Stone Mountain black lung program gains national attention


Stone Mountain Health Services cut two ribbons Monday to celebrate advances in the organization’s black lung disease program.

At a press conference in St. Charles, Va., Stone Mountain officials announced new digital x-ray technology at two Southwest Virginia clinics along with a special workforce development site at the town’s former Water Authority Building. 

James Werth, the black lung program director, also announced that the National Rural Health Association recognized the organization for its work with an Outstanding Rural Health Organization Award.

Werth commended the work of the Black Lung program team over the past year, and looked to the future by cutting the ribbon on the program’s two newest assets. 

The workforce development site was forged through Stone Mountain’s partnership with the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board. The site will serve as a beacon for the community with a special focus on disabled miners diagnosed with black lung, a pulmonary disease caused by long-term exposure to coal dust.

According to Werth, community members donated the building, allowing the two organizations to collaborate on planning the workforce site, which will help community members, including former miners, learn new skills. 

 “Many of (the miners) didn’t want to stop working but had to because of their disability,” Werth said. “But (they) still would be able to learn other things, perhaps learn computer skills and be able to continue to make contributions.

“Also, we have a large issue with substance abuse in Southwest Virginia, and we’ve learned that many individuals with substance abuse problems have difficulty getting employment, so another part of this workforce development site will also be to provide some special services for people who are in recovery to help them get back into the workforce.” 

The second ribbon-cutting of the morning was for new digital x-ray equipment Stone Mountain Health Services secured for clinics in St. Charles and Vansant. Werth thanked Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine along with Reps. Morgan Griffith and Bobby Scott for securing the funding necessary for the x-ray machinery. 

Werth said the new technology will help clinics take “a step into the 21st century,” and will boost the care for the 2,500 patients in the region that the organization treats for black lung disease. 

Stone Mountain Health Services also announced “Coal Mine Safety and Black Lung Disease Awareness Week,” which will feature week-long events April 1-7 including free pneumonia immunizations, picnics for miners and their families and free health screenings. 

Werth said details on Coal Mine Safety and Black Lung Disease Awareness Week will become widely available. 

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