Wirt Count West Virginia Community Garden

Despite Limited Resources, Wirt County Is a Bright Spot for Health.

“In Wirt County, everybody really works well together,” says Sarah Barton, senior projects manager at Coplin Health Systems, a federally qualified health care center serving several counties in the Mid-Ohio Valley. The residents of Wirt County have made the health of their community a shared value. “We have collaborative efforts and collaborative funding,” Barton continues. “At Coplin Health Systems, we work with a variety of organizations [in Wirt County], and they just do a great job of coordinating all of our efforts.”

Children and volunteers working in a Wirt County community garden

“In Wirt County, everybody really works well together” – Sarah Barton, senior projects manager at Coplin Health Systems

For many years, partners in the rural county have implemented policies and projects to improve access to fresh produce and opportunities for physical activity. Also, comprehensive clean indoor air policies have helped to reduce residents’ tobacco use.

These initiatives enabled Wirt County residents to perform much better than expected in health outcomes despite the significant resource challenges that come from being located far from major economic centers. Because of this, in 2017 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognized Wirt County as a “Bright Spot.” Wirt County built upon this achievement and earned Gold status in the West Virginia Healthy People Healthy Places (WVHPHP) 2019 challenge.

Children with produce from the kids farmers market

Wirt County has made great strides in encouraging its residents to eat healthier diets. Healthy cooking demonstrations with WIC-eligible foods teach residents  how to prepare fiber-rich vegetables and fruits in appetizing ways. Education about healthy diet starts early. A local farmers market sets up shop at the Wirt Primary School, where students are gifted credits to shop for fresh produce. Additionally, the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department adopted a policy that calls for including a variety of health food options in vending machines as well as during catered events.

“When we start to see the health of the people change, it costs less for the community to care for its residents” – Sarah Barton, senior projects manager at Coplin Health Systems

Even though the county is very rural, the Wirt County Development Authority maintains the community’s sidewalks well so that residents stay motivated to use them. The efforts here are paying off in several ways.

“When we start to see the health of the people change, it costs less for the community to care for its residents,” says Barton. Wirt County stands as a brilliant example of what any West Virginia community can do – no matter their economic resources. The key ingredient is working together to achieve the health goals encouraged by programs such as WVHPHP.

West Virginia Healthy People Healthy Places recognizes communities of all sizes around the state that meet key health benchmarks to build healthier places to live, learn, work, eat, and play.

Communities across West Virginia can apply for 2020 recognition now through November 20, 2020.

To register and start the 2020 application process, click here.a

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