Rural Health

Students in the Medical Education Development (MED) Program (left to right) Jazmine Walker, Miguel Vasquez, Gloribel Vanegas, and Joshua Walker prepare to dissect a cadaver at UNC Chapel Hill on July 5, 2018.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC

Jazmine Walker unzips a blue body bag. A gaggle of students in scrubs and surgical masks surround her. Teams of five crowd around cadavers around the room, about to begin their first dissection of a human body. But these are not medical students − not yet anyway.

headshot of chancellor cummings
Courtesy of UNCP

Retired surgeon and former state Medicaid Director Robin Gary Cummings took office as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 2015. Cummings is a Pembroke native and member of the Lumbee Tribe. His tenure has been marked by efforts to expand economic and educational opportunities for residents of Robeson County, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

NCCU, BCBSNC, Nursing, Rural Health
Courtesy of NCCU

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is handing out millions of dollars this year as part of its community health initiative. North Carolina Central University in Durham is one of the recipients.

Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden.
Jason deBruyn / WUNC

With the New Year, Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden became UNC Health Care's 13th affiliated hospital.

As part of the agreement, it also changed its name to become UNC Rockingham Health Care.

Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden.
Jason deBruyn / WUNC

Community hospitals play an important role. Think, for example, of where your children were born. You probably have a good association with that hospital.

These hospitals, particularly in rural communities, are crucial not just for health, but for a community's whole ecosystem, according to Chris Ellington, UNC Health Care chief finance officer.

of Dr. Francis Aniekwensi visits with patient Calvin Elps. Aniekwensi is currently one of two part-time physicians in Warren County. He welcomes the news of a new doctor in town.
Christine Nguyen, The Daily Dispatch / For WUNC

Last week, the Warren County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to lease the empty building of the former Warren Community Health Clinic to a local physician planning to start a new practice.

Dr. Francis Aniekwensi is a partner at Beckford Medical Center. In Warren County, a primary care desert, Aniekwensi is working to improve health conditions for the more than 10,000 patients who frequent the three Beckford clinics.
Christine Nguyen, The Daily Dispatch / For WUNC

It’s early afternoon on a recent Tuesday and Dr. Francis Aniekwensi is preparing to see his twentieth patient of the day.

Mary Somerville co-founded the Warren Community Health Clinic and was its executive director until the clinic closed.
Leoneda Inge / WUNC

The former Warren Community Health Clinic in Warrenton sits empty and quiet, across the parking lot from the county health department. Until last year, the clinic served low-income patients who often were unable to pay for medical services and didn’t have Medicare or Medicaid.

Doctor checks on baby at hosptial
Slava / Flickr - Creative Commons - https://flic.kr/p/8mh8fz

Hospital executives announced last week that the state’s largest hospital system, Carolinas Healthcare, would combine with UNC Health. They called the nearly $14 billion move “a marriage, not a merger.” 

A picture of the Vidant Health clinic in Belhaven.
Courtesy of Vidant Health

Vidant Health has opened a 24-hour urgent care clinic in Belhaven. It offers minor emergency and pre-natal care, a full lab, X-rays and a general family practice.

Hospital room
PROFotos GOVBA / Flickr Creative Commons

Note: This is a rebroadcast  

Visiting the hospital in a rural area can be a challenge for Medicare patients because of scattered locations and a lack of healthcare professionals. But returning to the hospital for a follow-up visit is even more difficult, according to a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Physician Assistant, Duke Medicine, Rural Health
Leoneda Inge

This is the Affordable Care Act’s third open enrollment season and Obama Administration officials expect at least one million more people will enroll by the end of next year. 

The increase in the country’s insured population has resulted in major growth in one profession in particular – the physician assistant. This year, Duke University is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Physician Assistant Program, the oldest in the country.

A picture of downtown Belhaven.
Property Wizard / Wikipedia

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal says the eastern North Carolina town plans to use eminent domain to buy the local hospital Vidant Health closed last year.

Mayor Adam O'Neal says the new $5.5 million dollar clinic Vidant is building in the town isn't enough.

A picture of assorted pills.
e-Magine Art / Flickr

Some mental health patients in rural Nash and Vance Counties are getting help from local nurses and technicians to keep their medications straight at home.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has given more than $2 million to fund the program, administered by the North Carolina Hospital Association.

Julia Wacker manages the Mobile Medicine Program for the NCHA.

Image of stethoscope
Dr. Farouk / Flickr Creative Commons

People who live in rural North Carolina are still more likely to suffer from serious health problems than their urban counterparts. Rural counties show higher rates of heart disease and obesity, and rural residents have a lower life expectancy.

The recent closures of rural hospitals around the state makes those residents even more vulnerable. Research shows that systemic problems like slow economic development and spotty insurance coverage also contribute to rural health disparities.

Image of a nurse checking vitals.
Flickr/Londa Dudley

Campbell University plans to open a new School of Nursing in rural Harnett County in 2016. Graduates will earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Director Nancy Duffy says that's becoming the new standard for nursing jobs, especially with the population growing and Baby Boomers aging, dealing with more chronic illnesses.

“Really, healthcare needs an entirely different kind of nurse in the future. And I hope we're able to start changing that education to meet that healthcare need.”

Flickr user Josh Mazgelis

A bipartisan group of North Carolina lawmakers is proposing a measure to get more fruits and vegetables to urban and rural areas devoid of grocery stores or healthful food options.

The plan, filed in separate bills in the House and Senate on Tuesday, would set aside $1 million for produce refrigerators and training for store owners in areas known as food deserts. There are more than 340 food deserts across 80 counties in the state, advocacy groups say.

Image of a nurse checking vitals.
Flickr/Londa Dudley

Note: This is a rebroadcast of a show that aired May 5, 2014. 

A picture of Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal
StoryofAmerica.org

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neill says he's optimistic that the hospital in his town will reopen soon.

The non-profit Vidant Health closed the Pungo hospital there this summer, which served low-income and minority populations. 

Mayor O'Neill walked nearly 300 miles to Washington, D.C. to ask regulators to look into the closure.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to investigate whether Vidant's closing of the hospital has displayed unlawful discrimination based on race and national origin.

HealthServe is closing in Greensboro this week and 20,000 people will have to find a medical provider elsewhere.
Flickr.com

A state task force says rural communities need more strategic investments and partnerships to improve their residents' health. 

The North Carolina Institute of Medicine's Task Force on Rural Health released a report Monday about health disparities in rural counties. 

It says many of their childhood nutrition programs need more attention.  And local schools need more help to recruit health care professionals who will stay and work in rural North Carolina.

Nurse checking woman's blood pressure while family member watches
www.flickr.com / Dudley's Home Health

  

With days full of physical assessments, patient advocacy, connecting with patients' families, and communicating with physicians, a nurse’s work is never done. And when a hospital is understaffed or under-resourced, nurses take on more patients and extra shifts. 

Inside of an ambulance
adesigna / Flickr Creative Commons

EMS officials in an eastern North Carolina county will have to expand their services as another rural hospital shuts down. 

The Vidant Pungo Hospital in the town of Belhaven will be closed by next spring.  The facility is in Beaufort County, but it's the closest hospital for residents of neighboring Hyde County, which has about 6,000 people. 

Hyde County EMS director Justin Gibbs says the next closest facilities with emergency services are about 30 miles farther away.

"We're going to have to look at rewriting our system plan," Gibbs says.