When it comes to commitment and dedication to battling opioid addiction in rural areas, the Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force shines brightly.
That’s the viewpoint of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health, which has awarded the local collaborative organization with a 2020 Community Star.
The award is given to only one rural entity in New York State.
“We are deeply honored to be recognized by the NOSORH,” said Christen Ferraro, GOW Opioid Task Force project coordinator. “It is a tribute to the efforts of the hundreds of people in the tri-county area who volunteer their time and work together to help end opioid addiction and overdose.”
The honor is being presented in conjunction with National Rural Health Day on Nov. 19, according to the NOSORH.
Ferraro said an e-book publication featuring the GOW Opioid Task Force’s story, along with the other winners, will be released on that date on the NRHD website. The link to the story also will be posted on the GOW Opioid Task Force website – www.gowopioidtaskforce.org – and on its Facebook page.
The NOSORH singled out the local outreach for its flexibility in delivering key services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic hit Western New York, the task force shifted its education efforts online. Virtual Narcan trainings were held and kits were mailed to participants. Since these online trainings began, more than 150 community members have been trained, and for 2020, more than 300 have received this training.
“We knew we had to make adjustments so our community could continue to have access to these needed resources," Ferraro said. “The positive response we received from the community was overwhelming, and we definitely plan to utilize this new way of education to help continue supporting our rural community in these difficult times.”
The task force, which is supported by the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, currently has more than 400 members from across the tri-county region.
Members represent various sectors of the community, including public health, mental health, human services, local government, substance use disorder treatment and recovery agencies, law enforcement, EMS, faith-based groups, health systems and medical practitioners, education, businesses, concerned individuals, families, and individuals in recovery.
The NOSORH founded National Rural Health Day as a way to showcase rural America, increase awareness of rural health-related challenges and promote the efforts of NOSORH, State Offices of Rural Health and others in addressing those challenges, said Teryl Eisinger, the agency’s chief executive officer.
An estimated 57 million people – nearly one in five Americans – live in rural and frontier communities throughout the United States.
“These small towns, farming communities and frontier areas are wonderful places to live and work; they are places where neighbors know each other and work together,” Eisinger said. “The hospitals and providers serving these rural communities not only provide quality patient care, but they also help keep good jobs in rural America.”
These communities also face unique healthcare needs.
“Today more than ever, rural communities must tackle accessibility issues, a lack of healthcare providers, the needs of an aging population suffering from a greater number of chronic conditions, and larger percentages of un- and underinsured citizens,” she said. “Meanwhile, rural hospitals are threatened with declining reimbursement rates and disproportionate funding levels that makes it challenging to serve their residents.”
All 50 states maintain a State Office of Rural Health, each of which shares a similar mission to foster relationships, disseminate information and provide technical assistance that improves access to, and the quality of, health care for its rural citizens.
Photo: The GOW Opioid Task Force has been honored with the 2020 Community Star from the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health. From left are Charlotte Crawford, chief executive officer, Lake Plains Community Care Network; Julie Gutowski, vice president of Clinical Operations and Services, Spectrum Health & Human Services; John Bennett, executive director of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse; Christen Ferraro, task force project coordinator, and Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee/Orleans County Health Departments.
Disclosure: Story by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.