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Navigating Isolation At The Remote Ocracoke Health Center

The sign of the Ocracoke Health Center.
Erin O'Neal
Ocracoke Health Center serves one of the most isolated communities in North Carolina.

Ocracoke Health Center CEO Cheryl Ballance estimates that anywhere from 8,000-10,000 people visit Ocracoke Island on any given summer weekend. Many visitors catch a ferry back to Cape Hatteras after less than a day, but hundreds of vacation rentals and hotel rooms are consistently filled from late spring to early fall. During those months, the staff of the tiny clinic are stretched to their limits.

The surge produces an unusual degree of egalitarianism at the clinic: a physician will administer shots, a nurse will sweep the floor, and anyone will fix a broken toilet. In the offseason, however, Ocracoke falls quiet. Once the tourists leave, the less than 1,000 year-round residents have few options to earn an income, and some choose to eschew the hours-long trip to the nearest hospital to address more serious medical concerns. Despite the drop in patients, the clinic must keep itself running year-round. And according to Ballance, it barely scrapes by.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with Ballance about the unique hurdles faced by her team at the Ocracoke Health Center. Ballance is joined by Rose Hoban, the founder and editor of North Carolina Health News, who originally reported the story of the Ocracoke Health Center in conjunction with the Ocracoke Observer.

Paul Kiefer is a born-and-bred Seattleite and a lifelong talking-to-strangers enthusiast. He began his work in public radio with KUOW's RadioActive Youth Media program and never looked back; he has since worked as a headline producer, fact-checker, and independent producer, and he dreams of a career as a producer for public radio. Paul is a rising senior at Pomona College, where he is working on a degree in history with a specialization in the history of Muslims in the Americas and Europe. If all else fails, he will fall back on his abilities as a cook, barber, and chatterbox (in English, Spanish, and Arabic) to keep himself busy.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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