Chris Schulz Published

New Grant Helps Expand Healthcare to Rural Communities

That stethoscope may have more germs than you'd expect. A simple wipe with alcohol can solve the problem, but when's the last time you saw that?

A free healthcare clinic in Morgantown has received funding to continue rural community outreach in five counties

Milan Puskar Health Right will use the $25,000 from the Community Education Group’s Appalachian Partnership Fund to continue mobile healthcare outreach to provide COVID-19 and flu 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 (CDC).

Community Education Group (CEG) founder and executive director A. Toni Young says her organization usually focuses on substance use disorder, HIV and hepatitis across Appalachia.

“We’re looking at the HIV outbreak in West Virginia, the substance use disorder pan crisis that we’ve been experiencing, and the hepatitis C crisis,” Young said. “We call that a syndemic because we think that these things are linked.”

However, Young said CEG’s ultimate goal is to increase health resources for the most vulnerable people in the region.

“The true meaning of harm reduction is, A. meeting a person where they are, B. trying to figure out what are the services that we can offer to get you to enter into a health care system or get you to begin to think about your health in a different way,” Young said. “Maybe we can’t get you to take an HIV test today…but maybe what we can do is just get you to get a flu vaccine today.”

Community Education Group is also partnering with West Virginia Health Right in Charleston. Young said that during the pandemic, CEG received $3.5 million from the CDC, from which they were able to grant $1 million. This year, only $500,000 was secured after Congress cut COVID-19 spending.

“We’re trying to figure out how to augment and support our partners,” Young said.

Part of that support, she said, is to bring more resources into the state and into the region, especially with a potentially serious flu season on the horizon.

“We’ve had two years where the flu has really kind of been dormant,” Young said. “We don’t know kind of how it is that the flu is going to manifest itself now. So I’m going to encourage everybody to get their flu vaccination. It’s a family affair, whether you’re young or whether you’re old, whether you’re rich or whether you’re poor, everybody should be able to get access to flu vaccination.”