Hope and frustration mix at Dare Board meeting on doctor crisis

By on June 28, 2022

Left to right: Outer Banks Hospital President Ronnie Sloan, Dr Walter Holton and Amy Phillips speak at the special commissioners meeting.

In a packed meeting room on June 28, the Dare County Commissioners held a two-hour special meeting to address what has been characterized in recent weeks as a healthcare provider crisis in the community.

The meeting occurred roughly a month after more than 2,400 patients were notified by letter that they would no longer be able to receive medical care at Outer Banks Family Medicine-Manteo or any other provider with the Outer Banks Medical Group due to a provider shortage.

The June 28 meeting brought together local officials, affected patients and concerned community members as well as representatives of the Outer Banks Hospital and ECU Health, including President of ECU Health Community Hospitals Jay Briley. During the meeting, Briley expressed “a deep level of optimism about how we move forward together. We are confident in our ability to close this gap.”

During the course of numerous public comments that at times elicited applause, two basic sentiments emerged. One was hope and encouragement that the community could unite to solve the problem. The other was frustration and anger at how matters had gotten to this point.

Reiterating key developments regarding the local medical provider shortage, officials at the meeting explained that a full-time provider has been hired for the Manteo office and that patients cut off from care will receive a letter about how to get on the wait list in order to rejoin the practice.

Outer Banks Hospital President Ronnie Sloan also told those affected patients needing prescription refills that there were three options to try if they have not found another primary care provider – the VidantNow virtual platform, the Outer Banks Hospital’s Center for Healthy Living or one of the Outer Banks Medical Group’s urgent care centers.

And Dare County Commissioner Steve House told attendees that he has had discussions with Sentara Medical Group regarding expanded primary care services in the county. For his part, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said that the county has since reached out to the North Carolina Community Health Center Association as well as the North Carolina Academy for Family Physicians in an attempt to help bring more physicians to Dare County.

Among those members of the public who spoke at the meeting was longtime Manteo resident Malcolm Fearing, who declared that “We are in crisis. But we’ve been here before…Some of the best work that I’ve ever seen in our county is when you have different bureaucratic agencies come together to solve people’s problems, and they do it masterfully. That’s what we’re asking now is for people to come together and I’m optimistic that will occur because I know this community.”

Dr. Walter Holton, a longtime practitioner at the Manteo clinic who is now retired, said that recruiting new healthcare providers takes a united effort.

“People go to communities to practice medicine because they think their families will be happy there, that they will be supported by the community because it is a hard job,” Dr. Holton said. “I think it’s now time to pull together as a community and just find ways that we can make this a place for physicians who want to come, and little things will make a difference.”

During his comments, Manteo resident Joseph Hawkins described the impact the doctor shortage has had on his family.

“I can stand up here all day and talk about my 99-year-old mother who is in a wheelchair who doesn’t have access to her primary doctor and would have to drive possibly hours to get to a doctor we have not obtained yet,” he said. “The reason we don’t have doctors is Vidant’s fault, they created this situation. I’m so happy the [Manteo and Dare County] commissioner boards are working together and Vidant is very much getting involved in this. But let’s remember, they played a very big part in finding the situation we are in.”

During his closing remarks, Dare Commissioners Vice Chair Wally Overman also expressed some frustration in stressing the urgency of the situation.

“This is a medical service crisis in Dare County,” he stated. “It needs to be treated as such by Vidant and the Outer Banks Hospital. It is your responsibility to provide the primary care required for our community and it needs to be in crisis mode.” Overman added that the community views the crisis as “an all-hands-on-deck situation” and will exhaust every possibility to get more primary care here.

“Again, this is a crisis, and we all need to act like it,” he concluded. “The corporate model makes one think a pencil pusher in Greenville is running things, and not the doctors.”

Correction: This article originally stated that a temporary provider had been hired for the Manteo office. We have been informed this is a full-time position.

SEE ALSO: Outer Banks Hospital President Sloan addresses doctor shortage  

Manteo Commissioners discuss ways to ease health provider shortage

‘When I read that letter…I was in shock’





  • BB Wylie Walden

    Today’s meeeting (which I watched via the County’s livestream on their YouTube channel, gave me hope that both Manteo and the Dare County Commissioners, along with individual community members of Roanoke Island – both patients and doctors – are going to work together to proactively deal with this very real health care crisis. But somehow I completely missed that Vidant/ECU Healthcare’s new doctor for Manteo Family Practice is to be temporary?!!!

    I’m really interested in Malcolm Fearing’s comments about the “already here” doctors who are ready willing and able to set up a practice that is on their own.

    Thank you to each person who participated and to this newspaper for continued coverage.

    Tuesday, Jun 28 @ 8:58 pm
  • Gary

    So why can’t we recruit doctors to the outerbanks? Lack of doctors? Inadequate pay? Maybe an overly demanding or stressful work environment? More than likely it’s lack of affordable housing which is a problem for every industry on the outerbanks. However Vident has the means and the resources to subsidize housing for the doctors they’re trying to recruit… so that shouldn’t be an excuse. I’m pretty confident no matter how much people love it here they won’t continue to live in a place with inadequate health care and Vident needs to rethink how they go about recruiting.

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 12:00 am
  • Converned

    How about you just pay the doctors what they are worth. I would love to see some comparisons of what an average doctor in Chesapeake or Raleigh makes compared to what Vidant is offering. BOC how about asking for this data.

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 7:29 am
  • Bobby

    This really needs to be a joint county effort. There is one primary care doctor in Currituck County. Many of the residents used the doctors in Dare county. I wrote the Currituck County Commissioners a message urging them to get involved with this dangerous situation. It has gone unanswered. They are too busy approving more and more housing projects in a county with no medical services. Everyone needs to be contacting their Representative or nothing will be done about this.

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 7:34 am
  • Sally

    Thanks for covering this crisis. While the impact is county-wide, the real life impact is more heavily shouldered by the more vulnerable in our community – the elderly, the poor, workers without sick leave, parents with no childcare, etc.
    I was encouraged that the county is ready to help craft solutions quickly and would encourage the community to think about how to prevent a similar situation in the future by adopting a multi-prong approach where Vidant restaffs its facility in Manteo and where independent physicians find a community eager to welcome and support them. I think we’ve learned that it’s foolish to rely on one corporate healthcare structure.

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 8:09 am
  • Travis

    Maybe it was mentioned at the meeting, but to put the 2,400 number in perspective, it would be as if every single resident of Duck, Manteo and half of Kitty Hawk had lost health coverage.

    With as many people that are trying to move here over the last couple of years, it still boggles my mind that a few of them are not doctors. Seems we should be able to field our own medical team. We’ve certainly got plenty of attorneys. Maybe that’s what keeps the doctors away. Too many attorneys makes them nervous about medical malpractice suits.

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 9:21 am
  • Joan mcminn

    We need sentara back here, vidant is more anxious about running health care as a profitable business rather than helping out with health care needs. Yes they have a big cancer area, but that is only one area of healthcare. To see an orthopedic you have to wait 2 months, no more eye doctors around

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 10:11 am
  • Billnc

    Lack of affordable housing? For a Doctor?

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 10:16 am
  • Thomas

    I recently had a consultation with a medical professional here who I will not identify. He said, regarding the medical crisis on the Outer Banks, that “Vidant has not served us well.” And I agree with the statement above that we need to get Sentara back here. I’ve been living here since the late 90’s and have never seen the situation as critical as it is right now. I don’t ever recall hearing these kind of complaints about Sentara.

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 2:25 pm
  • surf123

    Agree @Billnc…the idea that affordable housing is an issue for a doctor is laughable. If someone is looking for an excuse they are going to have to try harder. For those wanting outstanding, or even adequate healthcare, this is not the place for you. Live with it or move as the population will never support a great hospital system when compared to anything like that of a medium-sized city. I have never expected any level of care or medical staffing when I have used the local hospital. That said I have been nothing but satisfied with the care I have been given.

    Wednesday, Jun 29 @ 9:08 pm
  • M.

    Housing is an issue for doctors, too, not all of them are plastic surgeons and get paid the big money! The Community, County and Hospital system needs to do more, for sure. Dare and Currituck continue to push tourism and do nothing to improve the infrastructure of the Community, this has got to stop! The Powers that be have ruined this Island for their own gain and now, here we are! We need a reset and the County and business leaders need to take a step back and look at what they have done. They have created an UNSAFE situation for the residents and vacationers. Not only did Manteo loose a primary doctor, but we lost an OB practice and eye doctor this Spring/Summer, now what??? Spend some of that tourism money on Community needs and have Currituck step up for a change!

    Thursday, Jun 30 @ 8:05 am
  • Billnc

    Again, the main point that is being missed is that there aren’t Doctors that want to come here, for whatever reasons. Probably a lack of intellectual pursuits, dining options, amenities whatever. Short of vidant bringing doctors here at gunpoint, what exactly is everyone expecting them to do? Sure, they could offer monetary bonuses or other incentives, but that only goes so far, especially when the shortage extends (to perhaps a lesser degree) outside of the county.

    Thursday, Jun 30 @ 1:44 pm
  • BB Wylie Walden

    I urge everyone who hasn’t listed to the complete video from the special meeting referred to in this article, available here: https://youtu.be/6T8haG3uEKI to do so before jumping to conclusions. Listen to Malcolm Fearings comments – there already are doctors here who want to be able to set up their own practice/s.

    This meeting on June 28th was extremely interesting on a variety of levels – but you have to listen to the whole meeting.

    Friday, Jul 1 @ 10:56 am