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In rural Appalachia, can health care become the new coal?

Amna Nawaz:

Her future may be in medicine, but, for decades, her family and community were built around coal.

Pikeville, Kentucky, is a small city of 6,700 nestled deep in a river valley in the heart of rural Appalachia. As the coal industry declined, towns across the region struggled to survive. Since 2011, an estimated 13,000 coal jobs were lost here in Eastern Kentucky alone.

Some experts say to make up for the wages and revenue lost in that time, it would take 30,000 new jobs today. Pikeville is now trying to fill some of that gap by shifting to health care, and investing in its hospital system, serving 450,000 people across three states.

It also employs 3,100 people, nearly half of Pikeville’s population.

Donovan Blackburn is the hospital’s CEO.