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Zuckerberg visits Cabin Creek Health Systems



Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg toured Cabin Creek Health Center in Dawes and participated in a roundtable discussion on rural health at the rural healthcare provider on Sunday.

The two-hour visit Sunday afternoon was part of his effort to visit every state by the end of 2017, said Amber Crist, director of operations for Cabin Creek Health Systems.

Cabin Creek Health Systems, Valley Health Systems, West Virginia Primary Care Association and the New River Health Association participated in the roundtable discussion. Zuckerberg also brought a “team” of people, which included communications staff, according to Crist.

“I think he just had an interest in learning more,” she said. “He was a great listener. He had really great questions. I think it’s something that he wasn’t that familiar with and wanted to educate himself.”

Participants discussed rural health, including “provider shortages, the opioid epidemic, difficulty with transportation, mental health, and complex chronic conditions,” Crist said by phone Monday evening. They also discussed the work of communities across the state to organize locally-controlled community health centers, using community health centers to expand the availability of outpatient medication assisted treatment, community health centers’ work with diabetic patients, the threat of Affordable Care Act repeal to community health centers, hepatitis C, limited Internet access and lack of economic diversification, Crist said.

“We were asked not to invite the media,” she said. “I think he wants to keep it private and informal and not create a lot of hubbub.”

Facebook, which is used by about one-third of the world’s population each month, has been heavily criticized for the role it played in spreading misinformation during the 2016 campaign. Last week, the company announced it would turn over 3,000 Russian-bought ads “addressing social and political issues that ran in the US between 2015 and 2017 and that appear to come from accounts associated with a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency” to Congressional committees investigating Russian influence in the 2016 election. A January U.S. intelligence report stated that group is likely financed by a “close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence.”

Zuckerberg worked with CareSource, a nonprofit health plan headquartered in Dayton, during his Ohio visit, Crist said. CareSource contacted the West Virginia Primary Care Association to help him find a West Virginia rural healthcare provider to visit. He was looking for providers near airports, she said.

“It happened in about two weeks time,” she said.

Roundtable participants offered Zuckerberg a “West Virginia welcome basket” that included crafts, pottery, wood carvings, jewelry and other items. Crist said they were “just excited that he had the desire to learn and to listen” and “that he wanted to take time to discover a little bit more about West Virginia and rural health.”

Crist said she wasn’t aware of any other stops, other than Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston’s East End.

Bluegrass owner Keeley Steele confirmed that Zuckerberg ate brunch at the restaurant Sunday. He ate uninterrupted, she said.

Restaurant staff did not know it was Zuckerberg until he arrived. Steele said someone had called and made a reservation.

“We thought nothing of it; people do that stuff all the time,” she said.

Part of the group sat at a table in the bar area of the restaurant while Zuckerberg and others sat at a table in the dining area, Steele said.

She said the group paid with two separate checks and that someone at Zuckerberg’s table left a tip of more than 50 percent. Both tips were generous, she said.

A post on the billionaire’s account late Sunday confirmed that he had been in West Virginia and Kentucky over the weekend as a part of his “Year of Travel challenge” — his effort to have visited and met people from every state in the country by the end of 2017.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Zuckerberg and members of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan founded in 2015, traveled to Hazard, Kentucky, Sunday and met with students and teachers from five Kentucky counties about technology initiatives.

An assistant to Mayor Danny Jones said no one from the city met with Zuckerberg while he was here or knew that he was coming. An email to Facebook’s media representatives Sunday afternoon went unanswered.

Reach Erin Beck at [email protected], 304-348-5163,, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

Reach Lori Kersey at [email protected], 304-348-1240 or follow @LoriKerseyWVon Twitter.

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