Emily Rice Published

Group Receives ARC Grant To Strengthen Community Health

A man wearing a white collared shirt is comforted by someone seen only by their hand on his should during group therapy.
A new grant will help train and place community health workers to strengthen behavioral health systems in 20 W.Va. counties.
fizkes/Adobe Stock

Last week, the Community Education Group (CEG) was awarded $7.7 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for their new project, Help Our People Expand the Ecosystem (HOPEE).

This multistate initiative comes from the ARC’s Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies (ARISE), which drives economic transformation through collaboration.

For their project, CEG will be working with the Kentucky Rural Health Association (KRHA), Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Kentucky, the West Virginia-based SUD Collaborative (SUDC), and the Virginia Rural Health Association. 

Together, CEG and their HOPEE project partners will work to train and place new community health workers to strengthen behavioral healthcare systems in a 56-county region. Twenty West Virginia counties will be included.

According to Executive Director of CEG, A. Toni Young, this project will expand on CEG’s community health worker training program, CHAMPS, which trains individuals with lived experience in substance use disorder recovery to become community health workers.

“So what we wanted to do is to take individuals from towns, hollers, communities networks, and say, if we trained you to do the HIV screening, trained you to do the hepatitis C screening, trained you to do motivational interviewing or networking, could we train people that folks knew and were comfortable with and could listen to,” Young said. “And those folks may be more willing to come back into the community or come back for treatment for HIV or screening for HIV, or for some sort of a medically assisted treatment and management before or some other behavioral health services.”

According to CEG, its overarching goal is to improve socioeconomic disparities in Appalachia while addressing pressing and overlapping syndemics eroding the region’s broader economy, workforce and health outcomes.

A syndemic is two or more illness states interacting poorly with each other and negatively influencing the mutual course of each disease trajectory.

“Many things coming into effect one person, or one community, or one town or one state, that we’re taking a syndemic approach,” Young said. “So rather than saying, we only want to talk to the individuals about substance use disorder, right, we only want to get them to that MAT (Medically Assisted Treatment) provider to deal with substance use, we don’t want to just do that. We want to get them to there to talk about HIV, and when get them there to talk about hepatitis C, and we want to get them there to talk about PrEP.”

CEG said it will work with its partners and health care and behavioral care providers, including Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) providers, will train, hire, and support community health workers. The project will build capacity in communities to address the substance use, HIV, and viral hepatitis syndemic and increase support and infrastructure for health care providers–all while providing coinciding workforce development and job training support.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Marshall Health.