Community forum seeks to improve rural healthcare access in Appalachia

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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - Access to healthcare is a long-standing problem in Appalachia, including here in Washington county.

The Washington County Health Department organized a community forum with a research group at Ohio University to try and identify solutions to improving access.

Local health departments, healthcare workers and groups in Washington County met at Buckeye Hills Regional Council Thursday.

"We know that access is an issue," Washington County health department director of population health Court Witschey said, "and for a lot of folks we tend to think of access as just how many hospitals or doctors we have in our community but it goes a lot deeper than that.”

Michele Morrone, who led the discussion, works with Ohio University’s Appalachian Rural health institute.

“It's all about local people identifying possible ways to improve access to care in a local community," she said.

Some suggestions included more community health workers, more transportation options especially for those outside the cities and more services in schools.

"Services available in the schools," said Anne Goon, health commissioner for the Marietta/Belpre health department. 'That applies to both cities and the county, health departments and to the schools districts in both parts."

At the meeting, the professionals picked five to six strategies using an objective rubric to address healthcare access but now the health department wants to hear from the public.

"We’re going to be conducting a survey of local residents that we want residents to participate in to tell us from their perspective," Goon said, "what are the healthcare access issues they have and which types of strategies do they think will be most effective in addressing those.”

For more information on the discussion and survey, you can contact your local health department.