“…I pledge my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”

Many a former 4-H’er can still recite that pledge. In mid-December, the fourth H, “health,” took on new meaning for WSU Extension, as the Area Health Education Center at WSU Spokane became the first unit to join the new extension under its universitywide mission.

Speaking at an informal partnership celebration, Linda Fox, associate dean and associate director for extension, discussed the ongoing evolution of extension during nearly a century of service. Extension, she said, is always community-based, highly relevant to the communities it serves, and working to enhance the competitive edge of the state’s citizens. And, AHEC’s programs, which are designed to develop the health professions, fit well within that model.

“We’ll chart our own future going forward as partners,” Fox said.

Steve Meltzer, director of the AHEC, cited its mission of not doing things “to” or “for” but always “with” communities.

“We see fantastic opportunities for linkages across what extension does and what the AHEC does,” said Meltzer. “We’re in the same communities, we have the same philosophy, we’re extending the university’s research and service in many of the same ways to bring benefits directly to individuals where they live.”

The AHEC serves the 20 eastern Washington counties, particularly in rural and underserved communities. Its focus is on:

• health professions education and training,
• recruitment and retention of health professionals,
• health care policy development, and
• creation and implementation of community development programs, in collaboration with communities, to address economic development, local infrastructure, leadership development and health services.

Meltzer is confirming with the National AHEC Association whether they are perhaps the first AHEC in the country to affiliate with extension.

WSU’s AHEC program has established itself as a national leader on several occasions. Meltzer was founding president of both the National AHEC Directors’ Association and the National AHEC Association, which represents all 183 centers and 53 medical schools. Charlotte Hardt, assistant director of WSU’s AHEC, recently served as president of the National Rural Health Association, the largest such representative organization in the country.

“The name WSU Extension,” Fox said, “reflects the 21st-century vision of our programs and enhanced university partnerships, extending the resources of the entire land-grant university to the citizens of the state of Washington. Our partnership with the AHEC gives us new ways in which to do that, and we bring resources to them that will provide advantages in their work in health care.”

She said this may serve as a model for other extension partnerships with colleges and urban campuses.