WVU Health System Expected to Bring More Access in Southern W.Va. to Specialists and Clinical Trials
In southern West Virginia, access to health care specialists or clinical trials can mean hours of travel to places like Charleston or Morgantown. In 2018, research showed that the six counties in West Virginia with highest rates of poor health were in the southern part of the state.
The latest WVU Health System takeover is in the works in Mercer County at Princeton Community Hospital. Hospital officials hope the move will improve the health and statistics of the region. Karen Bowling, a Wyoming County native and recently named president and CEO of Princeton Community Hospital, helped with two other transitions with WVU Health at Braxton County Memorial and Summersville Regional Hospital.
Bowling says as part of the WVU Health System, there will be opportunities for clinical trials in cancer research.
“We became associated with the Cancer Institute in Morgantown, and there's the ability to potentially access those same clinical trials in Princeton, West Virginia. By virtue of telemedicine, we can actually have active access to their intensivist in Ruby (Memorial Hospital), should we have a question,” Bowling said. “Those are things that could never happen in the independent hospital, (because) independent hospitals don't have the resources to do that.
“Princeton Community Hospital has some great programs,” Bowling added. “We already have some really good basic things here. What WVU Medicine will do is build on those things, and add services. We don't want to take services out of Princeton. We want to bring services into Princeton.”
Counties in southern West Virginia have some of the worst health benchmarks in the country. According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources website, in 2018 counties with the highest rates of poor health included Boone, Fayette, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, and Wyoming.
Bowling is optimistic that the additional resources will help the region and the people who live there.
“We have transportation issues in our state. We have economic challenges where financially, it's very difficult for people to even have the gas money to travel far enough to get (to specialists),” Bowling said. “These people have diabetes, they have renal disease, they have neurological problems and without access, these things just get worse and there's an inability for them to continue to have a productive lifestyle.”
Bowling points to WVU Health System’s work at Braxton County Memorial and Summersville Regional Hospital where both have enhanced telemedicine opportunities for patients to see specialists.
“We really work to find avenues to ensure that we're being very holistic in the care of the patient,” Bowling said. “Hopefully that improves their health and at the same time hopefully improves the health statistics in West Virginia.
“What we do is we put it all on the same medical records. That is, we believe, the key to our success,” Bowling added. “It's such a big advantage, especially when we know we have significant health issues in Southern parts of the state.
Some of the biggest health challenges can be a result from poor health choices such as kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, and COPD. Bowling hopes community outreach programs can help that as well.
“We very much are all about education, and outreach,” Bowling said. “COVID has made (outreach) challenging. We're happy to get back to something more normal where we can do more outreach into these communities. And I think that’s key.”
The paperwork and government approvals for the project are expected to take more than a year. Bowling hopes the new relationship will create educational opportunities such as doctor residencies.