Rural Appalachia has a reputation for being one of the most underserved areas in the country in terms of healthcare, but Williamson Health and Wellness Center (WHWC) is working daily to change that designation for Mingo County and the Tug Valley areas.
More Than A Doctor’s Office
Williamson Health and Wellness Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit that runs a federally qualified health center (FQHC) right here in Williamson with a satellite office in Gilbert. FQHCs are federally reimbursed comprehensive care centers that serve patients on a sliding pay scale and offer numerous other financial assistance programs, allowing them to increase access to medical care for everyone despite their financial challenges or insurance status. The WHWC Board of Directors is composed of volunteers who are also users of the clinic’s services and are representative of the community and target populations served. This allows WHWC to form programs and make decisions about the services to be provided based on the needs of the residents in the community.
WHWC is one of five Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) in the state of West Virginia, known as the “Southern West Virginia AHEC”. Under this distinction, WHWC offers continuing education to community health providers. It also offers opportunities for area students who may be interested in the medical field to job shadow local providers. Throughout the year, AHEC recruits health professional students from various state institutions of higher learning to participate in rural immersions in our underserved area. Another partner is the Global Public Service Academy through which high school students from around the globe travel to Southern West Virginia to experience the community’s challenges of providing healthcare.
A Healthy Body And A Healthy Mind
WHWC offers an array of preventive and primary care services including pediatrics, podiatry, and recently expanded dental services. The medical staff includes: CEO and medical director Dr. Dino Beckett, Dr. Brian Francis, Pediatrician Dr. Leo Pajarillo, Podiatrist Dr. David Nielson, Dentists Dr. Preeti Sahasi and Dr. Lora Moak, and mid-level providers Stacie Beckett, Sidney Jerome CLine, Deborah Epling, Traci Thornsbury, and Cheri Hatfield.
Understanding the importance of mental health, WHWC recently expanded their behavioral health and counseling services by opening a new Behavioral Health Clinic in Williamson. In addition to counseling, the behavioral health program will provide medically assisted treatments for substance abuse disorders, peer counseling, and training. Providers include Director Duran Warren, Dr. Eric Chico, Gina May-Justice, and Sandra Cox.
The center also expanded its service area into other areas of the Tug Valley. They recently branched their services into Gilbert, WV when they opened a satellite clinic earlier this year. While the clinic currently only offers family medicine, plans to expand the behavioral aspect of health into this clinic through the possibility of video call counseling with a provider at the Williamson location are in the works.
“Building a Culture Of Health”
WHWC's mission is “to create an innovative Culture of Health that accelerates positive growth throughout rural communities.” Aside from medical services, WHWC diligently works to create a culture change based on healthy lifestyle practices such as exercise, diet, and diversified economic opportunities.
One of WHWC’s more visible programs is the Williamson Farmers Market. Every summer Saturday, local growers and vendors gather to sell their homegrown and homemade goods. The Farmers Market has grown into a community gathering every weekend with music and food for everyone to enjoy while shopping for healthy, natural produce. The Farmers Market caters to the community's needs with grants such as the SNAP Stretch program, where shoppers can double or even triple their SNAP/EBT money. You can find out more about the SNAP Stretch program here! Other healthy eating initiatives include The Farmers Market Subscription boxes, cooking camps for children and adults, and their annual Farm To Table dinner.
WHWC also advocates for an active lifestyle. They host a program known as Walk With Ease to assist participants in starting their active life through a free 6-week program. They also host the free Healthy Feud Program, which is a 6-week mileage-tracking competition where teams and individuals compete to see who can have the most miles logged by the end of the program. If you’re interested in registering for the Healthy Feud (which starts September 23rd), check out their Facebook page! One of their newest events is the Workplace Wellness program where local businesses form teams to compete for the Corporate Cup in friendly, healthy events such as basketball, horseshoes, and obstacle courses.
Working With The Community For The Community
According to Senior Executive Assistant and Community Liaison (and reigning Workplace Wellness horseshoe champion) Darrin McCormick, “Collaboration, innovation, and sustainability are all related.” WHWC operates in this same mindset.
They collaborate with the community through Community Conversations, which are open public meetings in which community members and people from local organizations gather to discuss issues at hand in the community and how to work together to find solutions and address the issues. Everyone is welcome to attend these meetings and get involved in improving their community!
WHWC and other local businesses and organizations also collaborate through the Healthy In The Hills initiative in which anyone can get involved to have a healthier lifestyle. Coalfields Got Talent is one of their most successful annual events in which locals show off their talents while streets are lined with booths full of information on those local organizations involved in Healthy In The Hills.
Another long-time WHWC collaborator is the Pittsburgh-based Amizade program. This is a global service-learning organization that pairs students, faculty, individuals, and groups to volunteer projects and study abroad, in this case, Williamson. Past participants have included groups of national and international Fulbright Scholars who have provided valuable perspectives on improvement efforts. These participants have also made several community gardens and local farming projects a reality.
The Sustainable Williamson Initiative works to incorporate the innovation and sustainability portions, of course, with help from other initiatives too. Many of the ideas from this program helped to form the WHWC we know today. The program has worked to launch the community garden, solar hot water, and solar energy installation.
Through this constant growth and innovation, WHWC and the programs it works with helps Williamson break down barriers that many people think are impossible for Appalachia to overcome. Every day, it is finding new ways to fulfill their mission statement and help move Williamson to a healthier, more successful future!