The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Board of Directors awarded $4.5 million over three years to the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. The funding will be used for the expansion of Project ECHO, a program designed to improve health care in rural areas.

The Extension for Community Health Care Outcomes model enables health care providers in rural and underserved areas to connect with specialists at academic medical centers via digital platform for training and consultation.

“TSET is excited to partner with OSU to increase the impact of Project ECHO around the state,” said Marshall Snipe, chair of the TSET Board of Directors. “Access to quality health care is key to improving the overall health of all Oklahomans.”

Rural communities account for nearly 34% of Oklahoma’s population but struggle to provide robust access to health care due to hospital closures and provider shortages. Oklahoma ranks 48th in the number of active physicians per 100,000 population and 47th in active primary care physicians.

Lack of access to routine health care leads to higher rates of morbidity and death due to unmanaged chronic illness and more advanced diseases diagnosed at later stages. With fewer providers and limited options for specialists, complex medical cases can be difficult to manage in smaller rural hospitals.

The system is expected to face additional strain in coming years due to an aging population and the expansion of Medicaid.

“We are grateful to partner with TSET to expand access to health care with the goal of improving health outcomes in rural areas of our state,” said Dr. Johnny Stephens, president of OSU Center for Health Sciences. “With this generous funding, Project ECHO will expand lines of care to support more health providers and physicians across the entire state of Oklahoma. Our mission and passion at OSU Center for Health Sciences is to train health professionals to serve rural and underserved populations, as well as to provide innovative solutions to support Oklahoma health providers.”

Since 2017, the OSU Center for Health Sciences has reached over 70,000 participants in all 77 counties using the ECHO model. The new TSET funding will help support the development of new lines of ECHO care, such as diabetes, pediatric obesity and hypertension management.

Project ECHO develops the capacity for safe and effective treatment of chronic, common, and complex diseases in rural and underserved areas. It also strengthens rural health systems by reducing provider isolation and increasing retention in rural areas. TSET serves as a partner and bridge builder for organizations shaping a healthier future for all Oklahomans. TSET provides leadership at the intersections of health by working with local coalitions and initiatives across the state, cultivating innovative and life-changing research and working across public and private sectors to develop, support, implement and evaluate creative strategies to take advantage of emerging opportunities to improve the public’s health. To learn more, visit:

OSU Center for Health Sciences is a nationally recognized academic health center focused on teaching, research and patient care. OSU-CHS offers professional degrees through the College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as graduate degrees in allied health, biomedical sciences, forensic sciences, health care administration and the physician assistant program. OSU-CHS has five centers of excellence addressing emerging and pressing health challenges through multidisciplinary collaborative research with an emphasis on childhood adversity, addiction, rural and indigenous health and health systems innovation. OSU Medicine Clinics have more than 80 physicians and 27 locations throughout the Tulsa metro area and provide care in more than 15 specialties. Learn more at

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