Program dispatches 'CHERPS' to improve rural health
WV School of Osteopahtic Medicine in Lewisburg
September 7, 2012 ·
The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine is training CHERPs, an acronym for Community Health Education Resource Person in hopes of dispatching more help to the rural areas.
In rural counties like McDowell, health care is limited. For every 1614 residents there is one physician with no specialists.
For the past three years, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps has ranked McDowell County as the unhealthiest county in the state; while West Virginia is second only to Mississippi as the most obese.
Dana Lester is working to reverse those numbers. She works as a West Virginia University Extension Agent for McDowell and Wyoming Counties and last week she attended a training to become a Community Health Education Resource Person, known as CHERP.
“One of the major focuses that I have taken with my position,” Lester said, “is chronic disease prevention and I think this will add a lot great qualities to some of my programing.”
It was a casual atmosphere during CHERP training in Beckley this week. Lester was joined by members of the health field, other community leaders, and interested citizens. They learned about better communication and health literacy.
“A lot of times they get a medication and they’re not really sure what the medication is for,” she said. “They are given pamphlets and stuff like that but they really don’t understand what’s going on with their disease.”
As a families and health extension agent, Lester focuses on chronic disease prevention, such as diabetes and heart disease education.
“A lot of times my residents go to the doctor and they diagnose them with a chronic disease," Lester said, "and then where there’s not a lot of educational doctors in that area such as diabetes educators and endocrinologists and things like that I think it’s more of a low literacy area.”
Dr. Wayne Miller led the discussion. He is the director of Center for Rural and Community Health at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.
“The center does a lot of education, outreach community service,” Miller said.
“We do education both for the lay person but also for professionals and semiprofessionals. Basically we want to become the resource location for health care, health provision, health information, health education health services things like that. Not that we provide all that for everybody but we can help them get that.”
Based on a study conducted by the center, more than 58 percent of surveyed West Virginians thought they were healthy but 66 percent had poor nutrition.
West Virginia is geographically divided in half when it comes to health. According to a recent map from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a data summary published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, southern West Virginians are unhealthier than those living in the northern part of the state.
“There is a big disparity here in Southern West Virginia,” Miller explained.
“We don’t have access we don’t have health care provisions we don’t have a lot of resources," Miller explained.
"We don’t have a lot of education we don’t have a lot community outreach. So for us in this area to get that for the community members that need it but also to be able to pull our resources together so we can work as a teams rather than working in silos sharing our resources sharing information working together to help improve health care access and health care of Southern West Virginians.”
Greg Puckett from Mercer County also joined the CHERP training. He’s the Executive Director of Community Connections, a Family Resource Network for the area.
“One of the main things that we constantly want to get involved in is what really need to do for community health," Puckett said, "and making sure that the residents of not only our county but all of southern west Virginia and southwest Virginia are taken care of in some way shape or form."
"We just thought that this training would be a good opportunity for myself to come up and try to get some additional training and take it back and do some additional education in my own community about what we need to do to be more healthy."
Training to be a CHERP is free and Miller says it’s meant to empower residents with knowledge of how to stay healthy, especially in remote, rural areas.
“Part of it is because the counties are so isolated," Miller said. "Isolated economically, isolated, geographically, sparse populations where there aren’t large clinics and hospitals and things like that. So in those areas where there is a real disparity we are trying to get in there and bridge that and at least try and provide what we can at some of the lower levels of provision."
Lester says she found the communication training to be especially helpful.
“Sometimes we can get caught up in the process and we forget to explain the terms in simpler form to make them understand better,” she said.