West Virginia Health Right

West Virginia / Nov. 19, 2012 / by The Team

“We have some of the worst health status statistics in the nation. We’re number one in the incidence of diabetes, we’re number two obesity, we’re number one heart disease and stroke.”

The health crisis in West Virginia is something that cannot be ignored and with an ever-growing number of people who have no health insurance, and as resources become more and more strained. 

In Charleston, West Virginia, however, West Virginia Health Right, has been serving the community since 1982 and has been changing people’s lives. 

Executive Director, Pat White, explains that WV Health Right is a free clinic that is “the community’s response to the uninsured poor.” 

“We serve the uninsured working poor,” White explains, “and those are folks that are basically at 200% of the federal poverty level or below, which is around $28,000 for a family of four so it’s a pretty low threshold.”

Serving a 35-county area in West Virginia, WV Health Right serves the working population where “83% have a job that’s normally part time or clearly does not provide health insurance benefits.”

The WV Health Right patients are sometimes working multiple jobs, all at minimum wage, and often put off seeking the health care they need because of the cost and their lack of insurance. 

“So when they come to us, they may have swollen feet, which is indicative of kidney problems, and so they may be in kidney failure,” says White. The delay in their seeking health care only serves to give their health issues time to worsen. 

In order to provide the community with the free health care they desperately need, WV Health Right goes beyond providing basic medical care. 

“We’re able to provide so much. We have every specialty covered except for OB but we don’t do OB here. We do not birth babies at this clinic, but every other specialty is offered here for patients,” says White. 

By partnering with local hospitals, the Medical Association, and the Dental Association, WV Health Right ensures that it can get their patients to the best care possible. 

Remarkably, the work done by WV Health Right is made possible almost entirely by a collection of dedicated volunteers. “I’ve got a staff of 38 but there’s no doctors that are paid, there’s no dentists that are paid, the ophthalmologists that run our eye clinic, they’re not paid. So they all are volunteers,” explains White. 

“All of the volunteers are really the foundation of this clinic. Over 400 of them that generously, monthly, routinely come in, volunteer their expertise, their talents, to make this clinic work on a day-to-day basis. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Further even than providing what might be considered the basic care needed, WV Health Right places a great emphasis on the patient and how they can change their lifestyle to help their health. 

Angie Settle, a nurse practitioner and the Clinic Coordinator, says that, “We try to think outside the box. It’s not just handing the patient a prescription, some lab orders, medication, and sending them on their way. We try to take them from beginning, entry into the clinic, to the end.”

Health Right provides everything from health care to cooking and fitness classes. Far from “just [saying] ‘you need to eat better, you need to do this, you need to do that, you need exercise,’ we actually show them how it’s done by having the teaching classes here in terms of cooking, what you should be eating, exercise, Wii bowling, it’s a whole gamut of things that we offer.”

Teaching the patients themselves how they can change their diet and how to cook new foods for themselves is a vital part of changing their health for the better. Nutrition Outreach Instructor, Robert Burton, explains that, “Most people don’t realize, you’re eating for the long term, you’re eating for life so it improves the quality of life, it makes sure that you are going to be healthy and active.”

These classes and facilities, all of which are free, go towards providing a wholly supportive and healthy atmosphere for the patients. Eric W. Deusenberry, a patient and program participant says that, “There are classes, they’re always straightforward, they tell you how it is but they always help you along if you need help or you’re struggling ... there’s not many things out there that will keep people informed like they can.”

WV Health Right helps people who are in dire need of ongoing medical care, but it also seeks to change the way people see their health. Far from being an uncontrollable entity, health can be affected by changes in diet, exercise levels, and general lifestyle. 

It is giving its patients the chance to take control of their own health, as well as the support needed to help them through the long-term changes they will be making. 

Every person who works and volunteers at WV Health Right is dedicated to helping others get themselves on track to a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. For White, it’s about changing people’s lives for the better. 

“I want them to feel like they’ve been treated with respect and dignity and that there’s something that they can do to improve their health care and that they’re on the road to do that, to improve it on a day-to-day basis.”

To learn more about WV Health Right and the services they offer, please visit their website, Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter