortality is driven by higher rates of smoking and smoking-related illnesses, including heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, and cancer; obesity and diabetes; and more recently the opioid epidemic. Nationally, the opioid epidemic has been associated with the declines in overall life expectancies. Of the region, Central Appalachia has higher rates of premature deaths and the above-mentioned morbidities. One of the greatest predictors of health is poverty. Approximately 17% of Appalachians live below the poverty line. To focus only on the disparities would do a disservice to the great people that call Appalachia home. There are distinct culture and community assets as well as a renewed interest, nationally, in working to improve the health and economics of the region. The Center for Rural and Appalachian Health works across four pillars — community engagement, policy, research, and training — to address our mission. Recently, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) developed research briefs related to obesity, smoking, and opioid misuse. Each brief summarizes the statistics, discusses strategies and resources, and provides recommendations for community leaders, funders, and policymakers.

Michelle Haberstroh: In “Public Health Agency Accreditation Among Rural Local Health Departments: Influencers and Barriers,” you and your colleagues examine the effect of rurality on the likelihood of seeking accreditation. Your findings report that LHDs in urban areas are 16.6% more likely to seek PHAB accreditation than rural health departments. What are some of the barriers to accreditation impacting rural LHDs and what factors attribute to those barriers?

Dr. Beatty: Resources: human and financial and time. LHD funding from state and federal streams is tied to population served and need. Rural LHDs typically serve smaller jurisdictions and therefore have less revenue. With smaller revenues there is less money for staffing and provision of services. So you are essentially running into an issue of economy scale. Often there are not enough resources to tackle accreditation regardless of the potential to improve the LHD.

Michelle Haberstroh: Between urban and rural local health departments, what factors majorly differed that influenced their decision to seek accreditation? Did the results align with your original expectations?

Dr. Beatty: Seeing accreditation as a benefit to the organization and community has a major impact on LHDs’ decisions around accreditation. That plus time and cost. Rural health departments were more likely to identify the cost, or fees, as a barrier to seeking accreditation than urban LHDs. Based on previous work around accreditation and performance standards, these findings were not surprising.

Michelle Haberstroh: You coauthored a similar study on “Patterns and Predictors of Local Health Department Accreditation in Missouri.” Why is accreditation an important topic? Are you currently or do you plan to conduct further research regarding accreditation of local health departments in the future? 

Dr. Beatty: From a systems prospective, accreditation has major benefits to organizations. Accredited health department administrators identified many incentives, including efficiencies, staff cohesion and community recognition for seeking accreditation, and quality improvement. These transcend individual services and can lead to a more effective health department. If only larger and/or urban LHDs are able to achieve accreditation, this leads to a disparity for rural LHDs. See also “Barriers and Incentives to Rural Health Departments,” a project that was conducted for NACCHO with Michael Meit (another board member) to provide additional rural analysis of the Profile Study. This data provides additional context for why there are differences in accreditation seek behaviors for rural and urban LHDs. And yes, I continue to do accreditation research.

Michelle Haberstroh: What other research are you working on or hope to work on in the future?

Dr. Beatty: I am currently working on a couple projects; one is looking at differences in the services and funding sources of rural and urban LHDs. I have other projects that are looking at the impact of poverty on the health of individuals in Central Appalachia and Tennessee. Understanding the interconnectedness of health, poverty, and education is key to improving the lives of those living in rural communities.

Michelle Haberstroh: Has research published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice had an impact on the accreditation process for LHDs?

Dr. Beatty: I think so. PHAB has been working to engage rural LHDs, which is wonderful and shows its commitment to removing barriers. I think highlighting challenges and successes helps to continuously improve the accreditation process for LHDs.

Michelle Haberstroh: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Dr. Beatty: I think this covered it!

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Michelle Haberstroh is a graduate student at the University of Illinois Springfield, pursuing an MPH with a certification in Epidemiology, and an MA in Human Services with a concentration in Child and Family Services.