In Manteo, possible solution for primary care shortage discussed: ‘We’ll do whatever it takes’

Published 8:08 am Thursday, June 30, 2022

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After what was deemed by many as a disappointing meeting of The Outer Banks Hospital’s Board of Directors, Town of Manteo commissioners turned to a solution to the health care crisis for Roanoke Island and Dare County’s mainland.

Six town commissioners listened to a presentation by Franklin Walker, executive director of the Community Practitioner Program, sponsored by the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation at a special called meeting of the town’s commissioners on Friday, June 24, 2022.

Toward the end of questioning, Walker delivered a most positive assessment about bringing health professionals to the Roanoke Island area: “I think we can do it.”

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The foundation started in 1989 with the mission “to help attract and retain needed medical professionals in underserved communities throughout the state.” The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust gave the foundation its start with $4.5 million.

The foundation now has 10 major funders for its work, helping private providers to set up medical practices.

The Community Practitioner Program will pay half of outstanding professional school debt up to $70,000 over five years. Walker said the total debt relief will most likely increase to $100,000 soon. Medical school students finish with an average of $215,000 in debt, said Walker.

Additionally, the foundation helps doctors set up practices and continues support with seminars, analysis, consulting and scholarships to a physician leadership institute.

The foundation is familiar with Dare County and the Outer Banks. It supported Christian Lige, MD, who started Surf Pediatrics and Medicine under the Community Practitioner Program. The practice now has two locations and provides primary care to children from birth through 18 as well as adults. The primary care practice is not accepting new adult patients at this time, however both children and adults can received medical attention at Surf Pediatrics’ recently opened urgent care.

Manteo commissioner Tod Clissold said “we’re definitely in a tough spot.” He asked Walker if local governments pitched in.

Walker said he can help put together a package and a coalition. “We can help you do that.”

“We’ll do whatever it takes,” said Clissold. “We’re looking for someone to join our community.”

Walker suggested an assessment of needs as a place to start.

Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert L. Woodard echoed the same sentiment. “I can assure you we’ll do everything possible to resolve this issue.”

Woodard included helping financially and finding a location.

Woodard watched the hospital board’s meeting that took place just before the one in Manteo. He was disappointed that leadership from Vidant Health (now ECU Health) didn’t show up.

Woodard sent a “stern” two-page letter to Outer Banks Hospital’s Ronnie Sloan and Tess Judge and ECU Health’s CEO Michael Waldrum.

Woodard’s letter concludes “with all due respect, Dr. Waldrum, I am truly disappointed in the leadership of ECU Health. My hope is that you will reconsider and will make plans for yourself or a board member to attend the meeting on Tuesday along with Ronnie Sloan and Tess Judge.”

A special called meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners took place Tuesday, June 28, 2022 in the Commissioners Meeting Room, 954 Marshall C. Collins Dr. in Manteo. Look for coverage of that meeting in the next edition of The Coastland Times.