Patti Crawford’s Story: How One Year in Hinton Became a Lifetime Fighting for West Virginia’s Rural Communities

When Patti Crawford arrived in Hinton, West Virginia in April of 1977 to take up a position in the Cardiopulmonary Department at Summers County Hospital, the plan was to stay just one year.

But she stayed with the hospital for two decades, forging the beginning of a career that would one day see Patti become one of West Virginia’s most respected public health leaders, and a loved and trusted advocate for the health of underserved people in rural communities.

A former board member of the West Virginia Rural Health Association, Patti was recently honored by the National Rural Health Association for her contribution and service to the organization, particularly her expertise and efforts around health in rural communities, the opioid crisis, and rural workforce development.

“A culture of health can turn around a community in despair.”

It was the coal miners of West Virginia and their struggle to breathe that first inspired Patti to study respiratory therapy.

“Interestingly, there is quite an effort now in the state to endorse pulmonary rehabilitation,” she notes. “I have always been supportive of any efforts to help with pulmonary and cardiac diseases, as they are two of the biggest killers of our population.”

After nearly half century of fighting to improve health outcomes for people in West Virginia, Patti’s passion and sense of justice still burns bright.

“It’s unacceptable that one’s zip code can be more of a determinant to one’s health outcomes than one’s genetic code,” Patti says. “Rural women especially are dying at younger ages. This trend needs reversing.”

“In West Virginia, we have the distinction of being the state with the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths. There is light at the end of the tunnel but work must continue. Our rates of teen suicide are high. Our obesity and diabetes rates are high. All these conditions are diseases of despair. It is as if our collective soul has become clouded in darkness and we yearn to cleanse and set it free.”

“Healing oneself and sharing nourishing meals with family and friends is an Appalachian tradition, which can once again flourish. As a state, we just need to remember not to leave anyone behind.”

As dire as current conditions are, Patti sees good work happening in West Virginia, and it gives her hope and optimism for the future.

“There are movements within the state to engage communities in healthy behaviors,” she says. “Try This West Virginia, Active Southern West Virginia, and the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition are just a few. And the Center for Rural Health Development has developed a “Wild, Wonderful Healthy West Virginia” movement with regional coaching hubs to align economic development and community health to address social determinants of health.”

Patti believes that improving West Virginia’s health statistics will require collective actions by community leaders to inspire real community change.

“A culture of health can turn around a community in despair,” she says. “Williamson, in Mingo County, is one such example. Dino Beckett, D.O. is a physician who understands the importance of providing jobs and economic stability to allow community members to embrace healthy behaviors with locally sourced foods and opportunities for physical activity.”

Patti, who is currently the Director of Rural Outreach at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, sees that West Virginia’s health outcomes can change when our communities embrace the importance of making their towns safe and healthy places to live for all its residents.

“In past roles I have worked with rural community groups to help them find the resources to create community health projects,” she says. “Many of them were building walking trails, restoring sidewalks to make communities safer for physical activity, and developing community gardening and nutrition outreach activities.”

“Together we can make change and create communities based on a culture of health. Healing oneself and sharing nourishing meals with family and friends is an Appalachian tradition, which can once again flourish.”

“As a state, we just need to remember not to leave anyone behind. Together communities can thrive to support an entrepreneurial spirit through policy, system, and environmental change. A healthy West Virginia is our collective vision that we need to act on today!”

Forget The Numbers. Here’s the Only Thing You Need to Know About a Sugary Drinks Tax in West Virginia.

Photo: Mike Mozart/FlickrCC

Something has to change. You know that as well as I do.

You’ve been bombarded with the enormous numbers for so long now, that they no longer feel like they really mean anything. The tens of thousands of sick children, the hundreds of millions of dollars it costs us, the life expectancy rate falling, the West Virginians dying young.

The facts of the issue are so horrifying that we’ve become immune to them I think.

So I’m not going to throw more numbers at you. Because I know you already know that we have a problem.

All I’m going to ask of you is that you demand that West Virginia’s state legislators do something to begin to fight against the obesity epidemic that is crippling our state and its people. Anything.

Thanks in part to these companies’ relentless pursuit of profits, this generation of young Americans is the first in modern U.S. history to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

Adding just a few cents to the price of the sugary soda drinks that are partly responsible for this crisis is at least a start.

That’s why we support the proposal for a Sugary Drinks Tax that will be considered in the current legislative session.

Now, you’ll probably hear lots of people raise lots of different arguments against a Sugary Drinks Tax.

That’s because Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and their trade group, the American Beverage Association, spend tens of millions of dollars each year on lobbying and public relations to fight against proposals like this.

Why? Because their billion dollar profits depend on people consuming more of their product, despite the fact that it makes them sick. Their marketing particularly targets children. Their profits depend on children consuming too much sugar each day, getting fat and getting sick.

Thanks in part to these companies’ relentless pursuit of profits, this generation of young Americans is the first in modern U.S. history to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

The proposal is simple. By adding a few extra cents to cost of the soda that is making our kids sick, we can hopefully discourage them from drinking so much of it. And that tax of a few cents will provide a new revenue stream of millions of dollars to pay for health services in West Virginia.

In the City of Philadelphia, a new soda tax was projected to bring in $46 million in the first six months of 2017. It only produced about $40 million. That sounds like a revenue failure that I think West Virginia could really use.

Right now, we need every dollar we can get to help West Virginia’s sick and underserved population, and to improve the health of our future generations.

Like I said, the soda companies and their lobbyists will be working hard to smokescreen and confuse you about the issue.

You’ll hear that this is “a micro solution to a macro problem” – that reducing consumption of sugary drinks is not going to solve the entire problem of obesity or the connection between poverty and poor health in America.

No, it won’t. But it’s a start. This argument is just an excuse to do nothing. It’s kind of like saying that requiring people to wear seatbelts is not going to prevent all car accident injuries, so we shouldn’t bother.

You’ll also hear that it won’t generate as much money for health programs as supporters will calculate.

One such “failure” that opponents highlight is in the City of Philadelphia, where a new soda tax was projected to bring in $46 million in the first six months of 2017. It only produced about $40 million.

That sounds like a revenue failure that I think West Virginia could really use.

The health of all West Virginians, particularly children, stand to benefit from this effort to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks.

Soft drink companies stand to lose a small fraction of their multi-billion dollar profits.

As debate continues this year about instituting a Sugary Drinks Tax in West Virginia, pay attention to which side your legislator fights for.

To learn more about what the West Virginia Rural Health Association is supporting this legislative session, contact Executive Director Debrin Jenkins at

‘Diseases of Despair’ Killing Appalachians At a Higher Rate Than Rest of U.S.

Photo by Thomas Hawk/FlickrCC

A study released by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in August found that people in Appalachia are dying for “diseases of despair” – such as prescription drug and illegal drug overdose, suicide, and alcoholic liver disease – at higher rates than the rest of America.

In 2015, the 15 to 64 year old population in the Appalachian Region represented 7.8 percent of the total population in the United States for this age group, yet contributed to 10.3 percent of the total deaths from diseases of despair.

The goal of this study was to analyze the impact of the diseases of despair on mortality within the Appalachian Region. Specifically, researchers investigated whether disparities related to diseases of despair are greater within the Appalachian Region than the non-Appalachian United States, and whether Appalachian disparities were driving national trends showing rising mortality from diseases of despair.

Read the full report at

Free Adult Dental Services Now In Beckley

It’s been 5 years in the making and now Beckley Health Right has opened its brand new state of the art equipped dental clinic (2-chair Operatory, Completely Digital, Hand-Held Nomad X-ray System, Panorex, Built in Dental Lab).  With the help of Dr. Travis Wills volunteering his time as the Dental Director and one full time hygienist on staff they are able to offer Prophylaxis, Xrays, Extractions, screenings, Evaluations and the expansion services will include dentures and restorative work.  Other volunteers making this much needed service possible are Dr. Brett Eckley DDS, Dr. Andrew Dickens DDS, Dr. Dan Foley DDS, Dr. Greg Harvey DDS ,Dr. Steve Childress, and other New River Dental Society Members.

Special thanks to:

Exponent Telegram: In West Virginia, a Clear Map of the Socio-Economics of Sickness

Photo by Gene/FlickrCC

By Leigh Nestor/Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG — With West Virginia’s incredibly high rates of diseases linked to lifestyle, some medical professionals consider socioeconomics as the real cause of the state’s failing health.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, West Virginia ranks high in general poor health, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, stroke, hypertension, obesity, poor nutrition, high sodium intake and high sugar intake.

The counties with high rates of obesity are the same ones with high rates of sleeplessness, Program Director for United Hospital Center Dr. Eric Radcliffe said, noting it as a symptom of a root cause in lifestyle…

Read the full story at


Women and Opioids

The Office of Women’s Health released a final report on Opioid Use, Misuse, and Overdoes in Women. The study found that death rates from drug overdose for women are more pronounced in the rural South and Midwest. The report identified a possible explanation being that rural areas often lack access to treatment for substance use disorder.

Although opioid use rates are comparable in rural and urban counties, rural opioid users tend to be younger, unmarried, have lower incomes, and are more likely to lack health insurance, all vulnerabilities that may negatively impact their ability to seek treatment and recover.  Little is known about what states with large rural populations are doing to combat opioid use disorders (OUDs) in rural communities.

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