About Southwest Virginia AHEC (Area Health Education Center)

Mission Statement

SWAHEC’s mission is to enhance access to quality health care, particularly primary and preventive care, by growing and supporting Southwest Virginia’s healthcare workforce.


In 1970, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education issued a document titled Higher Education and the Nation’s Health that documented severe shortages in access to health care in the U.S., especially for the poor and for racial and ethnic minorities. The Carnegie Commission report suggested federal funds be appropriated to support the development of area health education centers in rural and inner-city areas. The Commission advocated decentralization of medical education, away from university settings in favor of community settings, as a strategy for addressing geographic as well as specialty maldistribution.

The first Virginia AHEC program, located at Eastern Virginia Medical School was established in 1979. In 1988, the Virginia Board of Health, the Statewide Health Coordinating Council, the Virginia Association of Health Systems Agencies, the Virginia Primary Care Association, the Virginia Association of Counties, the Virginia Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the University of Virginia Medical School, the Medical College of Virginia, the Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Secretariat of Health and Human Resources partnered to host a Primary Health Care Policy Forum. Forum participants hoped to identify programmatic solutions to the Commonwealth’s many health resource challenges. In 1989, the Virginia Department of Health put forth a proposal, A Plan to Make Primary Health Care Available, to the General Assembly that recommended funding for the development of a statewide AHEC program.

In the latter part of 1990, the Medical College of Virginia, the Health Sciences Center of the University of Virginia, and the Eastern Virginia Medical School jointly submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a statewide AHEC system in Virginia. The grant promised substantial involvement by the Virginia Primary Care Association and the Virginia Department of Health.

Today, the Virginia AHEC program is administered through a statewide office and community AHECs located throughout the Commonwealth. The eight community AHECs in Virginia are the Blue Ridge, Southside, Southwest Virginia, Capitol, South Central, Rappahannock, Northern Virginia and Eastern Virginia. Funding for the AHECs comes from the federal government and local/university match amounts.

Service Area

SWAHEC serves 21 counties and 7 cities most of which is within the mountainous territory in the Central Appalachians. The counties served are Alleghany, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise and Wythe. The cities served include Bristol, Covington, Galax, Norton, Radford, Roanoke and Salem.

Staff and Offices

SusaSusan at Chateau_ppn Alford, the Director of the Southwest Virginia AHEC, is especially interested in the recruitment of health professionals to the rural mountains of Virginia. Prior to joining SWAHEC, Ms. Alford worked as a social worker for the Tazewell County Department of Social Services and as the Director of Human Resources at Tazewell Community Hospital. Ms. Alford holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia Tech and a Master of Business Administration from Averett University. Offices are located at the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, 1060 Dragon Road, Oakwood, VA 24631 and 905 Ben Bolt Avenue, Tazewell, VA 24651. Ms. Alford may be reached by email at swahec@svchs.com or by telephone at 276-378-6823.


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