Each day our Roanoke Valley and Alleghany Health Districts (RCAHD) staff work to promote and encourage good health for our 278,000 local residents. Our name reflects that technically we are two health districts: the Roanoke Health District, which serves the 99,000 residents of the City of Roanoke, and the Alleghany Health District, which serves the 179,000 residents of the cities of Covington and Salem as well as the counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke.
Since a large portion of our population lives in a rural setting, it is fitting that this month we observe National Rural Health Day (Nov. 17), a day set aside to honor rural stakeholders and the unique healthcare challenges that rural citizens face. While some public health issues transcend all settings, to better serve our rural residents, especially vulnerable populations, we need to understand the circumstances that impact their health.
As an example, a sizable number of residents in our rural communities are among the 20% of Virginians who rely on private wells as their primary source of water. Through our on-site program, we have dedicated Environmental Health staff who help residents protect water quality of private water supplies every day.
Also essential to our public health efforts are community partnerships in each of our localities. Our RCAHD partners in public health include a wide array of hospitals, schools, local governments, social service agencies, healthcare providers, nonprofits, churches, businesses, and more. We look to them to help us better understand our residents’ needs and experiences, and as partners in providing services and better access to care.
In Covington and Alleghany County, we are working with partners such as Lewis-Gale Alleghany, the Alleghany Foundation, the Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce, Alleghany Highlands Community Services and others to relaunch an Alleghany Highlands community health assessment. Early outcomes of this work include:
- implementing a new early childhood curriculum in local preschool programs,
- funding a literacy coach in public schools,
- creation of a community Resource Guide,
- launching an Alleghany Highlands drug treatment court to reduce crime and increase defendants’ sobriety.
In Craig County, we worked with harm reduction partners this summer to educate 23 people, including local social services staff, to respond to overdose emergencies using the Revive! lay rescuer training and naloxone to save lives. We’re also joining with Craig County youth, artists and the United Way to hold a public COVID-19 remembrance event at Craig County High School on November 29 at 6:30pm. All are welcome to attend this free community gathering.
In Botetourt County, we joined the Local Office on Aging (LOA), the Sheriff’s Department, Ruritans, and local churches in September to offer a senior services day to over 100 Eagle Rock area residents. We provided vaccines and health information in support of LOA’s mission to help older persons remain independent for as long as possible.
These are just a few examples of our local collaborative efforts to respond to the public health needs of our rural residents. Our goal is to protect and promote the health of all people in all our communities, so that both rural and urban RCAHD residents have the opportunity to achieve good health and well-being.
-Cynthia Morrow, MD, MPH