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[ Editorial, August 25, 2017 ]

The Health of West Virginians and Economic Development Go Hand in Hand

We hear much about American health and health care being in crisis.  The Health Disparities in Appalachia report recently released by the Appalachian Regional Health Commission (ARC) states that Appalachia has higher mortality rates than the nation in seven of America’s leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), injury, stroke, diabetes, and suicide.  Further, these rates are dramatically increased in Appalachia’s rural counties and in counties experiencing economic distress – including several counties in West Virginia.

So, what does health have to do with economic development and business growth in West Virginia?  The answer is, quite simply, everything.  Increasingly economic developers are coming to understand the linkage between economic development and the health of their community or region.  Most of the discussion has focused on the how health care costs for employees is a factor in the operational success of a business.  For example, businesses that can control their health-related costs have stronger bottom lines and, subsequently, are more competitive and successful.

But the linkage between health and economic development does not stop there.  If West Virginia wants to recruit new businesses, it needs to be able to compete with other states that promote themselves as being healthier.  West Virginia is blessed with the natural resources that attract business entrepreneurs who want to enjoy the outdoors.  Small business owners and young entrepreneurs are more likely to locate in communities where their employees have an opportunity to live healthier lifestyles – communities with access to walkable streets and parks for physical activities, communities that have grocery stores or farmers’ markets that offer a healthy selection of foods, communities that feel safe, and communities with access to good housing, quality education and transportation services.

Lifting West Virginia’s health statistics will not be determined by state action alone, but rather the collective actions of West Virginia’s community leaders.  A key to creating a “Wild, Wonderful and Healthy West Virginia” is understanding that the health of residents cannot be separated from the conditions that shape their lives. Creating a culture of health in our communities or regions, involves more than offering a tobacco cessation or healthy eating program, or any program at all.  Changing West Virginia’s health statistics will require community residents, leaders and organizations to collectively identify priorities and take coordinated action to implement sustainable systems changes and policy-oriented long-term solutions.  Improving the health statistics of a community, region and eventually the state, will be successful if we support leaders in our communities/regions in building diverse and robust partnerships across business, government, health care providers, and residents.  

The Center for Rural Health Development and its partners, including state and federal government partners, are working to provide support to local community/regional health alliances that are focused on addressing the root causes of health disparities and incorporating residents as part of the guiding wisdom and leadership for local solutions.  We welcome others to become a partner to provide the support needed by our rural communities as they work to create healthy communities that can be the engine that drives business development throughout West Virginia.

Sharon Lansdale

About the Center for Rural Health Development, Inc.

Sharon Lansdale, is President/CEO of the Center for Rural Health Development (Center).  The Center is private, non-profit that has been working for over 20 years in West Virginia to strengthen West Virginia’s health care infrastructure and improve the health of West Virginians as an integral part of each community’s economic infrastructure needed to recruit and retain business in our state.  Contact the Center at 304-397-4071.
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