Bright Spots: Community vital to tackling challenges

West Virginia counties do not often get pointed out as positive examples to study, particularly when it comes to healthcare. But in a series of companion reports by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Appalachian Regional Commission, eight Mountain State counties are among the 42 Appalachian counties labeled “Bright Spots in Appalachian Health.”

Clay, Calhoun, Grant, Hardy, Pendleton, Roane, Taylor and Wirt counties were among those in which the local approach to health is a strength, rather than a weakness.

Among the common factors in these bright spots were community leaders engaged in health initiatives; collaboration across sectors; a tradition of resource sharing; local health providers committed to public health; active faith communities and grassroots efforts to fight substance abuse.

While it is refreshing to see a regional study that focuses on the good things happening in Appalachia, rather than picking apart every negative, the insight in the reports should be a valuable tool in turning around some of those negatives, everywhere.

And, it is worth noting some of those positives, with fancy modern labels, are the result of centuries of similar behavior in Appalachia.

According to Hilary Heishman, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, connectedness and community are the keys.

“We think that kind of involvement from the community and across the community and people working together is a really important piece of it we see again and again,” she told another news organization.

That is certainly true here in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Wirt County was among those highlighted in case studies, for the report. And, by the way, the majority of the bright spot counties have economies labeled at-risk, transitional or distressed — this is not about money.

“What Wirt County lacks in size and resources, it makes up for with a way of life centered on community giving and collaboration,” the report said. “County residents paint a picture of a place that has not strayed far from its roots.”

Too many policy makers ignore the good things happening in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia. Turning a blind eye to what we do RIGHT in this part of the country is keeping them from seeing the whole picture when it comes to tackling the challenges. Perhaps a few of them will read these reports and begin to understand what they are missing.