Rotarians learn of rural health opportunities


BUCKHANNON — The Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur officially inducted three new members during Tuesday’s virtual meeting. Although they didn’t receive an in-person induction, KD Coleman, Brenda Lilly, and Erika Kolenich were welcomed by their fellow Rotarians via Zoom. Each member expressed gratitude and excitement for their future with Rotary.

The club has filled every slot for their blood screenings coming up in April and May, member Rich Clemens reported. He expressed, “It seems everything Rotary touches is working extremely well these days.”

Lisa Wharton, Rotary member and VP of Marketing at St. Joseph’s Hospital, reported that Wednesday’s vaccination clinic will consist of 650 people and they anticipate close to 800 attending Friday’s clinic, as most of those people will be coming back in for their second doses.

Amanda White, Executive Director of the Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center, informed Rotarians about opportunities in rural health for high school and college students in the area. The center is located in Gilmer County at Glenville State College. White is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and received her master’s degree in public health from West Virginia University. Additionally, she is a certified health education specialist.

The Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center currently serves 23 counties. According to White, it is the largest one in the state. Their mission is to “Bring quality healthcare to the underserved population in 23 West Virginia counties by training, recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals.” White explained that they fulfill the mission through community-based student education, continuing education, pipeline programming, and Rural Community Health Scholars. There are reportedly 75 students selected for the program every year. The goal is to retain healthcare professionals in rural areas like West Virginia.

The Center currently receives funding through HAS/WVU AHEC Federal Grant, WV Institute for Community and Rural Health Rural Initiative (RHI), and Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP). They annually hold the Health Occupations Today (HOT) Expo which includes over 35 vendors, approximately 250 students from 10 different schools in six counties, including Upshur. This event has been going on for more than 10 years, White explained. Some vendors include WVU Pharmacy and West Virginia Hospice providers. Most recently, 16 students from Upshur County attended the Expo. White noted that students from Fred Eberle Technical Center are also invited.

Another pipeline program they focus on is “Moving Onward and Upward.” This program consists of juniors and seniors in high school who are required to complete 100 hours of clinical shadowing at Minnie Hamilton Health System. Students additionally complete three projects that include public health issues, health career research, and interviews with health professionals. Prior to COVID, students previously visited WVU and learned about health professions programs, White explained.

Due to COVID-19, this program converted to a virtual job shadowing program. Fortunately, this has allowed them to expand to different counties. Approximately 50 students are selected for the program and must have an interest in a health profession, in additional to maintaining good grades. Through the virtual job shadowing, students receive an account that allows them the opportunity to view health professions and various other careers. They specifically learn about rural health, primary care, financial aid, post-secondary education planning, and more, explained White. They also receive a local perspective from Minnie Hamilton to see what it is truly like in a rural hospital. At the end, they’ll be offered a small stipend for their participation, she said.

Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center also selected 75 of West Virginia’s top health profession students with at least two years remaining in their degree programs. These West Virginian’s are considered Rural Community Health Scholars. These students primarily focus on rural health. Students who participate in West Virginia receive $1,300 over the course of two years. This provides incentives to stay in West Virginia, White noted. This program tends to focus on Lewis and Upshur. Students hear from guest speakers about a variety of topics from opioids to adoption. Students previously met with the Opportunity House Director Matthew Kerner and attended an NA meeting. Although this has been virtual the last two years, students are still able to have similar experiences, according to White.

Lastly, the Center also conducts continuing education events for existing healthcare professionals. White explained this fills the requirement that nurses and doctors need for their annual licensure.

Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center provides many opportunities for students in Upshur and surrounding counties who are interested in the healthcare profession, in addition to other areas such as social work.

White mentioned that they’re getting a group of college level students together that focus on challenges in rural area such as vaccine hesitancy. These students have the potential to identify certain needs and challenges in rural areas like Buckhannon to help educate others in order to get more of population vaccine.

Rotary President Julie Keehner noted that White’s presentation was incredibly informative and a great way to keep people here in West Virginia “with the people they grew up with.” Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center and the Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur may seek a partnership in the future.

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