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School of Medicine Greenville

Just What the Doctor Ordered - Episode #5

Root Cause!

In this episode, we discuss the impact of Root Cause, a health and public services fair, designed to engage the Upstate. With more than 1,500 impacted, Root Cause collaborates with various partners and health care experts to provide resources and teach relevant public health topics.

Kendall Givens-Little (00:18):

Hello, and welcome to episode five of Just What the Doctor Ordered, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville's podcast, where we discuss relevant news you can use from the upstate. I'm your host, Kendall Givens-Little. In this episode, I'll be sitting down with Dr. Lauren Fowler, the root cause faculty advisor for the program Root Cause. We're going to discuss how this program benefits our local community, and how you can get involved. Dr. Fowler is joined by core team member Kate Girtain, a student director of the Root Cause program who will also speak about her experiences working with the program. Welcome to the both of you.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (00:55):

Thank you.

Kate Girtain  (00:56):

Thanks for having us.

Kendall Givens-Little (00:57):

Welcome, welcome. All right, so we're going to get this rolling. Dr. Fowler, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with the Root Cause program. You work here at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. How did that translate over to Root Cause? What made you want to be involved with that?

Dr. Lauren Fowler (01:13):

Well, thank you. I am an associate professor of neuroscience here, and I've been here three and a half years, and I've been an educator for more than 20 years. I taught primarily at an undergraduate institution before coming here, and was very passionate about not just teaching, but giving back to the community and figuring out a way to help students learn to get more involved with their community, because I think that what we do with our education is very, very important. Not just learning something, but something with it. When I first started at USC School of Medicine Greenville, I had the opportunity to become involved with the community outreach leadership team that helped establish Root Cause. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to continue my outreach, but also to get to know my community better.

Kendall Givens-Little (02:06):

Okay, so you said you were part of the initial group who started the Root Cause program.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (02:09):


Kendall Givens-Little (02:10):

Well, what was the need? Why did you see a need to create such a program here in the upstate?

Dr. Lauren Fowler (02:16):

Well, there were many needs, and so one of the first needs were the medical school wanted to figure out a way to coordinate our outreach so that we weren't just going out without any organization, without any insight about what was needed. Because, I think one of the things that's really important is, when you're engaged with the community, to have bi-directional engagement, so that we're not just volunteering and doing something and not keeping track of it. We're asking community members, "What do you need, and how can we help that need?" In 2018, the community outreach organization, or the leadership team, looked at the different assessments to determine the needs of the upstate. One of the needs was shown to be in Dunean. Based on things like poverty rate, they had more than 20% poverty rate.

Kendall Givens-Little (03:07):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (03:08):

High rates of diabetes, obesity, and they perceive themselves as having low access to healthcare, which is really ironic because the Dunean community is adjacent to the hospital here. It seemed like a perfect fit for us to try to address the needs of our immediate community, and so we established contact with members of the Dunean community, leaders in the community, as well as with United Way, who already had partnerships with leaders in the community. That gave us the opportunity to hear from those leaders, what do you need and what can we do?

Kendall Givens-Little (03:44):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (03:45):

It was a fantastic opportunity for us because our medical students want to be involved in the community, want to be engaged. They, really, I think just needed direction on what can they do that would make the most impact. This gave us the opportunity to meet the needs of the community, as well as give our students the opportunity to meet their future patient population. We established Root Cause, which is a monthly health fair that is designed to provide access to materials for the members of the community so that they can learn about healthy eating, healthy lifestyles. They are provided a free meal from Project Host.

Kendall Givens-Little (04:24):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (04:24):

We also had people who were providing access to physicians, so that they were helping them to sign up for primary care physicians. We had, I believe it's Legal Access, or was it called Legal Access?

Kate Girtain  (04:41):

I believe so.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (04:43):

Who would come so that people who had questions, legal issues, they were providing free information for them. The point was to really give members of the community a place where they could come together to be more cohesive, because that's one of the things the Dunean community said that they needed. They felt like it was not a cohesive community any longer. There was a lot of transition, and this was a place where they could come and have a meal and sit down and get access to information, and provided an opportunity for other community outreach organizations to come together. You have a lot of organizations that want to do something for the communities in need, but they don't have a venue to do it, and so Root Cause provided that venue.

Kendall Givens-Little (05:28):

Wow. I think one of the beautiful things is, one of the misconceptions is this is a meal program where you can come get a free meal. But, you guys offer so much more than just a free meal. You touched on something out the students pretty much driving this effort. A great segue over to Kate. Kate, tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do here at the School of Medicine Greenville, and your role working with Root Cause.

Kate Girtain  (05:56):

Sure. I'm a second year med student here, and I started with Root Cause last year as the assistant director while the current director, or the previous director, transitioned out into third year. When I came to Greenville, it was during COVID, and I had been really involved in my community where I went to college in Ashland with EMS and when with our local Circles Ashland program. That was a huge void, because all of the sudden it was taken away from COVID, and I think it just emphasized how much I missed being involved in connecting with the community. I was new here, I didn't really know much about the area. When the opportunity for Root Cause came, it was actually during a lecture with Dr. Fowler for our IPM course. I was really excited about it, and I applied, and it seemed like something that related to what I'd previously done, and it also seemed like a way to get involved that was meaningful, and it provided me some background about the community here that I just didn't have previously.

Kate Girtain  (06:53):

As the Root Cause director, my main thing is to get students involved and to make sure that the community partners have what they need. I do a lot of work with Dr. Springheart, Dr. Jennifer Springheart, with the community partners. But, I mostly work with the students, and we get all of our students involved in a lot of ways. Students can volunteer to help run the show, or they can volunteer to provide information to the community. We had some students pair up with Dr. Greer to provide a whole bunch of information about vaccine hesitancy, about COVID, and then I think just generally vaccine hesitancy. That was a really relevant outreach that a lot of people felt was really important, and I think it gives students an opportunity to connect in a way that feels meaningful.

Kendall Givens-Little (07:36):

Awesome. From a student's perspective, where are you originally from?

Kate Girtain  (07:41):

I'm from Maryland and New Jersey, and I went to college in Virginia.

Kendall Givens-Little (07:44):

Wow, okay. You made it all the way down here to South Carolina.

Kate Girtain  (07:47):

Yeah. I finished my senior year of high school in South Carolina.

Kendall Givens-Little (07:50):

Awesome. As a future physician, and in getting involved with a program that directly impacts and touches the community, why was that important for you? Why was it important for you to learn the community where you're going to be serving?

Kate Girtain  (08:07):

I think the most important reason to learn your community is you can't fully assess what someone needs if you don't ask them and if you're not a part of the community. Otherwise, you might just be making kind of decisions based on what you think is important, and I think that connection is really essential to really making change and finding out what the people in this particular area need. Because, Greenville was a little bit different than a lot of the needs we saw in Ashland, or I perceived in Ashland. I think it was just really essential for students to understand that you have to look at your patient in the future and ask them, look at your community and ask what your community needs.

Kendall Givens-Little (08:44):

Wow, awesome. I'm looking here, and I see you guys have over the years, Dr. Fowler, you guys have partnered with a number of organizations here in the upstate from Access Health, to the Bradshaw Institute, to Kmart. I'm seeing Kmart up here, and I haven't heard about Kmart in a while. Tell us a little bit about some of these partnerships and how some of these organizations locally, if they like, and this would be a question for Kate and Dr. Fowler, how can organizations get involved? Is there a need? Do you guys need any type of support, supplies, or anything? Let's talk about the need for the program and how community can get involved.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (09:23):

Well, I think one of the big things, and we were so grateful for Kmart, because this is how we really got started with the location. Kmart let us use their parking lot.

Kendall Givens-Little (09:33):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (09:33):

It's really a hub for the Dunean community. We were trying to figure out a way to do it that would attract the most people. We had looked at going into one of the two main churches that were in the community, but we were really looking for an outdoor venue that would allow people to be going by and see, "Oh, hey, something's going on. I want to be a part of that." Kmart was really wonderful in their sponsorship, and they would advertise to the people who were going in to Kmart themselves. They would come out and be like, "Oh, I want to participate." When Kmart left, it really left a gap that needed to be filled, and Food Lion has been very supportive in letting us use the parking lot.

Kendall Givens-Little (10:11):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (10:11):

But, we definitely can use more community sponsors. In part, we can always use funding to help provide some resources to members of the community, but we also need help with advertising and to try to reach the members of the community that need the most help. That's one of our biggest, I would say the biggest challenge is, is trying to reach the members of the community that really need the most help. How can we get the word out? We're looking for ways to provide these resources to people who live basically in a food desert and don't perceive themselves to have access to healthcare, we want to give them this material, but we just need to get the word out to them.

Kendall Givens-Little (10:54):

Awesome. You said a word that I think gets floated around a lot that some people may not fully grasp what that means, because there's a store down the street. There's a Dollar General down the street. There's a gas station that has things in it that I could eat. When you say food desert, and this could be a question for you too, Kate, what does that mean? I mean, I drive past a million stores when I leave here. When you say food desert, what does that mean?

Kate Girtain  (11:20):

I think that food desert can mean a couple of different things. It doesn't matter if there's a grocery store if you can't afford the food that's in it. It doesn't matter if there's a grocery store if you don't know how to cook healthy food. Or if you're really trying to extend any EBT benefits, the best way to spend that is on packaged, processed foods. That will go the furthest in your household, particularly if that is not a supplemental money for you, if that's your only source of food money. Then, some people may not have transportation, necessarily. They would have to walk to the store, which can really limit it, particularly if you have small kids or you're caring for a parent. I think food desert isn't just the lack of food in the area. It's the lack of being able to get the food. There are places where people do live around here where they are quite literally far from a grocery store.

Kendall Givens-Little (12:08):


Kate Girtain  (12:08):

Maybe all they have access to is maybe a gas station or something like that.

Kendall Givens-Little (12:12):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (12:13):

To follow up on that, I think one of the projects that Kate has been involved with that some of our other medical students are involved with are grocery store tours, and providing grocery store tours to members in the community. We have them that we've developed that are both live and virtual. We've done three, the virtual reality grocery store tours, so that just because of COVID. But, to provide people the opportunity to see, when you go into a grocery store, this is what you're looking for, and these are the foods you want to focus on, and here's how to read the nutritional label.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (12:47):

We have put in a few local grants to try to fund this a little bit more for members of the community. But, we also did it at the Spinx, because when you think about what do people have access to, usually there's a gas station or something, or like you said Family Dollar, that's within walking distance. How do you go into one of those places and make healthy food choices? To follow up on what Kate said about Food Lion, Food Lion is a fantastic resource if you can get there and if you can afford the food. But, if you live a mile away and you don't have transportation and there's not a bus stop close to you, that's when it really becomes challenging. People are kind of at the mercy of what they can pick up at Spinx or QT or something like that.

Kendall Givens-Little (13:29):

Wow. You guys not are only just providing nourishment, but you're providing the knowledge so that individuals can take that and live a healthy lifestyle going forward in how they choose what they put in their bodies.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (13:42):

We are keeping track of the number of community members who attend each booth, because what we're trying to do is kind of a continuous quality assessment to say, are we meeting the needs of community? We don't want to have 30 booths and have them show up and say, "I'm not interested in any of these." The CPR table is one of the most popular, and we have adult and baby CPR, and we've had over 150 community members who have learned hands only CPR. I think we are very proud of that, that we're giving them tools to help them be successful.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (14:14):

We also have a table that, Casey from the Student Success Office, Casey does a cooking demonstration, and then he shows people how to make healthy, delicious food, and then he gives them the recipe. But, he's showing them how to do it, and then they get to take the food, and then he gives them the recipe. You have community members who say, "Oh, I've never heard of this spice," or "I've never seen it done like this. I didn't know what to do." He's actively teaching them. But, we also have had things where we've had people who will be driving by, they'll see what we're doing, and they'll stop and say, "I didn't know where my meal was coming from."

Kendall Givens-Little (14:50):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (14:51):

They would come over and get food from Project Host. We've had people who appear to be homeless who have walked up to get food. We've provided socks. Socks are one of the things that people who are living on the streets say that they need the most, and so we have been providing socks to people. We know that we're making an impact in the people that we see, an immediate impact, but we're also keeping track of long term impact so that we can try to develop sessions so we can pick this up and do it in another community once we have a successful model.

Kate Girtain  (15:23):

One of our most recent partners is the coroner's office, and they've let us use their parking lot, they've helped us with some community outreach in terms of substance abuse. They've just been a really great partner so far.

Kendall Givens-Little (15:36):


Kate Girtain  (15:36):

They've hosted our last two events in their parking lot, and it's been really great. They have this great van of information about substance use, and what it may feel like if you're experiencing that, and a lot of other information in the van. I think it's been a really great outreach to the community as well.

Kendall Givens-Little (15:54):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (15:55):

Well, I want to thank the community for helping us to become better partners. I think, again, we hear what the community needs are through different organizations, but if there's something that members in the community would like us to know, we would love to hear it. United Way has helped provide us with information about, these are things that members of the community have asked for, and so going to you represented as United Way or coming to us. But, I would just say that we look forward to continuing our partnership and expanding it. We're not planning to leave and go anywhere. This is something that we feel has been very successful for everybody involved, and we just want to continue and to expand it.

Kendall Givens-Little (16:36):

All right. Any last words, Kate?

Kate Girtain  (16:38):

I think that, again, I'd like to thank the community, like Dr. Fowler. But, I also think it's really important for everyone to view Root Cause as a way to improve overall health. We're not just doing CPR, we're not just giving you vaccine information, we're not just giving you potentially food if you need it or want it. We're also able to provide so many other connections and ways to help people make their lives better. I think that's just really the venue of Root Cause, is to help people improve their lives as much as we can.

Kendall Givens-Little (17:08):

All right. Go ahead, doc.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (17:11):

I wanted to also thank the community partners. We've had a really great time getting to know them, and I think that we've been able to form a strong partnership with community partners. Also just a shout out to Dr. Jenkins, the dean of the Medical School, because it's only through funding from the school that we've been able to be as successful as we have been.

Kendall Givens-Little (17:31):

Awesome. If there are other organizations who may have the space to host you guys, you guys are interested in possibly partnering with other organizations here in the upstate to use space or donations, et cetera?

Dr. Lauren Fowler (17:43):

Absolutely, and potentially to expand into other communities of need as well.

Kendall Givens-Little (17:48):

Awesome, so the ultimate goal is to eventually cover the entire span of the upstate.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (17:53):

It is, and I think our focus initially was on communities that are served by Prisma Health, because we work in partnership with Prisma.

Kendall Givens-Little (18:01):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (18:02):

But, if we can develop an effective model, we are happy to share it with other organizations and spread it around as much as we can.

Kendall Givens-Little (18:11):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (18:11):

We also have been very lucky to have been funded by AAMC, the American Academy of Medical Colleges. Dr. Angela Sharkey, who was a former associate dean here, wrote a grant and allowed us to get $10,000 that we could use to put back into our community and to promote student leadership with Root Cause. We were very fortunate to get that funding as well.

Kendall Givens-Little (18:33):


Dr. Lauren Fowler (18:34):

I want to emphasize the student led portion of this, and I just want to say how impressed I am that these people who are our future physicians are taking the initiative to become more familiar with our community, in addition to everything they're doing, and medical school is very challenging.

Kendall Givens-Little (18:53):

It is.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (18:54):

Kate and Brandon both are amazing leaders who are able to harness the enthusiasm and the passion that the medical students have to get out in the community and to help organize that. I'm just so impressed with what they're able to do, and it makes me feel fantastic about our future physicians. Knowing that they care so much, that they are doing this above and beyond their normal load, and it's just amazing to me.

Kendall Givens-Little (19:21):

We are grateful for Root Cause and what you guys are doing, and again, we encourage more community partners to join us in this endeavor. We are one community, and we can use the help, use the resources. Please, if you're listening, reach out to help give back to the community. Dr. Fowler, Kate, I want to thank both of you ladies so much for joining us. We've gained so much positive information about what Root Cause is and have taken a greater dive into to what you do in the community. I'm excited about the future of the program. Any last thoughts or any last words for the upstate as they're listening?

Dr. Lauren Fowler (20:04):

I think one of our big messages is that people have so much more control over their own health than they think they do. We just want to encourage people to seek out, I guess, to look for what they can do to be as healthy as possible. Instead of reacting to an illness, trying to be healthier, and we are here to help provide the tools in case you don't know what you need.

Kendall Givens-Little (20:33):

It's kind of like we're the vehicle, and we have to make sure we're putting the right gas into the vehicle to make sure it functions properly.

Dr. Lauren Fowler (20:40):


Kendall Givens-Little (20:40):

Got you, got you. Any last words, Kate?

Kate Girtain  (20:44):

I think the most important thing is just know that we're here for the community, and we're here to connect you with us, with each other, with our community partners. It's really about connecting and learning and growing together.

Kendall Givens-Little (20:56):

Awesome, awesome. If you're listening and you want to get involved, again, please check out the website at There's a search bar at the top right. If you type in Root Cause, R-O-O-T, Cause, C-A-U-S-E, you can pull up information about the program and how you can get involved with the program. Again, thank you ladies so much for joining us. This has been the fifth episode of Just What the Doctor Ordered, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville's podcast, where we discuss relevant news you can use.

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