Purdue Public Health head establishes new Center for Rural and Migrant Health

Randy Hubach

Randy Hubach

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

In concert with Purdue University’s land-grant mission of providing for Indiana residents, Randy Hubach, associate professor and department head for the Department of Public Health, saw a pressing need for advancing the health of Indiana’s rural populations. Simultaneously, the researcher learned about the health disparities for mostly Latino migrant workers, whose health needs are underserved in Indiana.

The Purdue Center for Rural and Migrant Health debuted in 2023 and is looking to grow in 2024. Already, it received a $2.4 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration for the center’s Community Health Workers Training Program at Purdue. The center will hold its first in-person event with a fall symposium on Purdue campus.

“We will train community health workers to address health equity within rural and underserved communities in Indiana,” said Hubach, noting 60 Hoosier health workers have already gone through the center’s program.

The center’s physical headquarters are in the Vistech 1 building in West Lafayette, but Hubach hopes to bring it to Purdue’s main campus soon.

With a “rural context” in mind, Hubach recruited fellow Purdue Public Health faculty members Cody Mullen and Yumary Ruiz to focus on three primary migrant and rural health targets: research, evaluation and technical assistance, and capacity-building and workforce development. Core health issues being addressed by center investigators include infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C; opioid and other substance use; mental health; youth and family resilience; and the structure of health care in rural America.

The center will train health providers in rural counties on issues that might be suffering due to lack of resources and personnel. It will also partner with Purdue Extension, utilizing its reach in every Indiana county and its trusted community voice that has been established over the years. The center’s programs can then be implemented easier with Extension’s help, Hubach said.

While the center will serve populations across Indiana’s 92 counties, Hubach only had to look around Greater Lafayette to see needs for a program like the Center for Rural and Migrant Health.

“In Tippecanoe and surrounding counties, we get rural very quickly, and we have a lot of communities that are also in need,” Hubach said. “Our neighbors not too far away have the traditional barriers of transportation, access to care and the like.

“Where we live impacts our health outcomes. … Our goal is to supplement the strengths of our communities and help with capacity building and resources while making sure a community’s priorities are always at the forefront.”