RCCHC salutes ‘Healthcare Heroes’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 20, 2008

AHOSKIE – There are many individuals that can be considered heroes, but have you ever thought of your local healthcare providers as such?

Last week, Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) held their inaugural National Heath Center Week Banquet, bringing together employees from their three offices in Ahoskie, Murfreesboro and Colerain as well as RCCHC’s present and former Board of Directors and local representatives.

The banquet’s theme was “America’s Health Centers: Home of America’s Healthcare Heroes.”

“Never in my life have I worked with such qualified providers,” said RCCHC Chief Executive Officer Kim Schwartz to the audience. “You all need to walk away with your heads held high knowing you have made a difference.”

Among the healthcare “heroes” honored were former as well as the present members of the health center’s 14-member Board of Directors.

Employees from RCCHC’s offices were honored as well.

Roanoke Chowan Hospital (RCH) President Sue Lassiter accepted a token in honor of the hospital’s work with RCCHC.

RCCHC first took its roots as the Helping Hands Clinic in 2001, after Dr. Brian Magrane rallied community support for providing primary health care to uninsured and underinsured citizens.

In the beginning, the Helping Hands Clinic operated once a week for two hours and saw only eight patients. The free, non-profit clinic was sustained by a board of directors and a $5,000 annual appropriation from Hertford-Gates Health Agency, RCH Medical Staff and RCH. The Hertford County Public Health Authority donated space and utilities and Roanoke Chowan Hospital donated lab and x-ray testings. Primary care physicians, as well as nurses and clerical volunteers, gave their time to staff the clinic.

As the clinic grew, those involved saw the need to expand services to other individuals outside of Hertford County. The board soon entered into discussion with RCH about seeking Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) “Look-Alike” status for the Helping Hands Clinc.

In 2004, the Helping Hands Clinic was reorganized into RCCHC and FQHC “Look-Alike” status was achieved. The center joined together four primary health sites formally operated by Roanoke-Chowan Hospital Services.

“Much recognition goes to Roanoke Chowan Hospital, East Carolina Health and University Health Systems. RCH donated the RCMP (Roanoke Chowan Medical Practices) to Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center,” said RCCHC Board member Linda Blackburn. “This was a major gift which included all the equipment, inventory and cash as well as the RCMP organization, which included all providers and employees. Without this major gift from University Health Systems there would be no RCCHC today.”

RCCHC personnel made presentations on community contribution highlights, including the center’s Telehealth, Migrant Seasonal Farmworker program, Diabetes, Cardiac Vascular Disease, Prescription Medication and Lab program and Integration of Behavioral Health.

The Migrant Seasonal Farmworker program, which provides primary healthcare on farm sites to migrant farmworkers, now covers 2,000 square miles in the area and not only services Bertie, Hertford, Gates and Northampton counties, but those in Chowan and Martin counites and sometimes those in Suffolk, Va.

The Prescription Medication and Lab program has also seen success, providing 608 patients with free perscriptions and saving them $600,000 annually.

Speakers took the time to express urgency for universal health care.

United States Congressman G.K. Butterfield noted the first congressional district in North Carolina is the poorest in the state and fifteenth poorest in the nation and that health care is needed in this area for the uninsured and underinsured.

“That is something that is lacking in northeast North Carolina,” said Butterfield. “More than 25 percent (of those in northeast North Carolina) do not have adequate access to health care and insurance.”

Butterfield said access to healthcare and insurance for all is something Congress has been struggling with and he hoped that after the next session of Congress he would be able to come back with better news.

The premiere of a video, “Healthcare for All North Carolina,” was presented to attendees as well. RCCHC is featured in the video.

State Representative Anne Mobley, who is a former RCCHC Board member, also spoke at the event.

Mobley congratulated RCCHC on being importantly vital to the community.