photo by: Robert A. DeFrank
The Belmont County Board of Commissioners will continue to provide yearly allocations to Wheeling Health Right. On Wednesday the board approved an allocation of $25,000 to the agency to provide healthcare services and medication for low-income uninsured Belmont County residents. The commissioners also voiced the hope that other communities that benefit from those services might be amenable to funding the agency.
Due to economic and budgetary concerns, the commissioners have curtailed allocations to nonprofits, but reconsidered in Wheeling Health Right’s case after Frank Papini of St. Clairsville and others pointed out the number of Belmont County residents who benefit from the agency’s operations. Kathie Brown, executive director of Wheeling Health Right had said a lack of funding might lead to termination of services in Belmont County. The agency provides free primary healthcare and dental care to about 1,400 Belmont County residents.
However, in recent years the Health Right has suffered financially as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted fundraising activities. Moreover, the United Way has also cut funding to the Health Right for treating Belmont County residents, from more than $80,000 to about $40,000.
“This is a great place that provides basic health care for residents of the county,” Commissioner Josh Meyer said.
Commissioner Jerry Echemann suggested other communities might also contribute.
“I’m very happy to pass this vote, it’s a worthwhile agency,” he said. “If Health Right going forward is to rely more and more on governmental bodies for their funding, it ought not to be just Belmont County on this side of the river. If we can give $25,000 … then some of our larger communities might be able to help a little bit too, a few thousand or whatever they can come up with.”
Papini said the county’s decision was appreciated.
“That’s very exciting, we’re very pleased,” Brown said afterward. “It’s wonderful news, I’m very grateful to the commissioners for choosing to continue to fund it so we can continue to provide quality health care to people from Belmont County.”
She added they hope to expand services in Belmont County.
“We are probably going to physically provide some care in Belmont County,” Brown said, noting a prospective site would be announced at a later date.
Brown hopes to make an announcement before the end of the year.
She reflected on the possibility of added funding from the communities.
“I would certainly be accepting if anybody in the cities wanted to do that, but to actually try to do that? They’re small towns, there’s not a lot of money in their budgets so I would be concerned that I would put more time and effort to (asking for funds) that we might receive, but I certainly encourage any city or town that has available funds.”
Brown said while many patients are from communities such as Martins Ferry, Bellaire, Bridgeport and St. Clairsville, they are also spread out across Belmont County.
“That’s why the county funding is so important,” she said.
Brown said the agency would continue searching out funding sources.
“We just keep shaking the bushes,” she said. Brown also said funding from local communities also makes these applications more likely to be approved. “We can always use additional, particularly community support. … United Way was the biggest hit that we took, and that’s a sign of the times, three years with the pandemic, it’s going to take them awhile to rebuild.”
Wheeling Health Right is located at 61 29th St., Wheeling and can be reached at 304-233-9323.