Alexa Doiron

Noelle Bissell was recently named Director of NRV Health District and plans to make an impact on the community.

Bissell earned her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University but decided to go to medical school after a series of health issues affected various members of her family and she spent a lot of time in the hospital.

“I was fascinated by asking the questions/taking the history,” Bissell said. “I saw how confusing it can be…that’s what stimulated my passion for education of the patient and loved ones.”

Bissell found a passion for taking care of people in the hospital because she said that is when people are at their most vulnerable. To be able to sit down with them and explain things made her feel good about her work as well as helped her give people the feeling of significance in the healthcare system.

“Public health is all about education, prevention, treatment/harm reduction,” Bissell said. “I have had other roles in healthcare (hospitalist, outpatient medicine, student health) and each of those experiences helps shape my assessment of our community’s needs and how we can address them.”

Bissell plans to do a lot of community outreach and collaboration in the valley. She views the health department as a resource for everyone and wants to demolish the idea that it is only for treating sexually transmitted diseases. We do that, Bissell said, but there is so much more that is offered. The health department offers a variety of services from immunizations and various areas of education on different health and wellness aspects.

“Education is key to owning one’s health and wellness,” Bissell said. “So one goal is taking advantage of every opportunity, such as community events, health fairs, schools, to get out there and be a presence.”

Bissell wants to put more of an emphasis on overall health, not simply physical health. She believes that mental and emotional, social, financial, and environmental factors all contribute to a person’s health and wellbeing. These are aspects that can become forgotten but Bissell knows how poverty, lower education levels, lower social cohesion and decreased environmental safety all adversely affect health.

From her 14 years living in the area, Bissell knows that lack of transportation can present barriers to getting adequate healthcare. This is something that she wants to tackle and hopes will help to lower the heath challenges facing the area today. Currently, in Southwest Virginia, there is a higher rate of tobacco and substance uses, more chronic disease, and overall lower life expectancy than in any other perts of the state, Bissell said. There are higher rates of Lyme infection and hepatitis C. These are all areas that Bissell hopes to improve in as NRV Health District Director.

Bissell finds challenges in this position already, though. For example, she sees a lack of trust in being a government agency, which makes it difficult for her to give people the access to quality care that they deserve. It is also difficult to find funding and grants for all of the work the organization wants to do.

However, with all of the challenges comes many rewards, Bissell said. One of the biggest joys Bissell has, though, in the position is the community partnerships that are formed, which will hopefully help to gain more of people’s trust in the agency.

“The most rewarding aspects are the community partnerships,” Bissell said. “We have so many people engaged in this community- and making a difference in people’s lives.”

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