CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Community Education Group (CEG) recently announced they are providing a $25,000 grant to Morgantown-based Milan Puskar Health Right (Health Right). The grant allows Health Right to continue community outreach to address the health syndemic of COVID-19, HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Substance Use Disorder. In addition, Health Right staff are offering flu shots and report an earlier-than-usual flu season this year. They say they are meeting the increasing demand for flu shots and just announced the availability of the new variant booster vaccine for COVID-19.
The $25,000 grant was made possible through CEG’s Appalachian Partnership Fund, earmarked for local groups serving West Virginia and the Appalachian region’s most vulnerable and rural populations. Health Right will use these new funds to continue mobile healthcare outreach to provide COVID-19 and influenza vaccines, Hep-C and HIV tests, and other healthcare support in Marion, Monongalia, Preston, Taylor, and Upshur counties. The Appalachian Partnership Fund is made possible with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CEG grant allows Health Right to develop rapport and trust in these underserved rural communities. “We are on the move and reaching out to communities with a four-wheel Jeep to eliminate transportation concerns. We make it as easy as possible to get the COVID booster and flu vaccines, Hep-C and HIV screenings, and overall health checks,” says Laura Jones, MSW, Health Right’s Executive Director. Medical practitioners and staff meet patients at food banks, community events, health fairs, and clothing giveaways to educate, vaccinate, and assist with chronic illness management. Rural community organizations are encouraged to reach out to Health Right for participation and inclusion.
Leeanna Marks, RN, and Medical Assistant Hazel Davis lead the Community Outreach Program. Marks is often the first to identify serious medical conditions in rural health patients, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and Hepatitis C, all of which are treatable if diagnosed. The team reports that some folks they’ve served haven’t received critical health care attention or are unaware of the severity of their condition.
Jones added, “Our registered nurse recently identified a medical condition that required immediate attention. She convinced the patient to ask her husband to take her to her doctor that day.” Jones said the patient later credited the nurse with saving her life.
“This grant allows us to reach rural areas where a lack of transportation is one of the biggest barriers to people getting the healthcare services they need,” says Jones.
“We must do everything we can to reach everyone we can,” said CEG Executive Director and Founder A. Toni Young. “For transportation to be a barrier to diagnosis, vaccination, testing, or treatment is unacceptable, especially amid the healthcare syndemic in Appalachia. CEG is proud to offer funding and support, but we can’t do this alone. We need additional resources and partners for life-saving healthcare services to continue in rural areas of West Virginia and Appalachia.”
This week, Health Right started offering the new COVID-19 booster to patients. The new booster covers the original COVID-19 virus plus five variations of Omicron. People must have received the two initial vaccine doses before being eligible for the new booster. In addition, you must provide proof of vaccination via a vaccine card or a picture of the card on your phone.
Jones added, “The worst of the pandemic is over, but by no means are we over COVID. People are still losing lives, and we all need to do our part to protect ourselves and those around us. The more people vaccinated, the less likely a new variant will emerge.” She added, “We are seeing much more interest in the vaccine now than in previous years. At one of our mobile rural events, we spoke to 500 people about COVID and boosters. We are so grateful to CEG to be able to continue to provide life-saving healthcare to families in rural West Virginia.”