MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU Extension Service wants to meet the needs of rural communities — most notably when it comes to healthcare.

“If you are living in a community, you want to be able to have your basic medical needs met there rather than have to go to the next county or the next big city over just to go see the doctor,” WVU Professor Michael Dougherty said.

A partnership with the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has led to West Virginia Recruitable Communities, an award winning program aimed at further connecting West Virginia’s oft-forgotten rural communities with the land-grant institutions.

“It’s not just looking at facilities that are university-related,” Dougherty said. “These are just rural or semi-rural or small cities that have had trouble attracting physicians and nurses and pharmacists and they are seeking a way to make themselves a place that people would want to go.”

As it relates to health care, Dougherty suggested that medical professionals help bring additional types of community development.

“By doing so, it then becomes more attractive for someone to relocate there and in the medical facility serving that area,” he said. “It’s essentially doing community development work with the end sight being making it a more desirable location for medical professionals.”

He continued: “But it does so much more, because it also makes it a better place for all the residents of the community.”

Keyser was the first town in West Virginia to use the Recruitable Communities approach, but Dougherty said WVU Extension Service’s mission goes well beyond this program’s 2015 inception.

“There have been efforts over the past two decades to make these places more attractive to the medical professional,” he said.

The Mingo County town of Williamson participated in 2016 and 2017, adding 10 new physicians to the area. In Ritchie County, the town of Harrisville is wrapping up their participation this year. So who’s next?

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern before moving to the next community as we look for additional resources to continue to make this program operate the way we’ve been doing it the last three years,” Dougherty said.

The program won two awards from national community development organizations over the summer.

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