A diagnosis of black lung requires immediate medical care, preferably one that provides a local and convenient option for patients and family members to reduce community time and possible hotel stays. Those suffering from the serious disease seek signs of a potential reduction in the local options that could serve as an obstacle for treatment.
All four counties in Virginia (Buchanon, Dickenson, Lee, and Wise) that compose the state’s border with Kentucky and Tennessee are formally classified as “distressed” by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The designation is due to the ongoing decline in the coal industry over the past decade, resulting in significantly higher poverty rates and lower-income levels than the national average.
Add to that the state’s ranking near the lowest in health outcomes and higher diagnoses of respiratory issues that range from asthma to black lung disease.
Bad situations potentially becoming worse
The coal industry has shed countless jobs in the aftermath of various “booms” involving numerous miners suffering from black lung disease. A study involving three clinics within the region in 2018 uncovered what may very well be the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis, an advanced state of the illness.
The very health care facilities that provide the treatment victims need are undergoing what many consider an ill-timed transformation. Mergers are becoming an option for those medical centers, specifically rural hospitals, to avoid closing down. However, that flies in the face of standard operating procedures where mergers or acquisitions often shutter clinics to save money and abandon patients in desperate need of local medical care.
While options for medical treatment still exist, an uncertain future can create more stress for black lung patients and their family members needing convenient access to medical care. Many Virginia residents suffering from these and other afflictions are beginning to consider the quartet of counties as a place to die rather than a place to live.