It takes a (rural) community – daily yonder data recovery western digital

Garrett County is the state of Maryland’s westernmost county. It’s in Appalachia, abutting both the West Virginia and Pennsylvania borders. The population is just under 30,000. The driving forces of the economy have traditionally been mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction and agriculture, but in the summers tourists flock to Deep Creek Lake, and along its 69 miles of shoreline stand million-dollar-plus second homes and condos.

Stephens is part of a multidisciplinary cadre of county residents who are taking action to improve the health of everyone in their community. It’s an effort that earned Garrett County a 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize.

The fact is, in rural communities “interdisciplinary” is the way things generally get done. People tend to wear more than one hat.


“There’s also often just that tight-knit community feel,” says Aliana Havrilla, “a strong asset-based collaborative approach that they’re bringing to this work addressing complex issues.”

Havrilla is a community coach with the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Each year, the program publishes its County Health Rankings. Those rankings substantiate what Garrett County’s change agents already knew – that they have some significant health issues to tackle.

Garrett County ranks 15th among Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions (23 counties and Baltimore City) in health outcomes and 19th in quality-of-life measures, which include the percentage of days people report poor or fair health and the percentage who report physically and mentally unhealthy days within the past 30 days.

Garrett County’s community leaders recognize that health care involves much more than what happens in doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals. They recognize, as the Walsh Center points out, that it involves a number of factors, including access to information to better inform health choices, quality education to expand opportunities, access to transportation and improving social connectedness. The county created MyGarrettCounty.com to collect data and improve collaboration.

“The tool has helped us take collaboration to a new level,” Argabrite says, “to collect some hyperlocal data on some specific programs to look at their collective impact and be more responsive to the community and better engage the community.

The planning tool has a feature called Action Groups that helps community members mobilize. It allows them to focus on a specific issue, “to choose one strategy and begin measuring their work together on that strategy,” Argabrite explains. “We’re collecting hyperlocal data and seeing some real differences.”

Approximately $175,000 of competitive grant funding has been awarded to the health department by the Public Health National Center for Innovations, a division of the Public Health Accreditation Board, to replicate the tool and offer it to other communities along with technical assistance. Noah Manges stands outside Garrett College, a two-year public college in McHenry, Maryland. He benefited from scholarships offered to Garrett County students. For more than 10 years, county residents have been able to attend Garrett College tuition-free. Initiated to build the local workforce, the tax-funded scholarship program enables students to obtain an associate degree or certificate for trades such as welding, nursing assistant, apartment maintenance, truck driving, and mining. “We get letters all the time from people who say, ‘Thank you so much. It’s made a big difference in my life,’” says County Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh. (Photo via Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, rwjf.org)

Under the administration of the Garrett County Community Action Committee, and with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the community has a 2-Generation initiative, taking a holistic approach to families’ needs. Among the services offered are early-childhood education, health insurance assistance, adult-education classes and career coaching – “helping them with whatever is preventing them from getting ahead,” Stephens says.

Then there’s the Learning Beyond the Classroom Bus, which visits the county’s more impoverished communities offering a library and learning games for kids and Wi-Fi and computers for adults. Garrett Regional Medical Center’s affiliation with West Virginia University Healthcare has boosted health care. The medical center has reduced readmission rates through its Well Patient Program, which assigns a team of professionals to make sure patients have the resources they need to manage their illnesses at home. Last year, the community raised $4.9 million to open a cancer wing at the medical center. Previously, residents had to travel to West Virginia or Pennsylvania for cancer care. (Photo via rwjf.org)

The Garrett Regional Medical Center has played a central role in this community-wide effort. Its Well Patient Program assigns a team of health care providers to make certain their patients have the resources needed to care for themselves at home – an initiative that’s reduced readmissions.

Last year, the community raised $4.9 million to open a cancer wing at the medical center. Cancer patients previously had to travel to West Virginia or Pennsylvania for care. “It was an issue our community felt very strongly about,” Argabrite says.

And when a debate arose over whether to fund a jail expansion or a recreation center, the rec center won out. Membership in the Garrett College Community Aquatic and Recreation Complex is available to everyone for a sliding-scale fee. It offers a free “I Can Swim!” program to every Garrett County kindergartner.

Though, like most rural communities, Garrett County has traditionally found it hard to keep its talented youth from moving away in pursuit of more and better opportunities, that trend may be turning. “People want to stay part of this community,” Stephens asserts, “and they know they need to work together for the betterment of the community.”

Sometimes, they write, “negative stereotypes and narratives of rural communities have made it difficult for some places to recover from economic downturns because those perceptions are internalized into feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness at the community level.”

banner