Bill and Shireen Kirk. Courtesy of Carilion Clinic.

Here’s a round-up of health care news. There’s no full-time health care reporter west of Roanoke. You can help change that; help us fund a health care reporter.

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Carilion receives $1 million gift for cancer program

Bill and Shireen Kirk of Roanoke have donated $1 million to support the expansion of Carilion Clinic’s cancer program that will bring patient care and research into a single location, according to an announcement from Carliion.

The project is a strategic priority for Carilion, which has seen a growing number of patients in the region with cancer, Carilion said in a statement. The current Cancer Center, built in 1980, is operating at capacity as the result of a 40% increase in patient volume over the past 10 years, including more than 2,000 new cancer patients last year alone.

Bill Kirk is chairman of Associated Asphalt. “The Roanoke area is a great place to grow a business and raise a family, and this project will improve the community’s ability to continue to attract high-caliber employees and their families,” he said in a statement. “In addition, the new Cancer Center will help grow the region as a hub for health sciences innovation and discovery.”

Shireen Kirk, who comes from a medical family — her father was a physician and her mother a nurse – moved to Virginia from Northern Ireland as a child in the early 1960s. She holds a law degree from George Mason University and practiced in Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia before moving to Roanoke in 1995. After a few years with a local firm, Shireen joined Associated Asphalt as general counsel. Now retired after 22 years in that role, she assists with writing and company history.

In addition to their deep connection to the medical and Roanoke communities, both the Kirks have lost loved ones to cancer. Bill Kirk’s mother died from a form of leukemia in 2009 at the age of 82, and Shireen Kirk’s mother passed away in 2016 after many years battling breast cancer. 

(Disclosure: Carilion is one of our donors but donors have no say in news decisions. See our policy).

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Community Health Center of the New River Valley expands partnership with UVa Cancer Center

Building on a pilot program that increased colorectal cancer screening rates among its patients, the Community Health Center of the New River Valley is expanding its partnership with the University of Virginia Cancer Center, seeking to boost screening rates to 80% of eligible patients.

Backed by a three-year, $600,000 grant from the Jeffress Trust Grant Program, the two centers will hire a cancer screening navigator for the Community Health Center of the New River Valley’s three locations to help make it easier for patients to access these potentially lifesaving screenings. The community health center serves all patients, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

With support from an integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) grant, the partnership between the community health center and UVa Cancer Center has already had success in boosting screening rates by getting more patients to complete stool-based screenings that can be completed at home. An 18-month pilot program that ran from 2019-2021 and used a mix of automated reminders through a patient’s electronic medical record and phone call reminders helped increase the percentage of eligible patients screened from 30.5% to 47.3%.

To help get even more patients screened in the years ahead and reach the national guidelines of having 80% of eligible patients screened, the cancer screening navigator will be combined with other changes at the community health center. Among the initiatives will be developing more patient friendly educational materials on the value of screenings and providing additional training for the community health center’s staff.

“We know that colorectal cancer screenings save lives,” Jamie Zoellner from UVa’s Department of Public Health Sciences said in a statement. “Initiating a cancer screening navigation program within Community Health Center of the New River Valley will allow us to support providers’ capacity to increase colorectal cancer screening referrals and follow-through among their patients. It will also allow us to address many of the screenings barriers often reported by patients such as fear, cost and lack of transportation.”

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Roanoke Valley group receives $1.4 million for peer recovery network

The Roanoke Valley Collective Response has been awarded a $1.4 million grant to develop a peer recovery network. The award comes from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration and will support the development and expansion of the network over the next four years, creating three full-time positions, including one coordinator and two certified peer recovery specialists who are embedded with EMS and law enforcement during overdose reversal calls. The Collective Response’s proposal was identified as a project of national and regional significance and will allow peer recovery specialists to work alongside first responders across the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany region. 

“This grant is a vital investment in growing the ecosystem of recovery,” Niles Comer, director of the Collective Response, said in a statement. “Evidence supports the power of involving people with lived experience in addiction and recovery – peer recovery specialist – as the vanguards to promoting recovery and addressing addiction. This grant will work seamlessly to build out a Peer Recovery Network across community stakeholders of the Collective Response while working specifically with law enforcement and first responders to help in addressing the rise in drug overdose calls.”

The network will connect peer recovery specialists, provide resources for peers and develop a workforce network connecting peers to the employers who may be in need of their services and to help businesses hire people with lived experience with substance use disorder and involvement in the criminal justice system.

“Having a peer recovery specialist on substance abuse-related calls has been proven to remove communication barriers and move our patients into a more sustainable effort recovery program,” Capt. Jeremy Hartman of Salem Fire-EMS said in a statement. “The successful connection to services has been vital to reducing the number of overdose-related calls for service.”

This initiative will provide assistance to EMS and law enforcement while simultaneously seeking to reduce repeat calls. The peer recovery specialists will serve as care coordinators after the hand-off from EMS and law enforcement and assist with reducing any barriers to accessing treatment.

The Roanoke Valley Collective Response works across systems to find new and effective strategies to solve the opioid and addiction crisis. Members span law enforcement, emergency medical services, health care, local and state government, education, community support organizations, faith community, business community, and individuals and families personally touched by addiction. The Collective Response was formalized as a program of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission in 2021 through American Rescue Plan Act funds from the city of Roanoke.

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Health centers to receive federal funding

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Virginia, have announced almost $1.8 million in federal funding for health centers across Virginia “to advance health equity through better data collection and reporting.”

The funding will support data modernization efforts aimed at better identifying and responding to needs of patients and communities through improved data quality; advancing COVID-19 response, mitigation and recovery efforts; and helping prepare for future public health emergencies. The funding was made available by the American Rescue Plan and awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration. 

Each of the following health centers will receive $65,500 in funding:

1.       Neighborhood Health in Alexandria

2.       Blue Ridge Medical Center Inc. in Arrington

3.       Bland County Medical Clinic Inc. in Bastian

4.       Free Clinic of the New River Valley Inc. in Christiansburg

5.       Piedmont Access to Health Services Inc. in Danville

6.       Clinch River Health Services Inc. in Dungannon

7.       Harrisonburg Community Health Center Inc. in Harrisonburg

8.       Horizon Health Services Inc. in Ivor

9.       St. Charles Health Council Inc. in Jonesville

10.   Tri-Area Community Health in Laurel Fork

11.   Loudoun Community Health Center in Leesburg

12.   Rockbridge Area Free Clinic in Lexington

13.   Johnson Health Center in Madison Heights

14.   Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness in Martinsville

15.   Highland Medical Center in Monterey

16.   Central Virginia Health Services Inc. in New Canton

17.   Peninsula Institute for Community Health Inc. in Newport News

18.   Eastern Shore Rural Health System Inc. in Onancock

19.   Portsmouth Community Health Center Inc. in Portsmouth

20.   Daily Planet Inc. in Richmond

21.   City of Richmond in Richmond

22.   Kuumba Community Health & Wellness Center Inc. in Roanoke

23.   Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems Inc. in Saltville

24.   Stony Creek Community Health Center in Stony Creek

25.   Southern Dominion Health Systems Inc. in Victoria

26.   Greater Prince William Area Community Health Center Inc. in Woodbridge

The Community Access Network Inc. in Lynchburg, a Health Center Program Look-Alike (L2C), will receive $65,500 in funding. L2Cs are community-based health care providers that do not receive Health Center Program funding but are eligible to apply for some federal benefit programs.