BUCKHANNON, W.Va. (WBOY) — WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital took a step in re-establishing its “Grassroots Advocacy Team” on Monday through a meeting held in Salvati Hall at 1 p.m.

A PowerPoint was presented on the history of hospitals closing, statistics, what grassroots advocacy is and how advocates can better help in supporting the hospital. Grassroots advocacy asked residents of the Buckhannon community to advocate on behalf of St. Joseph’s hospital, by reaching out to state and federal legislators. It was also said that it would help to have somebody on the team who knows a senator personally, to advocate directly.

Skip Gjolberg, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital, hopes to recruit advocates in supporting rural hospitals, so that they can stay within its rural communities. According to Gjolberg and a PowerPoint presentation he presented at the Monday meeting, there have been hundreds of rural hospitals that have closed over the last number of years.

During the presentation, Gjolberg talked about situations in which people have made trips to the rural hospitals that were no longer there, and in one case, somebody tragically died from a heart attack. Rural hospitals closing would result in increased driving time for emergency care, as well as added risk for pregnant women.

It can become difficult as a rural hospital because they do not have the volume and technology to bring in more revenue to keep the hospital going, like the bigger ones do.

There have been multiple bills in the past that have impacted rural hospitals in a good way. For example, Gjolberg mentioned the Critical Access Hospital Designation Act, and how it helps them stay more sustainable.

Some other concerns were brought up during the meeting, like if St. Joseph’s were to ever close, residents of Buckhannon would have to drive to Weston, Davis or Bridgeport for services. Gjolberg said, “it’s really important to support your local hospital wherever you are. If you can get stuff done locally and not have to drive, well A, it’s nice not to have to drive to the bigger city, to deal with parking and all those headaches. Plus it keeps those dollars locally, you know, for your hospital to stay sustainable, so when you need them in the emergency, they’re still there.”

A few of the things that these advocates are invited to participate in, is when legislators are invited to the hospital to discuss problems that the hospital is seeing. They are also invited to “healthcare day” at the Capitol in Charleston, if they are interested in attending. “There is power in numbers,” Gjolberg said.

While the legislative session just ended, there may be special sessions that might need advocated for. Once the committee is further established, more upcoming meetings will be released via email for those interested in joining. 12 News will continue to update this story as it develops.