Clay Marsh: Working together is essential for West Virginia's future

Op-ed appears in July 16 edition of the Herald-Dispatch

I'm an optimist. And while West Virginians have some challenging issues to solve in 2017, I really believe that this is a golden moment for our state. I see people in every part of the Mountain State who are committed to a better future and active in creating a new culture of hope and resilience.

We at West Virginia University are celebrating our 150th birthday all year long.

We're taking a glance back in the rear view mirror and remembering the highlights of our schools and colleges. We're honoring the people who made us what we are today.

West Virginia is the only state in the Union to have acquired its sovereignty by proclamation of the President of the United States - Abraham Lincoln. WVU is proud of being Mr. Lincoln's University. Our home campus in Morgantown was planted there in 1867 after Moundsville chose the state penitentiary instead of the university. We have grown steadily over time to the size we are today - about 32,000 students on campuses across the state.

Enough with the history lesson.

This year we are mostly looking forward. We're thinking hard about what we need to do to be a partner with the people and businesses who are inventing West Virginia's future.

Gordon Gee, our esteemed president, has said that our goal is to be the first 21st century land-grant university - an exemplar for other state universities.

I agree.

WVU plays a more important role in West Virginia than any other land-grant university does in its state.

In most other states, a locally-headquartered Fortune 500 corporation is looked to as the state's economic powerhouse and business leader. But external surveys of West Virginia place WVU and its health system in that role. It's the only state where a university is listed in that slot; and WVU and WVU Medicine together are the leading employer in the state and the hope for a future of prosperity, good health and education for our citizens.

But that does not mean we are the be-all and end-all, or that we have all the answers.

As we embark on our 151st year, an honest look forward tells us that we cannot succeed alone. That's abundantly clear in my area of work, changing the health of West Virginians for the better.

I spend a lot of time in conversations and work sessions with people from around West Virginia who are addressing health issues. I gravitate towards people who have a positive mindset, who spread hope wherever they go, and who understand the vital impact of community on the health of individuals and families.

These people are not hard to find. At Marshall University, Dean Joe Shapiro surrounds himself with them, as do President Mike Adelman and Dean Craig Boisvert of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. In June, at the Try This West Virginia conference, the accumulated energy of 600 motivated health activists created a tornado of good ideas. In Williamson and Clarksburg, in Wheeling and Martinsburg, we are getting on the right path through terrific leadership.

WVU's part in this is becoming more clear. On our three health campuses in Morgantown, Charleston and in the Eastern Panhandle we have around 1,000 students and 3,000 faculty. WVU Medicine employs another 12,000 people scattered from the Ohio River to the Potomac.

How can we harness the intellect and energy of 16,000 Mountaineers to benefit the health of every West Virginian? How can we change medicine and reduce healthcare spending and improve outcomes?

We have to be part of a vast change in how we care for people. The business model of medicine today, including at WVU, is "rescue from failure." We take care of sick people. We need to move to a new model, where the purpose of medicine is to prevent failure.

Getting back to our purpose is energizing for our team at WVU and WVU Medicine.

Where clinical care is helping a patient and their family. Where we create a bridge from home and community health to hospitals where we provide highly specialized and complex healthcare.

Where education is inspiring students to learn.

Where research is solving the important problems of the world to help populations.

How do we save money and improve outcomes in healthcare?

By helping our population be healthier. To do this, we need to reduce smoking and the ingestion of simple sugars. In addition, we need to focus on the human elements of connection, purpose, hope, love, safety and an abundance mindset to create resilience and health in families and communities.

That is true for WVU and WVU Medicine as it is for West Virginia.

We are beginning to realize that potential, in partnership with the many others across our state who are creating new models of healthy living.

We are becoming a university and medical center that recruits the best people from around the globe by being the place where foundational values and purpose are prioritized.

Where honesty, service and impact for others is placed above all else.

We are WVU and we are getting better every day at 150 years old.

Mountaineers go first.

Let's go!

Dr. Clay Marsh is the vice president and executive dean for health sciences at West Virginia University.

Link: Herald-Dispatch Letter to the Editor