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Wirt among counties now designated as ‘rural’

ELIZABETH — Wirt County is now considered “rural” by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy which will allow the county to be eligible for more grants and funding.

Wirt along with Boone, Clay, Hampshire, Lincoln and Preston are now considered rural.

“Based on the population and the amount of work in that area, they’re looking to make sure monies are going to appropriate locations,” said Sarah Barton, senior projects manager for Coplin Health Systems. “As we increase our awareness of the disparities that rural individuals face, people of color and some of these other groups face, the federal government is being more responsive to make sure that funds are made available to these populations.”

Previously, the counties were not considered rural because of their proximity to more urban areas, but thanks to the help of community members and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., five counties now have that definition.

“When we went for health care grants, Wirt County wasn’t able to apply. They would partner with other rural entities and tag along with them but they wouldn’t apply directly, this will allow organizations in Wirt County to apply directly,” Barton said.

Schools, nonprofit organizations and community members were contacted to provide their input that helped to receive the rural classification.

“This was definitely something that needed to change. We’re hoping this change in the definition of what rural means can be brought into federal organizations so they could also reconsider the rural status of these counties,” Barton said.

The new classification for the counties will be beneficial in a lot of ways and will help ensure the counties have their specific needs met.

“It can impact the broadband issue and it can affect the support for healthcare, that’s a huge one for rural areas,” Barton said. “An individual would have to travel more than 30 minutes (for health care). It can be problematic.”

Barton hopes to expand the Coplin Health System “Farmacy” program which works to provide healthy food to clients and teach them how to eat healthy.

“We just applied for one to help increase food support. We’re hoping it would include Wirt County and expand that to rural communities,” Barton said. “It would expand beyond Wirt. (We’re) looking at an eight county region.”

With these new opportunities, Barton said she is hopeful for the future of the rural communities.

“We’re just really excited about the opportunities that it’s going to bring and we hope that others will continue to look at these counties as a potential area of need,” she said.

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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