Nick Jacobs
Nick Jacobs

Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Indiana Regional Medical Center’s joint podcast, Rural Health Pulse, continues with an episode on genomics research and rural health with IUP Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Nick Jacobs, of Windber, cofounder and president of the Windber Research Institute (now the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine in Windber) and the founder of the Clinical and Translational Genome Research Institute, a research institute that is now part of Southern California University of Health Sciences in Los Angeles.

The Rural Health Pulse podcast is available for free on Spotify and from the IRMC website.

The podcasts include professionals from IRMC and from IUP. It is recorded by students in the IUP Department of Communications Media under the direction of communications faculty member Mark Piwinsky and is produced by IUP Director of Strategic Partnerships Christina Koren. Jim Kinneer, IRMC chief human resources officer, serves as the host for the shows.

The Rural Health Pulse podcast is part of a continued collaboration between IUP and IRMC on the topic of rural health care, focusing on issues and stories impacting the health of the region and programs and initiatives designed to improve healthcare and wellness.

In this episode (episode six, season two), Jacobs discusses the transformative impact of genomics research and education pathways on rural health care. He highlights the critical disparities in the American health care system, which prioritizes sickness over wellness and prevention, leading to a shortage of primary care physicians, especially in rural areas.

Jacobs also delves into how the proposed IUP college of osteopathic medicine aims to address these issues by focusing on family medicine and rural health. With a strong foundation in osteopathic principles, this proposed college is set to produce physicians who emphasize wellness, prevention, integrative medicine, and genomics.

This episode also explores the broader implications of this initiative for rural communities, including potential healthcare cost savings, job creation, and economic benefits, and how IUP’s program could become a flagship model for rural health training nationwide, addressing the urgent need for primary care physicians in underserved areas.

Jacobs is the founding executive director of the Conemaugh Health Foundation, Mercy Healthcare Foundation, and the Laurel Highlands Educational Foundation.

He has written two books, and his blog, Healing Hospitals, is featured in a number of regional newspapers and publications. Many of his writings have been published in healthcare magazines, and he has been prominently featured in the Wall Street Journal.

Jacobs earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1968 and a master’s degree in music education in 1972 from IUP. He was honored with the IUP Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005 for his leadership in the healthcare and business communities.

In addition to his IUP degrees, he earned a master’s degree in public management/health systems management from Carnegie Mellon University and has certification in health systems management from Harvard University, in grant work from the Grantsmanship Center, and in planned giving from the College of William & Mary. He was selected for an Outstanding Alumni Award from Carnegie Mellon University.

Jacobs is the recipient of a number of national and state awards for his work in healthcare systems, including the Commander's Award, Walter Reed Healthcare System; Outstanding Support Award, Clinical Breast Care Project, Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Clinical Breast Care Project Collaboration Award, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Pennsylvania Senate Proclamation Recipient from Senator John Wozniak; and the Community Rural Health Leader of the Year for 2001 from the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association.

In July 2023, Jacobs and his wife, Mary Ann Hoysan Jacobs, made a gift of more than $40,000 to advance IUP’s proposed college of osteopathic medicine project.

Podcast episode five, season two, is “Lyme and Other Tickborne Diseases” with IUP biology professor Thomas Simmons. In this episode, Simmons discusses ticks and the diseases they transmit, drawing on his extensive background and pioneering research about tick-borne diseases. He also offers prevention and safety recommendations to help people stay protected during tick season.

Simmons, who has 32 years of teaching and research experience, has done extensive research throughout Pennsylvania, including locally and in Pittsburgh’s major parks, working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection, collecting ticks from all over Pennsylvania. His focus has been on prevention and safety, including the importance of personal protective measures against tick bites.

Season two of the podcasts was launched November 16, 2023, as part of IUP and IRMC’s National Rural Health Day events, and features Jacobs in an episode titled “Promoting Integrative Wellness in a Rural Community.” This episode is a discussion with Jacobs and Kinneer on the realm of complete holistic wellness, offering insights into health prevention and wellness strategies developed during Jacob’s tenure as a hospital executive, providing a holistic perspective on healthcare and encouraging innovative thinking for rural communities, particularly when considering the topic of wellness.

Season two episode one, “Promoting Integrative Wellness in a Rural Community,” features Jacobs and Kinneer discussing the realm of complete holistic wellness, offering insights into health prevention and wellness strategies developed during Jacob’s tenure as a hospital executive, providing a holistic perspective on healthcare and encouraging innovative thinking for rural communities, particularly when considering the topic of wellness.

Season two episode two features IRMC Director of Ambulatory Social Services Rachel Grove and Clinical Care Coordinator at IRMC Physician Group Jonathan Hunte, discussing how they work on a daily basis to help break down barriers to enable patients to overcome challenges in order that they can access services and resources in the local community. 

Season two episode three focuses on the challenges and opportunities of rural healthcare with Lou Pesci, director of IUP’s Institute for Rural Health and Safety. Pesci shares his experiences and expertise about navigating the unique dynamics of providing healthcare in rural areas, highlighting the importance of collaboration and innovation in addressing rural healthcare disparities. Kinneer and Pesci also discuss the role of the IUP Institute for Rural Health and Safety in bridging gaps and providing essential services to rural communities through the Institute's multifaceted approach to enhancing rural health and safety, including driver education, improvement programs, and first responder and emergency response team training.

Season two episode four features Hilliary Creely, dean of IUP’s School of Graduate Studies and Research, with Kinneer discussing the vital role of research at IUP within the context of rural healthcare, exploring how research initiatives at IUP are shaping the landscape of healthcare in rural communities. The show discusses innovative approaches, healthcare disparities, and the practical application of research findings led by a number of faculty and students and uncovering the diverse ways in which research impacts the rural healthcare sector.

Upcoming episode topics planned for season two include the Pennsylvania Mountains Rural Health Conference highlights, stream water conservation, and the proposed IUP college of osteopathic medicine.

The Rural Health Pulse podcast was launched in November 2022 in celebration of National Rural Health Day. Amanda Vaglia, family medicine physician and director of the IRMC Residency Program, is featured on the first episode of season one of the series, discussing the residency program.

Season one episode two of the podcast is an interview with Narayanaswamy Bharathan, chair, IUP Department of Biology, and Jackie Sansig, IRMC director of Laboratory and Respiratory Services, discussing the evolution of the same-day COVID-19 testing process at IRMC by Bharathan, and the difference it made in patient care.

Season one episode three features Rick Adkins, professor of mathematics in the IUP Department of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, discussing the community wastewater surveillance system. Indiana Borough has had a sewer surveillance program with Biobot Analytics, Inc., since April 2020. Weekly flow samples are collected over a 24-hour period at the headwaters of the wastewater plant and sent to BioBot Analytics.

Season one episode four has IRMC’s Dan Clark, director of minimally invasive and robotic surgery and director of IRMC’s Comprehensive Breast Center, discussing robotics in surgery. Since coming to IRMC, Clark has been integral in IRMC’s successfully obtaining a second da Vinci Xi robotic surgery system. Clark serves as a national proctor for robotic surgery and plays an important role in certifying robotic skills competency.

IRMC’s five family medicine residents—Nawar Al Janabi, of Baghdad, Iraq; Tanvi Bharathan, of Indiana; Mohit Chhatpar, of New York; Robin Rodriguez, of Corpus Christi, Texas; and Narinder Sangha, of California—are featured on season one episode five of the podcast.

Season one episode six interviews Clark presenting an overview of breast cancer medical education and care from IRMC. Clark has more than 25 years of breast cancer experience and more than 12 years of experience with genetic counseling. In this role, Clark serves as a breast surgeon as well as a genetic counselor.

Season one episode seven features Steve Hovan, dean of IUP’s John J. and Char Kopchick College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and IUP Distinguished University Professor, discussing IUP’s John J. and Char Kopchick Hall, home to the Kopchick College.

Season one episode eight is an interview with Wendy Haislip, IRMC vice president and chief nursing officer, discussing Pennsylvania’s rural health model and workforce challenges.

Season one episode nine features Erin Clark, director of IUP’s Speech and Hearing Clinic and assistant professor in the IUP Department of Communication Disorders, Special Education, and Disability Services.

Season one concludes with a discussion with Katie Donald, marketing and public relations specialist at Punxsutawney Area Hospital, discussing rural healthcare models and challenges, in episode 10.