WVU Health System Expected to Provide Better Access in Southern Virginia to Specialists and Clinical Trials

In southern West Virginia, access to health specialists or clinical trials can mean hours of travel to places like Charleston or Morgantown. In 2018, research showed that the six counties in West Virginia with the highest rates of poor health were in the southern part of the state.

The latest takeover of WVU’s healthcare system is underway in Mercer County at Princeton Community Hospital. Hospital officials hope the move will improve health and statistics in the region. Karen Bowling, originally from Wyoming County and recently appointed President and CEO of Princeton Community Hospital, assisted with two other transitions with WVU Health at the Braxton County Memorial and the Summersville Regional Hospital.

Bowling says that as part of the WVU health system, there will be opportunities for clinical trials in cancer research.

“We have partnered up with the Cancer Institute in Morgantown, and it is possible to access those same clinical trials in Princeton, West Virginia. Under telemedicine, we can actually have active access to their intensivist at Ruby (Memorial Hospital), if we have a question, ”Bowling said. “These are things that could never happen in an independent hospital, (because) independent hospitals don’t have the resources to do it.

“Princeton Community Hospital has some great programs,” added Bowling. “We already have some really good basics here. What WVU Medicine will do is build on these elements and add services. We don’t want to take the services out of Princeton. We want to provide service to Princeton.

Richard Hypes

Dr. Phil Branson performs total hip replacement at Princeton Community Hospital.

Counties in southern West Virginia have some of the worst health standards in the country. According to State Department of Health and Human Resources website, in 2018, the counties with the highest rates of ill health included Boone, Fayette, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell and Wyoming.

Bowling is optimistic that the additional resources will help the area and the people who live there.

“We have transportation problems in our state. We have economic challenges where financially it’s very difficult for people to even have the gas money to travel far enough to get (to specialists), ”Bowling said. “These people are suffering from diabetes, kidney disease, neurological problems and without access, these things only get worse and they are unable to continue to have a productive lifestyle.”

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Richard Hypes

Karen Bowling is President and CEO of Princeton Community Hospital.

Bowling highlights the work of the WVU Health System at the Braxton County Memorial and the Summersville Regional Hospital, where both have improved telemedicine opportunities for patients to see specialists.

“We’re really working to find ways to make sure we’re very holistic in patient care,” Bowling said. “I hope this will improve their health and at the same time hopefully improve the health statistics in West Virginia.

“What we do is we put it all in the same medical records. We believe this is the key to our success, ”added Bowling. “It’s such a big advantage, especially when we know we have serious health issues in the downstate.

Some of the biggest health problems can result from poor health choices such as kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, and COPD. Bowling hopes community outreach programs can help as well.

“We’re really focused on education and awareness,” Bowling said. “COVID has made (awareness) a challenge. We are happy to go back to something more normal where we can do more outreach in these communities. And I think that’s the key.

The paperwork and government approvals for the project are expected to take over a year. Bowling hopes the new relationship will create educational opportunities such as doctor’s residences.

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