CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia native is asking people to continue discussing preventive care and actions, noting the coronavirus pandemic has only heightened the need for such conversations.
Dr. Patrice Harris, the former president of the American Medical Association, was the final speaker of the West Virginia Virtual Prevention Summit. The event took place Wednesday and consisted of a virtual exhibition hall for speakers and groups to discuss ways to improve overall health.
Harris, who grew up in Bluefield, said the pandemic is not an excuse to ignore long-term health issues.
“We need to absolutely think about lessons learned and how we can prevent us from being here again regarding infectious disease, regarding chronic conditions, regarding all of the issues that have been brought to the fore in this pandemic,” she said.
Harris said the coronavirus is a “challenge of enormous proportions” for everyone, but the virus has affected people differently; communities of color and rural areas have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“There are so many different populations in our county, and it is not unusual for there to be different impacts,” she noted. “Do you know what we have to do about that? We have to talk about it. We cannot be afraid to confront the data as it presents itself to us because, by the way, the data helps us target intervention and target services.”
One barrier to health care in rural communities is internet access; Harris said as telemedicine becomes more common, residents in rural areas may not be able to use the service because of poor internet services.
“I may be willing to see my patients using telehealth and other technology, but clearly, if you don’t have broadband access, you will be limited,” she said.
Harris said the pandemic has highlighted many problems of the national response to health issues, and it is important for health care leaders and public officials to address matters.
“Having a prevention mindset is so critical — even in the midst of this pandemic — but critical as we look towards tomorrow, which we should be doing even in the midst of the COVID pandemic,” she said.
The state Bureau for Behavioral Health organized the virtual summit.