Conversation on medical shortage continues

Published 8:17 am Saturday, July 2, 2022

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On Tuesday, June 28, 2022, a concerned group of citizens gathered in the Dare County Commissioners Meeting Room in Manteo.

Joining the group were six Dare County commissioners, the mayor, vice mayor and two commissioners from the Town of Manteo, two speakers and other staff from The Outer Banks Hospital, one administrator from ECU Health (previously Vidant), Tim Shearin, chairman of Dare Health and Human Services Board, and two board members, former Dare county manager Terry Wheeler and Bill Massey.

Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert L. Woodard presided over the special called meeting. The meeting opened with information presented by Woodard, moved to comments from stakeholders and the public and then comments from Dare commissioners.

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“Our phones started ringing.” Text messages and emails were read by the commissioners. Some 2,418 patients of the Outer Banks Family Medicine – Manteo had received a letter dated May 23, 2022, stating that primary provider care was no longer available at the Manteo office.

Randy Fenninger, of Manteo, received one of those letters. During public comment he quipped that he had “never been fired from a medical practice.”

Woodard started a conversation with Ronnie Sloan, president of The Outer Banks Hospital. Woodard said Sloan was available and was constantly in contact as was Tess Judge, now chairwoman of the hospital’s Board of Directors, which has “the responsibility and authority for the management of the hospital and its subsidiaries.” The board is comprised of 10 members.

Woodard asked Sloan that someone from Greenville, the home of ECU Health, come to Dare County. Sloan asked for courtesy.

On June 22, Woodard received a letter from Sloan, stating that a presentation about the Manteo practice would be addressed at the Friday, June 24 board meeting of the hospital’s directors. Woodard was told that no one from Greenville would come to Dare County.

On June 23, Woodard sent a letter to Michael Waldrum, chief executive officer of ECU Health. The date was the very day that 2,418 patients lost access to health care at the Manteo facility.

Woodard’s two-page letter concluded with “I am truly disappointed in the leadership of ECU Health.” He extended another invitation to the June 28, 2022 special meeting. At the special meeting, Woodard acknowledged the attendance of Jay Briley, president of ECU Health Community Hospitals. He thanked Briley for his response letter.

At that special meeting, Woodard showed Sloan’s almost 19-minute presentation to the hospital’s board.

Woodard concluded the opening remarks with “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

He said “we all need to step back. Get rid of the anger. Get rid of the angst. Work together … We need to be proactive and positive.”

Woodard called on stakeholders.

Manteo Mayor Bobby Owens said “we need to put our hard feelings aside” He charged “this is about corporate structure.”

Tess Judge said “we are all concerned.” She said people were working very, very hard at recruiting.

Sloan said the hospital’s action were “unavoidable.” He listed the accomplishments of the hospital.

Briley said he was deeply concerned and was confident in the organization’s ability to close the gap. He thanked Woodard for the collaboration.

During public comment, a dozen people rose to speak.

Joseph Hawkins lives with his 99-year old mother. He said three people live in the same home, all over 75 years old. He felt humiliated. He asked why did two doctors leave? Why was Dr. Harrison “escorted out?” He charged “they [Vidant] created this situation.” The audience applauded.

Another said “the bottom line” is that “the county is in a health care crisis.”

Sara Farrow, the spouse of Dr. Johnny Farrow, approached the podium. She said her husband had planned to retire more than a year ago. He was working seven days a week. “He was ready to slow down,” which was the only reason he left the practice.

He did accept an opportunity to practice three days a week at another practice in the area.

“His roots are deep here.” About Vidant she said, “they were nothing but good to him.”

To the assemblage, she said “keep plowing ahead. Keep lifting each other up.”

Suggestions emerged from public comments

Fenninger proposed a commission of citizens who were and are affected by the ECU Health May 23 letter. He commented that “interest is apparent” by the size of the audience at the 10:30 a.m. meeting.

Healthy Carolinians of the Outer Banks once tackled Access to Health Care.

Healthy Carolinians is a partnership “coordinated by the Dare County Department of Health & Human Services and The Outer Banks Hospital.” The partnership has input and representation from over 25 local organizations and agencies, according to its website.

Incentives to come to Roanoke Island to practice family medicine were suggested.

Mitchell Bateman suggested local government supplementing salaries, similar to what Dare County does for teachers in Dare County Schools.

Another person suggested paying down student loans.

The Manteo Board of Commissioners heard from an organization that uses this incentive.

A program, sponsored by the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation, is called Community Practitioner Program. Over five years the program pays $70,000 toward a physician’s debt reduction. The program stresses establishing doctors in private practice in small or rural areas.

Malcolm Fearing said “we want to open practices.” He challenged The Outer Banks Hospital to live up to its statement about helping private providers set up practice.

Dr. Walter Holton, who practiced in Manteo for 44 years, said “recruiting does take a community … we can find ways that physicians want to come.” He too was applauded.

Dare commissioners respond

Danny Couch said “I want to work with ECU Health. They saved my life.”

Ervin Bateman said “this is bad … It was not handled right.” We can be a leader in health care.

Board Vice Chairman Wally Overman said “this is a medical crisis.” He charged that the “pencil pushers” in Greenville are running things, not the doctors.

Steve House said he reached out to Sentara. He reported their call center exploded with calls.

Rob Ross said the situation was predictable. He told ECU Health to address underlying issues.

Fearing stated in his public comment, “people don’t know where to go, where to turn.”

Videos of meetings are online on YouTube channels: Dare County Special Meeting of June 28, 2022, Dare County channel; The Outer Banks Hospital Board of Directors meeting June 24, 2022, hospital’s channel; Town of Manteo meeting, June 24, 2022, on the town’s channel.

ECU Health responds to question

One of the central questions asked by patients no longer served by Outer Banks Family Medicine – Manteo is how they will be treated once providers return. Will those 2,418 patients be first to receive resumed care?

The Coastland Times reporters covering this issue have asked that and other questions.

On Friday afternoon, at 1 p.m., Brian Wudkwych, manager, public relations and reputation management, ECU Health Marketing and Communications, responded with this email:

“I am responding to your request for information regarding the Manteo clinic on behalf of Ronnie Sloan. I appreciate you reaching out to seek clarity on the latest regarding the clinic; I’ve included some helpful information below. If you need anything on this topic in the future, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly – I am always happy to help in any way I can.

“Please know, we continue to communicate directly with impacted community members to ensure they have the support they need. We are currently establishing a waitlist process to ensure those impacted will receive priority access to reestablish care as spots become available. Importantly, we will communicate directly to those impacted community members with that information. We remain committed to restoring access for those affected following the departure of the providers and the required closing of the patient panels. We are optimistic we will be able to expand access to care in the coming months.”

Prescription renewal for Manteo patients

On Tuesday, June 28, 2022, Ronnie Sloan, president of The Outer Banks Hospital, listed three ways for renewing prescriptions for patients receiving the May 23, 2022 letter:

VidantNow: online. Set up an account. Plug in medical history. Request a visit. The cost of a visit is $0, says the VidantNow website. The visit is by phone or video. MDLive provides the service.

The Outer Banks Hospital Center for Healthy Living, Wellness Center, 4810 S Croatan Hwy Suite 270, Nags Head. Telephone: 252-449-5978. Only for Nags Head and Dare County employees who were patients in Manteo. Hours are 7:30 to 11 a.m. for Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and Tuesday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Urgent Care: The Outer Banks Hospital has two urgent care facilities:

Nags Head: 5002 S Croatan Hwy., Suite A, phone: 252-449-6115

Kitty Hawk: 5112 N Croatan Hwy., Kitty Hawk, phone 252-449-7474

Hours at both locations 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

The Outer Banks Hospital Urgent Care Centers are operated by Outer Banks Professional Services, LLC, an affiliate of The Outer Banks Hospital, report websites.

At both locations: Manteo patients walk in. Bring prescription or prescription container.

Telephone number to call: The May 23, 2022 letter included a “dedicated” phone number to call for assistance with medication refills. That number is 252-449-6150. It is answered Outer Banks Family Medicine-Manteo. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Twice, a reporter for The Coastland Times called the number which was automatically answered. The reporter punched the appropriate button for prescription refills. The first time, June 30 in the afternoon, the reporter left a message identifying as a reporter for the newspaper. As of 2 p.m., Friday, July 1, 2022, no response to the message has been received.