Strengthening access to care and community support in rural Kentucky

Greater access to care in a rural community

Eastern Kentucky is a region with a rich culture and beautiful landscape, and Johnson County is no exception. However, while the economy has been traditionally buoyed by the coal industry, Johnson County has a 26% poverty rate, and a premature death rate that has been steadily increasing in the 21st century. What’s more, the lack of access to care close by in rural areas has sometimes meant long drives – sometimes for hours – in order to receive primary care, or just to see a dentist.

In Paintsville, Kentucky, the Johnson County Community Health Center is hoping to increase that access. Launched by Big Sandy Health Care – and with an investment of $500,000 by the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kentucky – the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) provides a broad array of health care services for a drastically underserved area.

Lesley Dotson is a family physician who is Chief Medical Officer for Big Sandy Health Care.

“I've practiced here for about 13 years,” she said. “And I see firsthand some of the barriers that my patients face. They have to make some very difficult decisions every month, whether they're going to purchase their groceries or whether they're going to purchase their prescription medications.”

FQHCs are well-equipped to address these gaps in care. In 2023, 1 in 11 Americans received care at FQHCs – 41% of whom are rural residents. Because of their holistic vision centered in community, they can provide a wide-range of interconnected care; not only primary care but also:

  • Dental care
  • Behavioral health care
  • Help with social drivers of health such as food, housing, transportation and more


“The Big Sandy team has really led the way in terms of patient-centered medical home care – not just primary care, but behavioral health, dental and nutritionists,” said Krista Brinly Hensel, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kentucky. “And we're really excited to see what they do here in Johnson County collaborating with other community-based organizations that have been doing amazing work in this county.”

Although there is adversity in terms of health care access and social drivers of health in the area, the people of Eastern Kentucky continue to be resilient, creative and hopeful for the changes ahead. In the years to come, the Johnson County Community Health Center can be one more piece of the health care mosaic for this region.

Sign up to get the latest news from the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom