Manteo Healthcare Task Force hears about several issues facing the county

Published 9:57 am Sunday, June 4, 2023

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Manteo’s Healthcare Task Force is grappling with countywide health issues, such as the intersection of drug dependency with law enforcement, transportation access and ways forward.

At the most recent task force meeting, the committee heard from Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie and Dare’s transportation director Radcliff Hester.

Task Force Member Randy Finninger presented a list of recommendations to proceed with addressing mental health needs.

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Doughtie told the task force “we’re seeing a great increase in our drug problem and that’s everywhere, but I don’t say … that’s acceptable because it’s not acceptable.”

From Jan. 1 to May, the Sheriff’s Office has received 10,891 calls.

In about 25 percent of those calls, the sheriff’s deputies deal with issues directly related to mental health or dependence on some type of drug that is a narcotic or a drug that is not a prescription drug, Doughtie told the task force.

“It’s not getting better. It appears to be getting worse,” said Doughtie.

He flatly stated that “the jail is not a health care place … but you’ve got to figure out a how you’re going to do that.” He acknowledged that illegal drugs coming into the Detention Center were a problem.

The department offers telehealth in the Detention Center.

A health department grant expired, releasing six Dare County employees. Doughtie hired one of those employees to work with inmates at the Detention Center. He praised her work.

Sheila Davies, a task force member and director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, commented that she intends to apply for a local grant from the opioid settlement to continue the work.

In 2022, 16 inmates were placed on suicide watch, reported the sheriff. From January through April 2023, 11 have been placed on suicide watch.

Last year, sheriff’s deputies made 213 mental health or substance abuse transports. Some 86 percent were involuntary; 14 percent were voluntary. The number so far this year is 81, up slightly.

Access to providers is a problem.

Hester quickly laid out Dare County’s transportation program, funded by NCDOT grants and Dare County.

For a ride anywhere in Dare County and medical appointments outside the county, call the Transportation Department 48 hours in advance at 475-5640; for Medicaid recipients call 475-5500.

Office hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fares are $3 one way or $6 round trip inside Dare County; $7 one way or $14 round trip for medical appointment outside Dare County.

Books of 10 tickets are available at a 15% discount.

Hester said the system’s biggest need is for a driver on Hatteras Island.

Joseph Rockenstein, chief executive officer of Ocracoke Health and Engelhard Medical Centers, was present at this meeting. He reported that construction on the Manteo Medical Center is scheduled to end June 10. He expects a soft opening at the end of June and a grand opening later. Staff is hired, except for one medical assistant position.

Finninger suggested four recommendations for the task force to forward to the Manteo Board of Commissioners:

– Mental Health/Substance Abuse Manpower: Develop an agreement with the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation (Franklin Walker) to recruit and retain appropriate personnel. The society recently extended its loan payback program to social workers and psychologists.

Town manager Melissa Dickerson reported on a conversation with Walker who reported that a three-year pilot program with the foundation has been funded by Blue Cross-Blue Shield. It will continue the education loan payout, set up a preceptorship and look to diverse professionals. The details should be ready in 30 to 60 days.

– Mental Healthcare Facilities: Bring in an expert to analyze needs and facilities needed.

– Non-profit Organizations Coordination: Integrating what 30 non-profits are doing in the mental health and substance abuse arenas. In discussion, this recommendation was not pursued.

– Assess Community Healthcare Needs: Perform a professional assessment of mental health needs building on the Community Health Assessment.

Task force Chair Malcolm Fearing asked Finninger, Dare commissioner Ervin Bateman and Davies to merge the three remaining recommendations into two and return to the task force when it meets next, June 13 at 9 a.m. in the Manteo Town Hall.