OBX Hospital Chief of Staff describes ‘crisis’ in health care staffing

By on June 10, 2022

Submitted by Gary J. Hunter, DO

As a provider whose career in healthcare spans more than four decades, the past 12 years of which have been right here on the Outer Banks, I see critical challenges facing my profession, my colleagues and our local community. Our nation currently faces a growing, broad-spectrum labor shortage, which has recently been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses, locally and nationally, are experiencing worker shortages and the entire Outer Banks feels the effects every day. The healthcare industry is certainly not immune.

I came across sobering statistics recently: close to one in five healthcare workers have quit their jobs over the past two years, according to Kaufman Hall’s 2022 Workforce Report. Combine this attrition with an ever-growing population and the strain on our healthcare system is at a crisis nationwide. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the U.S. will experience a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034.

What used to be a relatively straightforward process of hiring healthcare workers of all types has transformed into a very daunting, arduous and drawn-out task. Here on the Outer Banks, we face our own unique challenges when it comes to recruiting providers and nurses. Everyone who lives and works on the Outer Banks knows that we pay a premium in some fashion for the privilege of calling this beautiful place our home. In addition to the shortage of providers and healthcare workers, two other major obstacles to successful recruiting in our community are the lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living. When you couple the growing need with both the high cost of living and the serious lack of available housing on the Outer Banks, it underscores the difficulty of attracting and retaining both permanent and temporary physicians, nurses and technicians. These are complicated issues with no quick or easy solutions.

In North Carolina alone, there are close to 3,800 open primary care provider positions, according to PracticeLink, a physician recruitment service. That means locally we’re facing a perfect storm when primary care physicians retire, quit practicing medicine or leave the area.  There are very few available permanent, and perhaps for the first time in history, temporary providers to fill their voids. Our wonderful providers who remain cannot simply pick up their patients because they already have full practices of their own.

Make no mistake, this is a crisis—and not just in primary care but in hospital and specialty care too. Healthcare systems across the U.S. are all competing for providers. Our community, with its challenges, depends on a special person to choose to practice here. Of course, some do come here only to discover after a year or two that the Outer Banks lifestyle isn’t for them and then decide to leave.

Manteo has been my home for going on two decades and I know firsthand that our town is currently experiencing the effects of this crisis. Recently, the Outer Banks Family Medicine practice in Manteo had to inform some patients that, due to their permanent providers leaving the practice as well as temporary providers, they would have to seek care elsewhere. It was a heartbreaking, but necessary decision made by a leadership team that has the community’s best interests in mind. That includes not sacrificing quality just to increase the number of providers, even if we could hire them.

It is easy for one to suggest that lofty financial incentives be offered to entice new providers. However, given overall financial realities as well as the fact that healthcare delivery organizations are highly regulated and bound by laws that prohibit this practice, it is not a viable option.

I recently accepted the role of Chief of Staff at The Outer Banks Hospital. It is abundantly clear that even with these mounting challenges, everyone here continues to move forward with commitment and compassion to deliver the highest-quality healthcare to our community. Our administration works tirelessly in partnership with ECU Health (formerly Vidant Heath) and Chesapeake Regional Healthcare to recruit for all open positions and to develop new and innovative healthcare delivery options. In fact, we are in the process of placing new providers in the near future.

The Outer Banks Hospital has even taken the bold step of partnering with community organizations to plan and develop more housing opportunities in Manteo, Nags Head and Kitty Hawk. These partnerships are just one of many examples that demonstrate how the Outer Banks community and the hospital are working together for solutions to assure access to high-quality medical care.

The lack of primary and some specialty care providers on the Outer Banks is the result of several historic occurrences and will require a multi-pronged approach to solve. It will take time and patience, but the medical staff of The Outer Banks Hospital, urgent care centers and community family medicine and specialty practices are committed to you, our patients, friends and family, to provide the highest level of care possible.

For more information on this topic, visit the ECU Health website, https://www.ecuhealth.org/stateofhealthcare/

Dr. Gary Hunter is the Anesthesiologist and Chief of Staff at The Outer Banks Hospital.





  • Concerned

    Let me get this out. If a Physician in the Outer Banks can’t afford to live here you aren’t paying them enough, or they are financially irresponsible. We have thousands and thousands of homeowners who do not make Physician pay able to obtain housing.

    Friday, Jun 10 @ 7:39 pm
  • Claudia

    I and my partner would absolutely come work at The OBX Hospital if the pay were right, ie enough to afford to live there. Not having affordable housing is going to send the OBX the way of Asheville….catering to just the tourists ultimately means the employees you need will not be able to live there, so there will be no one to hire.
    How about a stipend for extremely experienced nurses who would gladly come to work, live, and contribute to the OBX?

    Friday, Jun 10 @ 7:52 pm
  • Elaine Robey

    Pay a decent wage!

    Friday, Jun 10 @ 9:08 pm
  • Nosey OBXer

    There is a shortage of year round housing . I have heard of 3 well established families with stable professional occupations kicked out of their year round rentals in the past three months because the owners want to make more $$$ off AirBnB. It would be interesting to see the data on this urgent issue.
    Everyone wants to be a LandLord.
    Can’t have a well maintained tourist industry unless the community has adequate services- health care police , EMS, teachers and other essential workers and housing for them to live locally.
    Just sayin…..

    Saturday, Jun 11 @ 9:38 pm
  • Capt hook

    Horse crap!! You dimwits fired people that worked here! Vident forced people out and fire people! Vident left over 1100 people without a doctor because an office manager said the new doctor was taking too long with patients, Vident came to Manteo and escorted the doctor out of the building! Meanwhile Vident execs are getting bonuses and not giving a crap about paying people here more so they can afford to live here! F Vident and all the crying about staffing at this hospital. Execs need to get off their asses and their bonuses!

    Sunday, Jun 12 @ 10:16 am
  • M

    Housing is an issue here for everyone at most any income level. If you did not own your home or are weren’t in a rental before Summer 2020, you are SOL. We may see an adjustment in the next few years, due to inflation/interest rates, etc., but, at this time, home prices are too inflated. I think Dare and Currituck need to step up and put some of the tax revenue into programs to pay off the tuition of doctors and nurses to come and work on the Outer Banks, many underserved communities do this and it works well. We could give up a civic center or something for tourist and spend our money on the community. The medical community could invest in homes to provide as rentals for incoming medical personal until they can find housing, maybe work with builders and suppliers to fix up homes that are less desireable. The Counties need to focus more on what they can do for the Community and less on how to bring more tourist in; we are full at this point!!!

    Monday, Jun 13 @ 7:55 am
  • manteo

    Capt hook is correct. Vidant was trying to force their doctors to see more patients and they refused. They have taken a medical practice that has been opened for 46 years and ruined it which is what happens when you sell to corporate. My letter suggested to see a medical practice in Moyock or Plymouth or Elizabeth City! Please don’t try to sell us that junk Vidant is peddling!

    Monday, Jun 13 @ 9:34 am
  • WindyBill

    Vident Doctors and nurses seem like fine caring people. All they need to get antsy is for one of the corporate types to casually mention ‘Hey, Doc, your production numbers are slipping, do you like working here?’. The looks I get when I have gone in there from the corporate business people give me the same warm feeling I get when confronted by a time-share or insurance salesman. For your housing needs, do what local businesses have done for a long time: Buy it, and take it out of execuive bonuses. If prices are too high now, that’s pretty poor executive planning, wouldn’t you think?

    Monday, Jun 13 @ 2:53 pm
  • Beach Bubba

    If Vidant leadership was more focused on quality care and treating healthcare workers with the dignity and respect they deserve, instead of fat end-of-year CEO bonuses and stockholder dividends, then perhaps the problem would sort itself out.

    Monday, Jun 13 @ 4:01 pm
  • Honest Abe

    The problem is multi-factorial. It largely boils down to two issues. Hospital administrators who have no interest in improving patient care is a huge part. They have all been in place for an extended period of time and are complacent. They desire for Outer Banks healthcare to seem perfect. The only way to do this is to assume no risk and send the sickest patients looking for care elsewhere. They actively search for providers who are willing to accept and perpetuate this status quo.

    There is also the issue of pay. The corporatization of healthcare has many flaws. Among them is the insistence on paying a flat rate across a very geographically diverse area for a position. For example, paying nurses in Ahoskie NC with an average household income of $36,000 the same as those here in Nags Head where the average is $78,000.

    Don’t believe this sob story and ploy for goodwill. Demand change from the board of directors and hospital administrators.

    Tuesday, Jun 14 @ 5:32 pm