By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on June 24, 2022
Spurred by the news that Outer Banks Family Medicine-Manteo would no longer serve about 2,400 patients due to a lack of medical providers, the Manteo Board of Commissioners met with a representative of the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation on June 24 to discuss ways to recruit and retain private medical practitioners.
Among the developments unveiled at the meeting was a potential partnership with an organization that brings health care professionals to medically underserved areas. It was also announced that ECU Health has hired one new physician for the Manteo facility. In addition, Dare County Commissioners Chair Bob Woodard suggested that a part of the old COA campus in Manteo could potentially be used as doctors’ offices.
“This has literally shook our community to its core,” Manteo Town Manager Melissa Dickerson said at the start of the meeting. She was referring to a May 23 letter from the Outer Banks Medical Group notifying the patients of the change, as well as directing them to out-of-town providers because the group’s other Outer Banks locations are not accepting new patients.
The Outer Banks Medical Group is part of the Outer Banks Hospital, a partnership between ECU Health (formerly Vidant) and Chesapeake Regional Healthcare.
“While getting answers and updates from ECU Health is important,” Dickerson continued, “We’ve also started having conversations about what we can do as a community and that led me to the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation Community Practitioner Program [CPP].”
The CPP, which partners with local communities and healthcare organizations, offers grants and education debt relief to healthcare professionals in return for service in underserved communities.
The Foundation’s Community Health Initiative Executive Director Franklin Walker attended the meeting virtually to talk with commissioners about the program and how it could work in Dare County. Walker noted that since its inception 33 years ago, CPP has placed 515 physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners in 242 practice locations in 89 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
“Right now, there’s not a better project that I can think about undertaking than trying to help you out with your current problem and bring some healthcare folks down there,” Walker said. “And there are a lot of interested parties in the state that would probably like to be part of that story because I think we could do it.”
Walker noted that local physician Dr. Christian Lige, who started Surf Pediatrics and Medicine in 2008, is an alumni of the Community Practitioner Program. He added that the community could form a subcommittee to work with the program in coming up with strategies to bring physicians to the Outer Banks.
Manteo commissioners earlier this month directed Town Manager Dickerson to write a letter to ECU Health requesting an update on their recruitment efforts. Dickerson, at the June 24 meeting, said that the Outer Banks Hospital Board of Directors met earlier that same morning and announced they’ve hired one new physician for the Manteo clinic.
“So that’s the latest and greatest update and of course, that is one doctor replacing three that were lost at the facility,” she said, noting that patients who received the May 23 letter would receive a second letter from the Outer Banks Medical Group regarding how to get on that physician’s waiting list.
For his part, Manteo Commissioner Tod Clissold thanked Walker for making his presentation. “We’re looking for somebody to join our community…that’s what we’re looking for and I think this group of people here, including the county commissioners, are willing to do what it takes to make that happen.”
Dare County Board of Commissioners Chair Bob Woodard, who was in attendance, echoed those sentiments. “Our board is trying to uncover every single stone that we possibly can,” noting they have scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, June 28 at 10:30 a.m. to address the healthcare situation on Roanoke Island.
Woodard said the Twiford property, the former site of the College of the Albemarle, could potentially be a site for a physician’s office. The county, he said, has a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the site with the Twiford family and COA.
“I know the [Twiford family] is very, very dedicated to the community and I’m not sure that we couldn’t potentially provide at least a position of that building for individual doctors who are interested in coming to Manteo,” Woodard said.
Dickerson told Walker at the conclusion of the meeting that Manteo officials would continue to have conversations and dialogue with the CPP. “I’ll keep you posted as things develop, but we certainly can’t thank you enough for being so available to us during this time where we are experiencing a medical provider crisis,” she said.
For his part, Walker offered that “Oftentimes, the recruitment and retention of a provider takes a while, so let’s not let the clock run out on us.”
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