New River Health District’s Bissell says region lags behind in health outcomes

Southwest Virginia lags behind Northern Virginia in a variety of health outcomes.  That according to Dr. Noelle Bissell, new director of the New River Health District.

Bissell became director in March and appeared before the Board of Supervisors for the first time Monday night.

Bissell said Southwest Virginia – including the New River Health District which includes Pulaski, Floyd, Giles and Montgomery counties and Radford City – faces a variety of health issues.

Those, she said, include substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, obesity and nutrition issues, chronic diseases and vaccine preventable diseases.

She noted that Virginia has fallen into the bottom five states for the vaccination of children against vaccine preventable diseases.

Other issues facing the region, she noted, include injuries, bullying, mental health issues.

“We have an extremely high degree of mental health problems right now,” Bissell noted. “We don’t have the resources to put everyone in a hospital, so we have to look at alternative solutions.”

One eye-opening statistic Bissell reported to the board involved life expectancy.  She said the life expectancy of residents of Southwest Virginia today is 20 years less than residents of Northern Virginia.

Following her presentation, Bissell heard concerns from Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready about concerns over the health department’s funding.

McCready pointed out to Bissell that the health department’s funding formula was first devised in 1966 at a time, he said, Virginia Tech was a small college and Pulaski County actually had a larger population.

“Pulaski County is being treated like it’s 1966 for public health,” McCready told Bissell. “I know it’s a General Assembly issue, but keep that in mind. It has created a lot of disparity between our county and others.”

McCready said due to the out-of-date funding formula, Pulaski County pays more per person and receives less in state funding per person than Montgomery County.


The Patriot