Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Solutions for Morgantown’s health care landscape

by Tadd Haynes

As president of UniCare West Virginia, a leading health care provider in the state, I take it as our responsibility to help drive health care innovation in our state.

Last month, a group of key health, community and elected leaders met to collaborate on how we can improve the health and quality of life for the residents in Morgantown and the surrounding areas.

This roundtable aimed to gain valuable insights and foster an environment for innovative ideas and partnerships to flourish, as we heard from representatives with the Monongalia County Health Department, WVU Medicine and the Department of Health and Human Resources among others.

The insights derived from this roundtable discussion centered on four crucial themes where we can improve our health care system:

1. Enhanced workforce development: One significant challenge identified is the need to get more residents working, helping drive our local economy. Health care affects people’s ability to get and remain employed. And employment is directly tied to improved health outcomes.

 One solution is clear: working with health care providers and other organizations to address employment barriers and open doors for individuals seeking employment. Our partnership with Prestera Health to provide intensive dental care to those seeking employment is one example of the types of creative partnership we need to explore as a community.

2. Support for child and elder care services: Child care and elder care emerged as substantial concerns that impact people’s ability to work. The high cost of child care and a lack of grants or financial support were highlighted.

One solution to address this is for community leaders to match employers with programs that provide trained child care workers for on-site care, expand awareness of grants to address child and elder care needs or otherwise incentivize more child care facilities to provide essential support. Additionally, leveraging the $1.8 billion investment in broadband infrastructure to enhance online workforce participation can alleviate transportation and child care challenges.

3. Recruitment and retention of health care workers: Local hospitals and health care providers, such as the Mon County Health Department and WVU Medicine and its subsidiaries, are doing a fantastic job in the face of a shortage of health care professionals, especially in rural areas. The challenge of attracting and retaining health care workers is still significant.

Innovative solutions such as telemedicine, infrastructure development and community health worker programs can help overcome this shortage. Local leaders can also help health care professionals highlight the uniquely wild and wonderful aspects of West Virginia as they interact with potential employees so that we can attract and retain a committed health care workforce.

4. Addressing additional barriers to health: Access to care is about more than having enough doctors. West Virginians need more dentists and mental health providers to meet the demand for their care. And every provider — from hospitals to rural doctors and nurse practitioners — loses patients from lack of housing, transportation, income barriers, broadband limitations and similar factors. To improve access to care, our community has to address these systemic challenges.

UniCare West Virginia is committed to addressing these issues, but it is essential that we join hands, listen and work together with our legislators, community leaders, health care providers and, most importantly, our local residents.

Together, we can continue to work with our legislators to allocate more resources and support for policies that enhance health care access and workforce development for Morgantown. We can foster an environment that attracts health care professionals and provides essential services, such as child and elder care. Our community can continue to empower health care providers to be innovative in delivering care.

The findings from these roundtables serve as a call to action for not only Morgantown, but all West Virginians, and the challenges highlighted in these discussions require collective efforts to bring about lasting change.

Tadd Haynes is CEO and Plan President of UniCare Health Plan of West Virginia, Inc., part of Elevance Health. He has 20-plus years of health care experience and a history of progressive leadership roles in administration and operations.