By Carra Higgins
Hundreds of health care providers and entities from across the state have gathered at The Resort at Glade Springs to discuss the current and future medical-related topics during the 20th West Virginia Rural Health Conference.
As the conference began Wednesday morning, Sandra Pope, conference chair, explained the gathering brings together all disciplines of the field, including students, providers and educators, to improve and provide effective health care in West Virginia. Between 300 and 350 are expected to participate in conference, which will continue through Friday.
Among the topics on the table Wednesday was identifying young, West Virginia students who want to work in the health care field and keep them in their home state, and the number of doctors and nurses providing care for residents of each of the 55 counties.
Speakers included Robert Walker, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Sciences, West Virginia Higher Education Policy; Lorenzo Pence, D.O., vice president of Academic Affairs, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine; Jennifer Plymale, M.A., associate dean for Admission, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Rural Health Marshall University; and Larry Rhodes, M.D., director of the West Virginia University Institute for Community and Rural Health, discussing how the schools are working together to meet state recruitment and retention goals.
Patricia Crawford, co-chair of the conference, explained the four schools want to help doctors identify rural communities in West Virginia that will help them excel professionally and personally.
In addition to the panel discussion about the education of future health care providers in the state, Sue Skillman, deputy director of the University of Washington Rural Health Research Center, and Cindy Persily, associate dean of the Graduate Practice Program, WVU School of Nursing, spoke of the numbers of professionals, such as physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, working in West Virginia. Some counties, including Summers, Monroe and Wyoming, only have between 1 and 17 medical doctors, according to 2011 data from the West Virginia Board of Medicine. Fifty of the 55 West Virginia counties are designated as a partial or full county Health Professional Shortage Area or Medically Under-served Area. Not only are the areas under served by medical professionals, the demand for providers could increase because it’s estimated that more than 300,000 state residents will become insured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Presentations will continue today and Friday; and the Rural Health Awards and student scholarships will also be presented.. Also today is the recruitment fair, which is open to the public, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Glade Springs Bright Foyer. Fifteen health care providers from throughout West Virginia are scheduled to be part of the fair. Participants include Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Division of Rural Health and Recruitment, Monongalia General Hospital, Princeton Community Hospital, Raleigh General Hospital and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.