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Manchin, Secretary of Health Services attend ribbon-cutting, tour Neuroscience Institute

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, took some time to visit healthcare facilities in Marion and Monongalia counties Friday — to both highlight the importance of rural healthcare and address the drug epidemic.

Manchin and Becerra started the day in Marion County, where they participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Mon Health Marion Neighborhood Hospital that will open to the community Dec. 14.

The new hospital, which is the first small-format hospital in the state, “will provide quality care to Marion County residents,” said Manchin.  “West Virginia has lost three full service hospitals last year, and filling those gaps in care is crucial to the wellbeing of our state.”

Manchin said that about 20% of us live in what would be considered rural America, around 66 million people.  The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress included $8.5 billion to specifically support rural healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of times rural America has not gotten a share of the funding because we don’t have the mass of population and the need in areas where there is less population has kind of overwhelmed us.  We’ve changed that now,” Manchin said.  “Now that we are getting the fair share of this funding, we are able to do things now we never could before so the $8 billion was just able to go for rural hospitals and rural medical care. It’s going to make it go a long way in West Virginia and all through rural America.”

The senator and secretary also made their way to the West Virginia University Health Sciences Campus in Morgantown to visit the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI), which leads innovation in behavioral health and substance use disorder treatments.  

The two men were given a tour of the facility by Dr. Ali Rezai, executive chair of RNI, and were impressed with the institute’s latest technological innovations to advance the science and treatment of addiction.

“We are not talking about the future,” said Manchin after their tour.  “What we have seen looks like the future, but what we are talking about is reality – what’s happening today.  I think it has been hopefully helpful for the secretary to see what we have available here and how we can help our great country.”

“I was just wowed by the folks here at the WVU sites that are dealing with some of the most sophisticated types of treatment you could think of,” said Becerra.  “What we are seeing here today, I hope we are going to see in the entire country in the near future.”

Becerra said that by working with institutions like this we can figure out ways to start to get people the help they need and to reduce the level of harm they might engage in and “then with some of the technologies we just saw, maybe they save your life and let you move forward.”

According to Becerra, the Biden Administration has changed its drug overdose strategy.  

“It used to be we talked about it being a ‘War on Drugs’ and we haven’t had a chance to claim mission accomplished. And so we are going to move the dial,” he said.  “We are talking now a lot more about trying to help those who want to be helped and a lot of that means harm reduction.  We don’t want to wait until you are about to OD.  If you send out some signal, some sign that you want help, we want to be there and one of those things is to make sure you do no more harm to yourself.”

Manchin said the challenges with the open addiction is something that must be turned around with the national overdose numbers going over 100,000 lives in America.  “Seeing the technology that we just saw here today at Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute under Dr Rezai and what they have done – the cutting edge,” he said. “We can change the quality of life for so many people.”

Becerra was equally pleased with the innovations, saying if HHS can in any way be a good partner to the RNI, based on what he saw, America will be better off.

“It’s really interesting, sometimes we reference rural America, urban America, but an innovation center like West Virginia University blurs the line.  This is a top-notch facility.  It makes no difference what part of America it’s in, it’s in America.  That’s the important part,” he said.  “This high-class facility belongs in all of America so everyone can take advantage.  The best thing is we are making investments in America.  It happens that for good reason it’s here in rural America but I got to tell you West Virginia University has done America a great service by having this innovation center.”

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