by Kate Evans
Berkeley – Morgan County Health Department Nursing Director Angela Gray, BSN, RN received the Governor’s Living the Dream Award at the Monday, January 20 annual commemoration and celebration of the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Charleston. Gray grew up and lives in Morgan County.
The Martin Luther King State Holiday Commission asked the public to nominate candidates for the “Living the Dream Awards” for the celebration requesting nominees who best exemplified “through action or personal traits, the principles and ideals characterizing King in his pursuit of social change.”
The Governor’s Living the Dream Award candidate description was “a person who best exemplifies all of the characteristics of justice, scholarship, sharing of self, human and civil rights and advocacy of peace; with a recognizable sense of civic awareness and public service.
Morgan Messenger editor Kate Shunney nominated Gray for the Governor’s Living the Dream Award. Shunney said she felt that Gray embodied all of the personal qualities named in the award description.
Gray said she was humbled and honored to receive the Governor’s Living the Dream Award.
She recently talked with her daughter about taking a road trip to Alabama to visit the social justice museum and stand on the bridge where Martin Luther King Jr. stood with others. The next day, Gray learned she’d won the award.
Gray said she’s been working on funding for harm reduction and the opioid epidemic for a long time. People on the front lines in rural America have been begging for help for more than a decade. Winning the award has inspired her to work even harder.
Gray has been a nurse for 25 years and a public health nurse for 13 years. She has been nurse administrator for the Berkeley-Morgan County Board of Health since 2006. Her responsibilities include being a public health nurse, managing clinical staff, grants and operations, family planning, immunizations, tuberculosis program coordinator, disease surveillance and community educator.
Gray earned her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) license in 1994 and received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in nursing (BSN) in 2006 from Mountain State University. Gray taught Community Health clinical for Shepherd University’s BSN program from 2009-2011 and has been on the West Virginia TB Advisory Committee since 2011.
Gray served on the Morgan County Board of Health from 2012-2018 and was its chairperson from 2013-2018.
She is also a member of the Future of Nursing West Virginia Action Coalition Leadership Team, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Public Health Nurse Leader and a member of the West Virginia Public Health Association since 2007, serving in many Nurse Executive Committee leadership roles.
Gray serves in an advisory capacity as a board member of Life or Drugs, Tri-State Support which provides support for people who are recovering from substance use disorders, family support groups, education and prevention.
Her colleagues describe her as being devoted to the health and well-being of West Virginians.
Gray spearheads the Harm Reduction efforts for the Berkeley-Morgan Health Departments and has given harm reduction education presentations at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard and Yale Universities, the Johnson & Johnson Opioid Nurse Advisory Committee, the Bloomberg Philanthropies Opioid Partner meeting and other conferences.
Gray testified at the Congressional Oversight and Reform Committee hearing last June about the country’s opioid epidemic and the lack of resources to battle it in West Virginia.
Gray serves as lead on the Governor’s Pilot for Royals outreach team for opioid prevention and recovery in Berkeley County. She also worked on the Columbia University School of Public Health nurses’ opioid toolkit.
Gray is a partner in the Morgan County Partnership Rural Communities Opioid Response Program planning grant.
Gray plans to set up a harm reduction program at the Morgan County Health Department like the one she created at the Berkeley County Health Department.
It will offer clean syringes and injections supplies such as alcohol preps, bandaids, filters, tourniquets and sterile water along with vaccinations, HIV, STDs and hepatitis A, B and C testing, safe disposal for syringes and needles and offering Narcan. The goal is stopping communicable diseases such as hepatitis A, B, and C and HIV.
West Virginia has a high rate of autoimmune disorders and chronic conditions that come with pain, Gray said.
When opioid use was clamped down on in 2012, it cut off hundreds of thousands of people from their pain medication. There was nothing to wean them down and it sent people to the streets for heroin, she said. The following year was the highest year for overdoses.
“Leaders need to understand that the culture we’re changing is still hurting people,” Gray noted.
Gray said there are 150,000 self-reported injection substance abusers in West Virginia and more living in fear. Morgan County was 24th on a list of 200 counties in the United States that are at high risk for HIV and Hepatitis C, she noted. Berkeley County was at 204.
“Morgan County is waiting to explode if we don’t get resources to help with this epidemic,” Gray stressed.
Gray said the opioid epidemic is affecting all West Virginians, communities and “all of us- brothers, sisters and our children.” The most impact and change will come in communities from working on this together.