When it comes to overall community health, eight West Virginia counties are being held up as positive examples for the entire Appalachian Region — Clay, Wirt, Calhoun, Grant, Hardy, Pendleton, Roane and Taylor.

In all, 42 counties from 13 states have been labeled “Bright Spots in Appalachian Health” in new companion reports out this week from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

“I think what is most exciting about this project is that we’re really looking at Appalachian health through a different lens,” said Dr. Julie Marshall, senior economist with the Appalachian Regional Commission.”

“We are focusing on community strengths rather than shortcomings or deficits.”

While community leaders, residents and others in the counties identified have taken their own approaches to addressing local health challenges, researchers said the following were commonalities:

– Community leaders engaged in health initiatives,
– Cross-sector collaboration,
– A tradition of resource sharing,
– Local health providers committed to public health,
– Active faith communities
– And grassroots initiatives to combat substance abuse.

Connectedness is key, said Hilary Heishman, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“We think that kind of involvement from the community and across the community and people working together is a really important piece of it we see again and again,” she said.

Two of the eight West Virginia counties, Grant County and Wirt County, were included with eight others from outside of the Mountain State in more in-depth case studies that were published.

In 14 out of 19 health outcomes, for example, Wirt County finished “better than expected.”

“What Wirt County lacks in size and resources, it makes up for with a way of life centered on community giving and collaboration,” the report said. “County residents paint a picture of a place that has not strayed far from its roots.”

Grant County performed “better than expected” in 12 out of 19 health outcomes including stroke mortality, heart disease hospitalizations, injury mortality, cancer mortality and years of potential life lost.

“Grant County’s abundant natural assets provide a rich array of outdoor-recreation attractions, from spectacular mountain vistas to exceptional trout fishing,” the case study read.

“Grant County’s actions — whether they’ve evolved organically through a volunteer effort or been established through the work of a coalition or health care system — indicate that county leaders and residents place a high value on health.”

More information on the case studies focused on Grant County and Wirt County are available HERE.

Being launched to complement the “Bright Spots” research is a new website, HealthInAppalachia.org, offering regional health data.

Heishman called it a “fresh approach” with a focus on strengths.

“I think that it’s a different kind of road map for a healthier America because of the great examples that we’re able to see in these case studies,” she said.

She is originally from Hardy County.

“When I go home, I see a lot to be proud of and I see hope and possibility and a lot of history to build from and I want more of the country to see more of that when they look at Appalachia,” Heishman told MetroNews.

This article was originally published by WVMetroNews.com