Guest Opinion: Moving health care forward for the state and rural communities in 2020

Published 1:05 pm Saturday, January 18, 2020

By Mike Waldrum, MD, MSc, MBA

As we start a New Year in North Carolina, it is important to concentrate on the health of our communities. It is time for those having the power to influence health care in the state to work together. We must collaborate and develop thoughtful solutions designed to improve access to high quality care. This is important everywhere in our state, especially in our rural communities.

Delivering health care in the rural parts of North Carolina is a challenge for many reasons: a high burden of disease, an underserved population and a growing number of patients relying on Medicare and Medicaid. Despite these challenges, Vidant Health is delivering quality care in the East, but we need the right policies to ensure those in our communities are supported and have access to the professionals they rely on for care.

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In 2019, the state watched as labor and delivery services closed in neighboring rural communities. This is tragic. No mother should have to worry about how she is going to get care or where she will deliver her baby. We see hospitals in rural parts of the country continuing to close their doors and North Carolina is not immune. This continues to be a crisis and we must do better.

For eastern North Carolina, expanding Medicaid, designing a reasonable solution to resolve State Health Plan liabilities and funding a new Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University must be a priority for the state.

Expanding Medicaid will improve access to care, something we desperately need not only in the East, but also throughout the state. North Carolinians are subsidizing care in 37 other states that have expanded Medicaid while too many North Carolinians struggle.

A willingness by the Treasurer and State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) to work together with care providers across our state is vital to finding the right solutions for the State Health Plan. This collaboration will not only resolve liabilities, but also protect, not hurt, access to quality care for millions. We must invest in solutions such as value-based care to keep people from getting sick and to keep them out of hospitals, ultimately reducing costs.

Prioritizing the funding for the Brody School of Medicine will ensure we have future generations of providers trained to meet the challenges of providing care in rural communities. The state needs more (not fewer) providers committed to meeting our health care needs and no one does it better than Brody.

It is time to look deep inside of ourselves and put aside partisanship, personal petty attacks and uncompromising attitudes in order to do what is right for all North Carolinians. At the end of the day, it is about how we treat each other and our desire to come together to do what is right for those we all serve. In 2020, we must commit to greater collaboration with a focus on creating a health care system for the state we can all be proud to say we built together.

Mike Waldrum, MD, MSc, MBA is chief executive officer for Vidant Health.