On a misty July morning at a community clinic, healthcare workers gathered in a conference room to take a look at the big picture.
Every day Cabin Creek Health Center in Dawes, West Virginia, treats patients in the community 30 minutes outside the capital city of Charleston. And trends are emerging that require a coordinated effort. Widespread heroin addiction has triggered a rise in hepatitis C through shared needle use. It’s difficult for local residents to reach specialists. And poverty affects transportation, nutrition, mental health — everything.
“Hepatitis C, if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to be a public health nightmare,” said Amber Crist, director of education and program development at Cabin Creek Health Systems. “And I don’t just mean we here at Cabin Creek, but as a state I think it’s something that we really need to be focusing on.”
The meeting was part of an effort that patients probably don’t think about when they’re seeking care. Cabin Creek Health Systems is a member of a statewide network that conducts research, the West Virginia Practice-Based Research Network. It’s the outreach arm of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, headquartered at West Virginia University. These researchers look at what patients need, study how they’re meeting those needs and discover ways to improve care.
And it’s working. Crist said a health coaching study decreased emergency room visits and hospital readmissions. A study this fall will compare scripted versus unscripted depression screenings. Cabin Creek also benefits from a grant offered through the institute to research outcomes following pulmonary rehabilitation treatment at the clinic and other locations.
Sally Hodder and Clay Marsh want to take this research and collegial approach and bring it to its fullest potential across the state.
Hodder is director of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, a partnership between West Virginia University, the West Virginia United Health System, Charleston Area Medical Center and West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.
This summer, she embarked on a tour of the more than 50 clinics that are part of the West Virginia Practice-Based Research Network. And at this visit she was joined by Marsh, WVU vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences.
Hodder and Marsh want to be in touch with the state’s healthcare pulse. And those at Cabin Creek Health Systems are in the know.
So they asked what the folks at Cabin Creek were facing, shared what they know and everyone made an action list that involved shared resources.
“I’m here because I really do want to understand what we can do to help and who we can hook you up with to help, not just at WVU — it’s the state,” Marsh said. “And the unique opportunity in our state is we can all work together.”
Clinics in the Practice-Based Research Network have already shared information, collaborated on studies with WVU and other research leaders. And the need for this to continue is stronger than ever.
“The mission of the CTSI is to build research infrastructure to positively impact the health of West Virginians, and I think places like Cabin Creek are really where it is happening,” Hodder said. “The most important place I think where we can generate clinical research is really out at the community level.”
Crist said Cabin Creek’s goal for conducting research is to give better care to patients. And it helps to have the CTSI available for research support when running a study and having access to broader data.
“We’re trained to provide the care to the patients but having someone with that expertise in the mix at the very beginning helps you think about the questions that you want to ask,” she said.
Hodder said ultimately these efforts exist to improve health across the board for West Virginians.
“I think that there are programs that need to be broadened and deepened, perhaps new programs that need to be formed,” she said. “We’re addressing areas that are problematic in this state that include cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and diabetes, and more recently we have added a focus on addiction. And I think that really the most important thing is that we start to drive the trends toward improvement in those areas.”
And, she said, that can only happen at home.
“If you don’t partner with the population in the community and the community health centers, you’re really not going to know what works in West Virginia.”
The West Virginia CTSI is funded by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.
CONTACT: Stephanie Ballard Conrad, West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute
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