Rural health care discussed


Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A discussion on ways to to improve health care in rural and undeserved areas in Eastern North Carolina took place Monday at the Rocky Mount Mills.

The event was the second part of the Triangle Business Journal’s Rural Health Care series. Gov. Roy Cooper reportedly has been at the forefront in leading the charge to close the health care coverage gap by expanding access to Medicaid to cover more than 500,000 people living in the state.

The state Office of Rural Health explained that would bring more than $4 billion into the state’s economy, create thousands of health care jobs, help control private insurance premiums and help combat the opioid epidemic that has plagued communities.

“North Carolinians deserve access to affordable, high-quality health care no matter where they live in our state,” Cooper said. “I’m grateful for the work done by the Office of Rural Health, along with rural health care providers and other stakeholders, to help deliver needed care for our rural and underserved communities. We can help all North Carolina communities whether rural and urban even more by working to close the coverage gap and increase access to affordable health insurance.”

During the event, a group of panelists discussed the state of rural health care. The panelists consisted of John Smith, lead medical director for quality-based networks at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Catherine Truitt, chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina and Martha Chesnutt, chief medical officer and interim CEO at Boice-Willis Clinic.

Chesnutt said a major challenge that has improved at the clinic is its ability to bring in more physicians from outside the area. Boice-Willis Clinic currently has more than 70 providers.

“One of our biggest challenges is recruitment and it takes a special person to want to come to a small community and practice medicine,” she said. “We’re usually looking for someone with some tie to Eastern North Carolina and the challenge is getting a lot easier with the economic turnaround in Rocky Mount. We have great facilities like the (Rocky Mount) Mills and other areas being revitalized ... those attractions are helping recruit physicians to the area.”

Chesnutt added to make things more convenient for the public, Boice-Willis Clinic extended its hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday so people that need to take care of a medical issue with themselves, a child or loved one can do so without having to take time out of work or go to the emergency room. The clinic also has made other changes to better care for patients, she said.

“We have instituted a new service called chronic care management — with that we’re actually reaching out to patients on the telephone to help manage their chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, so they will have a direct connection to a care coordinator.”

Truitt said there is a correlation between health and education. 

“Part of changing the health care conversation is breaking the cycle of poverty,” Truit said. “We can’t give out mandates anymore. It has to be about early childhood education and community health care programs. Education is so important because it changes the trajectory of health of someone’s life.”

Smith said improving access to health care for rural communities is essential.

“We make a lot of assumption as providers,” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes to the degree when a person really needs to be seen they go to the emergency room and that becomes their primary care doctor, which in a lot of cases the care is a lot more expensive. One of the things we’re working on with primary health care physicians in this area and other rural areas is starting that conversation to see how we can assist.”