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Hope and Purpose

As I previously blogged, my “why” is to tangibly improve the health of our citizens and promote collaboration to create One West Virginia.

Being at WVU and back in the state for the last seven months has led me to further insights into how to approach the health problems of our state.

I now believe the foundational problem to explain our dismal health statistics is not lack of access to health care workers or lack of good food or exercise. I believe the root cause of poor health for many of our citizens is loss of hope and purpose.

Let me explain.

In the Longevity Study, an eight-decade study, maintaining a sense of purpose was the best predictor of survival after 45 years old. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, West Virginia residents ranked last in purpose.

Similarly, in the famous paper in the New Yorker, The Hot Spotters, Harvard surgeon Atul Gawande reported on the work of emergency physician Jeffrey Brenner. Dr. Brenner drew a map of his community in Camden, N.J., to identify “hot spots” of disease that required ED admission. He found that two tenement buildings housing 900 people accounted for more than 4,000 ED visits over six years. One resident alone was admitted 324 times – about once a week for six years in a row.

Brenner identified several “super users” of the ED and hospital. One man weighed 560 lbs., was addicted to cocaine, alcohol, and tobacco, and was disconnected from social structure and purpose. Many of his admissions were to help him get up after falling, to control his uncontrolled blood sugar and to detoxify.

By reconnecting him to purpose, church and family, he stopped cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes, lost 220 lbs. and moved into a better neighborhood. He went from surviving to thriving. All because of a renewed sense of purpose, hope and belonging.

I believe that this is the reason why the data suggests that the more a state spends on health care, the worse the outcomes. This is perhaps because the real problem is not too little health care, but because the patients have a lack of caring and are not connected to purpose and hope.

To solve this, we need to consider how we connect with our folks, make the American Dream possible for them – healthcare, jobs and education.

Many people in West Virginia are ready and eager to help move us in the right direction. Optimism is bubbling up in tiny towns and people are taking action – on their own, with their families, and across their communities – to banish hopelessness and isolation and help each other create healthy lifestyles.

One such effort will move forward on Oct. 3, when people of many faiths will gather in Buckhannon for the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits West Virginia meeting. Organizer Kate Long of Try This West Virginia calls it “a big collective, stimulating brainstorm -- with singing.”

So far, the registration list includes Methodists, Presbyterians, independents, Catholics, Nazarenes, Baptists, Church of Christ, Jews, and one Buddhist. There is plenty of room for more to join the discussion. They’ll be talking  about how creating new ways for people in faith communities to be active and get healthier food can be spiritual work. You can register (at no charge) at:

There is a real rebirth of hope and excellence for West Virginia in the works – a realization of abundance instead of scarcity. It will be a great story and reverberate nationally.

This is the West Virginia we envision and are committed to realize.