Groups providing mobile health care clinic to northeast N.C. county considered a 'medical desert'

Medical objects
Posted at 12:55 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 18:27:22-04

GATES Co., N.C. - Imagine having to drive across county or state lines just to go see your doctor.

It's an issue News 3 investigators have been following, as lots of people in northeast North Carolina are dealing with it.

“It's 45 minutes to a hospital; it's 45 minutes to anything,” Emily Truman said.

Truman lives in Gates County, an area News 3 has been shining a light on when looking at what are called "medical deserts." These are counties with little or no options when it comes to primary care providers.

Recent data from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows it's one of two counties in the state with zero physicians of any kind. This includes primary care, OBGYN, pediatrics and urgent care medicine.

“It can be definitely a challenge,” Gates County resident Leslie Small told News 3.

News 3 first introduced you to Small in our previous News 3 Investigation on medical deserts n northeast North Carolina.

For Small, if she needs to see a doctor, she has to drive to Suffolk, Virginia.

“My drive to my primary care physician is 30-35 minutes, depending on road closures,” she said. “You kind of have to make arrangements for everything that you do.”

Now, medical providers are helping fill the health care hole in our area.

“Help is on the way,” Todd Posey, Clinical Director of Operations for Monarch told News 3.

Posey said Monarch and Trillium Health Resources have teamed up to provide a mobile health care clinic to try and curb healthcare shortages in places like Gates County.

“It's something that a lot of us can't relate to,” Posey said. “Unfortunately, there are pockets of the state that have little to no coverage or little to no access to service.”

According to Posey, the clinic will offer behavioral health services.

“The therapist and the nurse practitioner will be available by telehealth, but the nurse and peer support professional will actually be on the vehicle every day,” Posey said.

“People will be able to have psychiatric evaluations and comprehensive clinical assessments to determine if they have a mental health or substance use disorder,” Posey added. “With the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, they can get ongoing med management treatment. If they need a therapist, they can get ongoing therapy if they need it.”

Monarch's contract is for Gates, Northampton, Nash and Halifax Counties.

Posey said they're tentatively looking at two days a week in two counties for one week, and then two days a week in each of the other counties the next week.

“We're currently looking at doing four 10-hour days just so that we can maximize the time of seeing patients, rather than having all the drive time,” Posey said.

Along with physicians, the data from UNC in 2020 also shows Gates County has no psychologists.

“I would love to have a doctor - or even a therapist - that I can rely on,” Small said.

Small believes behavioral health services is a big win for her community.

“It makes you feel very validated - that my experience is real; other people see it; and it doesn't have to be like this,” she said.

“Their patients need relationships. Someone that they can count and rely on,” Small added. “A lot of people here are going to want to see that they're stable, that they're here to help for the long term.”

“In Gates County, people can walk up and request services, and if we can't provide it that day, then we'll get an appointment for them to come back and meet us and we'll provide the services for them,” Posey said.

Posey told News 3 Monarch and Trillium are still trying to figure out exact dates for when the mobile health care clinic will be in Gates County.

Stay tuned to News 3 for updates on when and where the clinic will be in Gates County.

Click here for more News 3 Investigations.