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Mission & History
The Healthy Appalachia Institute (HAI) at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA-Wise) is a collaboration between critical thinkers, scholars, system planners and leaders in government, education, business and healthcare. Through this collaboration, HAI provides policy makers, healthcare systems, educators, the business community and the region’s citizens the necessary resources, ideas and strategies to foster a healthier citizenry in Central Appalachia.
The vision of the HAI is unique among university-based Appalachian programs in that it seeks to transform Central Appalachia into a leading model for rural community health throughout the world. This vision is moved forward through the Healthy Appalachia Institute’s mission to improve the health, education and prosperity for the residents of the region. The HAI is implementing a broad series of actions including:
- Listening to the needs of communities and their citizens;
- Ensuring a continuous assessment of the region’s health status;
- Supporting ongoing strategic health partnerships and planning;
- Designing and implementing innovative models of health education, workforce development and health care delivery;
- Promoting service learning for undergraduate and graduate students on behalf of the residents;
- Advancing community-based participatory research opportunities;
- Providing evaluation expertise for health improvement projects in the region;
- Developing resources to support the work of HAI and its partners;
- Exploring the history of health in the mountains of Appalachia;
- Fostering intellectual, artistic and emotional expressions of understanding at the interface of Appalachian culture and health; and,
- Serving as an incubator for new ideas to ensure an improved quality of life for all residents of Central Appalachia and beyond.
The issues of energy, education, work and health are at the center of our nation’s most significant challenges. These same issues are at the heart of HAI and its mission. While Central Appalachia has been often considered “the other America,” the HAI region is the focal point of our most important national debates. To ignore the contradictions and challenges of Central Appalachia is to ignore the greatest issues facing the nation as a whole. HAI seeks to elevate the issues facing the region and the power of community-based solutions to a national level.
In 2006, the region’s political, education, and healthcare leaders began meeting to explore ways to improve population health in far Southwest Virginia. These meetings resulted in the creation of the Southwest Virginia Health Facilities Authority (SWHA) by the Virginia General Assembly (renamed the Health Authority in February 2009) and the Wise County dental clinic project with Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition, UVA-Wise, in partnership with the Graduate Medical Education Consortium (GMEC) located on the College’s campus, received funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to initiate a project entitled Healthy Appalachia.
The purpose of this first ARC project was two-fold:
- Completing an assessment of population health, the region’s health status, and the adequacy of current healthcare systems and resources; and
- Developing a strategic plan to foster a healthier population in Appalachian Virginia, utilizing the assessment data and input from a wide-range of institutions, groups, agencies, and individuals.
The Division of Public Health Policy and Practice in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine became consultants on this project. Simultaneously, the work of the Southwest Virginia Health Authority dovetailed with Healthy Appalachia’s efforts. Subsequently, the SWVHA established a formal strategic partnership with the Healthy Appalachia Institute, with HAI serving as a primary source of data collection and analysis, resource development and idea generation.
In 2008, with the leadership of Healthy Appalachia and the SWVHA, leaders from throughout the region joined together to complete data gathering and analysis, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), goal development, and strategic planning work to create a regional strategic health blueprint. The Blueprint for Health Improvement and Health-Enabled Prosperity was adopted on May 13, 2009. Participation and enthusiasm have been extraordinary and unprecedented.
In October 2008, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise Board named the Healthy Appalachia Institute.
An early issue identified through the Healthy Appalachia/Health Authority planning process was the need to reduce mortality from cancer, by advancing screening and care. The University of Virginia Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center, received support from the Virginia Tobacco Commission for a one million dollar grant for Healthy Appalachia Works. Healthy Appalachia Works provides breast cancer screening, tumor board support for regional cancer centers, expansion of the UVA Telemedicine network, professional development for nurses and doctors in the region as well as Healthy Appalachia personnel on campus and several other initiatives.
The Healthy Appalachia Institute continues to expand its programs and services. (See Improving Our Health.)
In late 2009, the Healthy Appalachia Institute was designated an Emerging Institute with the National Network of Public Health Institutes, under the auspices of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The University of Virginia cites the Healthy Appalachia Institute as a primary avenue for its healthcare outreach to Southwest Virginia and reports the project’s success as part of the University’s commitment under Virginia’s higher education management restructuring legislation.