At Manteo Health Care Task Force meeting, provider shortages are a major topic

By on December 12, 2023

Dana Lisenby, left, speaking during public comment and Joe Rockenstein, CEO of the Ocracoke, Engelhard and Manteo Medical Centers. (Photos by Kip Tabb/OBV)

Meeting five months after the Manteo Community Health Center opened in July, Manteo Healthcare Task Force members heard concerns about a number of issues—largely related to provider shortages—at their Dec. 12 meeting.

Significantly, the new facility does not currently have a full-time doctor on staff after the Community Health Center announced in November that Dr. Jennifer Harrison would no longer be associated with it. In the press release about Harrison’s departure, no reason was given for her exit.

Harrison did have support from former patients who spoke during public comment at the Dec. 12 meeting.  Manteo resident Dana Lisenby told Task Force members that Harrison was “a primary care doctor who cares.”

“[She’s] going to spend time with you, not write your prescription and send you out the door…She made me address my mental health issues that no other physician that I’ve ever been to has done…It’s unfortunate that she’s not going to be present in other people’s lives,” Lisenby said.

Without Dr. Harrison, there is no full-time doctor at the clinic. Temporarily, a part-time physician is filling in but is only at the facility one day a week.

Task Force Vice Chair Betty Selby asked Joe Rockenstein, CEO of the Ocracoke, Engelhard and Manteo Medical Centers, how many doctors are currently at the clinic.

“We have one,” Rockenstein told her.

“Full or part time?” Selby asked.

“Part time. And two nurse practitioners,” he told her.

Asked by the Voice after the meeting about having a full-time doctor at the clinic, Rockenstein said an offer had been made to fill the position last week, but it was unknown whether it would be accepted.

Finding a full-time physician for the clinic was one of a number of issues addressed at the meeting. In his remarks about health care needs in in Dare County and specifically at the Manteo center, Rockenstein indicated a significantly larger facility was going to be necessary.

“In looking forward to the future, we’re looking at expanding to between four and six providers,” he said. “We’re going to need a space that’s probably going to be 6,000 square feet plus…that houses a total staff between 25 to 30 staff members. That will be specifically for Manteo.”

He added that to address the broader health care requirements in Dare County, there was also a need for smaller offices on the northern beaches and Hatteras Island. Rockenstein noted that there is a shortage of mental healthcare providers and currently, the Manteo center is able to make referrals to mental health providers who often provide only remote services—online and tele-counseling.

“We actually want to have boots on the ground for people that are here that can provide those services,” he said.

Task Force member Sheila Davies, Director of Health and Human Services for Dare County, pointed out that there are mental health resources available in the county, but people are unaware that the help was available.

“What we need is an assessment of where people are still falling through the cracks,” she said.

Davies acknowledged that one area where there was a critical shortage in the county is psychiatric mental health providers.

“One of the greatest gaps that I’m aware of is the lack of psychiatric care…the lack of psychiatric providers to work with the clinicians, whether they’re a private agency or whether they’re in private practice,” she explained.

Dr. Harrison, speaking during public hearing, specifically addressed the shortage of mental health providers, pointing out that drug and alcohol abuse are two areas in particular where psychiatric care was particularly critical.

“It’s a coping mechanism,” she said referring to addiction. “It’s some kind of self- treatment…that’s not being addressed. And that’s really important to get to that.”

Asked after the meeting by the Voice what her plans were, Harrison indicated she plans on staying in Dare County and hopes to open an office.

“I’m a member of this community,” she said.


  • Obx mermaid

    The manteo health clinic has been poorly designed and administered! What were they thinking? Is this the CEO ISSUE? No foresight? Or the task force failure? We are back to beginning!

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 7:16 am
  • Dr Rob Jr

    My perception is that Dare County and Local town governments are more focused on workforce housing than the issue of health care availability. Maybe it is because of the money being thrown at us from the state.

    In fact, I would argue that you need to fix the health care issue before building housing that would increase our full time population and creating a bigger drag on our health care services.

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 7:53 am
  • Josh

    All these tasks forces, but no progress. Dare County needs to get it together.

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 8:34 am
  • Wondering

    Now we can make a good guess about why Dr. Harrison is no longer there. Spending too much time with patients is bad for the bottom line. Not enough volume. When it comes between quality care and dollars, dollars win. Even in our “community” health center.

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 8:50 am
  • Travis

    I really don’t get the supply and demand on the doctor situation here. Friends have struggled to find a primary care physician because most of the local doctors are so busy they aren’t taking new clients. So it would seem there is a high demand for additional doctors. And yet, they do not come.

    Is it the cost of living here? The difficulty in setting up an office? Insurance? All of the above?

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 10:11 am
  • BB Wylie Walden

    My thanks to the Outer Banks Voice for covering this meeting that many of us didn’t know about until the day before thanks to word of mouth.

    I do urge people to listen to the meeting online. I’m going to attmept a link here to the portion of the meeting in which Mr. Rockenstein speaks to the task force in it you will hear his update, and his answer to Ms. Selby’s questions about how many doctors they have working there and nurse practitioners. You will also here him go on to talk about their much needed larger premises of 6,000 square feet to meet the needs of the community and the need to raise $1,000,000 from this community to build this structure and house the many providers and pharmacists! At this point the clinic can’t even retain a full time doctor and as far as I know at least one of the nurse practioners is part time and lives in Washington, NC. I was really suprised that the only member of the Healthcare Task Force to ask a question of Mr. Rockenstein after this (as far as I recall) was Ms. Selby. Perhaps they were just as dumbfounded as I was? Before people start raising money for a 6,000 square foot building, etc., I think the clinic would do well to have enough well qualified medical practioners including licensed medical doctors to see patients and return phone calls in their current office space.

    I look forward to hearing more on this important issue and again thank you for your continued coverage.

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 1:18 pm
  • Lisa

    When you hear the discussions on medical needs in OBX, you here we get “a doctor”. NP can be good, but there are times I want to see my doctor. You here also say you get on a list and sooner or later you get assigned to a doctor. I have a huge isssue with this-everyone here has a right to see the doctor of their choice-unless the caseload is full. I don’t want a doctor, I want a doctor I feel good about, one that is working with the patient for the patient’s best health. “Getting assigned” to a doctor and you don’t know who it is seems to be okay with some people. I do understand not wanting to drive to Chesapeake, Elizabeth City. But I want to my best to pick out the doctor who is good for me, not assigned to one.

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 7:03 pm
  • Frank

    @BB Wylie Walden makes a great point. Why raise money for new buildings, equipment, etc, when they don’t even have health care providers to staff the current “new” building that just opened?
    Probably a lot of money to be made in the purchase/construction of a new 6000 sq. ft. facility for the real estate sector, taxes, medical equipment supplies, building supplies, and contractors, which they seem to suggest the funds are available for. If the funds are there for that, the funds are there for staffing, first. If not, why not?

    Wednesday, Dec 13 @ 8:43 pm
  • Dan-O

    First issue to look at is: CEO hires known physician to be medical lead at center; fires her in short order & does not divulge a reason (even though this FQHC is funded by federal tax dollars, so we pay his way). Second issue: Why does the county with the 4th highest per capita income in NC need federal funding for a health care center?

    Thursday, Dec 14 @ 8:17 am
  • Pearl

    The real problem is they want doctors to see 2 patients every 15 minutes. That is not healthcare!
    They want no patient input or discussion of options. This is BIG BUSINESS to these so called healthcare companies. They do not want a doctor who cares they want fine tuned factories.
    Please Dr. Harrison let us know when you will be open a real doctors office. We appreciate you and will follow you.

    Thursday, Dec 14 @ 10:11 am
  • Bev

    @Travis, PCPs do not bring in the $. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are very low. That’s just facts. It’s unfortunate, but true. Look at all of the Specialists that Vidant/ECU Health brings to the area. Specialists means big $$.
    Rural Health has been in a Crisis for years. You can thank the CoN Laws that protect big monopolies such as Vidant/ECU Health. These laws keep the competition away so Vidant/ECU HEALTH can continue to thrive.
    Money protects money. Call you Legislators. They have to power to do away with the antiquated CON Laws. Good luck though, because hospital lobbyists have tons of funds.
    As long as we have CON Laws that protect the mighty monopolies…NOTHING WILL CHANGE!

    Thursday, Dec 14 @ 10:36 am
  • WindyBill

    It is past time to cast more light on the primary reason for the above Doctor problems. The absurdly high ‘malpractice insurance’ costs. Insurance blames the lawyers. Gee, what if at the coporation level, the two actually work together to drive up costs? Oh no, those nice people would never do that. Another need for very high Dr pay is their indentured servant level of student debt. The only near future answer is to make a lot of media noise and visit the same upon state and national politicians.

    Friday, Dec 15 @ 2:52 pm
  • Peggy

    Dr Harrison is the first doctor in all my 73 years that I really liked and respected. She is the first doctor to take the time to listen to what I was saying about my health. She worked wonders for me. Please Dr Harrison, let us know where you are and we will come to you!!! Margaret R

    Sunday, Dec 17 @ 2:20 pm
  • HS

    Would definitely like to know when and where Dr. Harrison opens up her practice. She is an ideal primary care physician; and I would like to remain her patient.

    Sunday, Dec 17 @ 2:39 pm
  • Travis

    @Bev: Thank you. That makes sense. I’d call my local reps if I thought it would make the slightest bit of difference, but I don’t have any faith that anyone in political office higher than the county listens to us peons.

    As usual it will be up to locals to take care of local problems. If the issue is money, then maybe we need to look at offering some kind of supplement for people in high-demand jobs to move to the area. One thing Dare County has going for it is that it is not a poor county. If you told a PCP, “Hey, we’ll kick in $100,000 a year on top of whatever you make at your clinic,” maybe it would incentivize a few to move here.

    Monday, Dec 18 @ 9:16 am