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A new framework

I have been privileged to serve WVU and the state of West Virginia for the past nine months. Here are a few things that are very clear to me today:

  • We have great people at WVU and in the state – smart, caring, honest, purposeful, hospitable.
  • We have great opportunities to make our state a beacon for others to follow.
  • We have to save money in our health care spend and get better outcomes.
  • West Virginia is positioned to do what no other state can do – work together as a single network to improve the health of our citizens.
  • Health, economic development/jobs, and education are legs of the same stool.

How do we accomplish the goals of improving the health of our citizens, improving their lives, and changing the narrative and brand of the state – internally and externally?

I think the following framework reflects our strategic directions and aspirations. Our framework consists of three pillars that are interconnected by our commitment to discovery, education, technology, and user experience.


The first pillar is Well Care. This is our focus on how we can help our citizens be healthy. My perspective is that health is being younger biologically as we get older chronologically. The triad for this pillar is food (less sugar, a more plant-based diet), exercise and preventing or stopping smoking. In the center is maintaining a sense of purpose.

We are actively involved in supporting communities and partners in this endeavor. Dr. Alan Mills is leading the efforts in Harrison and Lewis counties in the Last to First Together program. We are in process of determining how we can better support Dr. Dino Beckett and the team he has assembled in Sustainable Williamson and Kate Long and Stephen Smith in Try This West Virginia. In addition, we are working with Marshall University, Charleston Area Medical Center and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine to partner to deliver better care, food, and hope to the southern part of our state.

The second pillar is Sick Care.  We are focused on developing additional healthcare expertise at WVU Medicine to serve the state in a complementary way. We see ourselves as the tertiary and quaternary providers of care to support the great primary and secondary care available in our state. The concept of Signature Programs is becoming a reality, in which we will concentrate our faculty recruitment to build programs of excellence in cancer, cardiovascular medicine, neurological disease, pediatrics/women’s health, trauma/critical care, and surgical services. We have chosen leaders for these areas and charged them to create nationally- and internationally-recognized programs that are in great need for our state. These programs will be supported by expanding training programs to help the state with specialists in these areas and with research that focuses on discoveries to solve important problems in these areas.

The third pillar is Big Ideas in Healthcare. Dan McGinn, who suggested that WVU should solve big problems in health care, inspired this pillar. We are focusing on three big ideas – solutions for the drug epidemic; obesity; and elderly health.

For the first big idea, we are merging and expanding access to the excellent program we have in addiction treatment – the COAT (Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment) program developed by Dr. Rolly Sullivan and the Injury Prevention and Control Program run by Dr. Jeff Coben that focuses on treatment of acute overdoses (first responder naloxone treatment) and control of prescribing opioids. Surroundings these two foundation programs are focuses in pain control; emerging infections from drug use; programs for clean needle exchange; policy around over-the-counter naloxone and expanded suboxone capability for specifically trained and vetted doctors; pharmacy controls and education on opioid prescribing; and, prevention in communities and in children at risk.

We will follow with programs in obesity prevention and treatment, as well as elderly care and health.

All of the big idea programs will focus on collaboration and alignment with state and federal leadership. All of us at WVU will be happy to support those who are making progress, and take the lead in the places where there are not as many effective solutions.