UVA Health, healthcare groups partner to combat COVID-19-related health problems

Feb. 3, 2023

UVA Health and a coalition of Southwest Virginia healthcare groups are partnering to better combat health problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic, backed by a $5.1 million federal grant that will expand the region’s access to care.

The Virginia Consortium to Advance Healthcare in Appalachia will bring together the UVA Center for Telehealth, the Healthy Appalachia Institute at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the Southwest Virginia Health Authority, the Health Wagon, Tri-Area Health and Ballad Health to help more residents get care using innovative telehealth models. 

Their goal: improve outcomes for patients with COVID-19 and chronic health conditions that have been worsened by the pandemic, along with establishing a long-term blueprint for providing care in rural communities. 

“We look forward to working with our colleagues at the Healthy Appalachia Institute at UVA Wise, the Southwest Virginia Health Authority and with partner healthcare systems and providers across the region to develop a contemporary strategic plan, a ‘Blueprint for Health and Health Related Prosperity,’” said Karen S. Rheuban, MD, director of the UVA Center for Telehealth. “Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will also enable us to begin to implement the blueprint, to expand access to care through telehealth tools and provide training for a broad range of healthcare professionals.” 

The consortium will serve the city of Norton and 10 counties – Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, and Wise – that have severe shortages of physicians for both primary and specialty care and significantly worse health outcomes than elsewhere in Virginia. 

Compared with the rest of Virginia, adults ages 35 to 64 in these localities are:

30% more likely to die earlier

21% more likely to die from heart disease

14% more likely to die from diabetes

35% more likely to die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

10% more likely to die from stroke 

“There is an urgent need for community-academic partnerships such as this one to assess and respond to health inequities in Virginia’s Appalachian communities,” said David L. Driscoll, PhD, MPH, director of the Healthy Appalachia Institute. “Our Consortium is committed to understanding, and most importantly, responding to the determinants of population health disparities in Appalachia, including adequate access to comprehensive public health and medical services.”  

UVA release