Burr, Byrnes promote Community Health

Published 11:39 am Saturday, August 15, 2009

AHOSKIE – As angry words wage on both sides of healthcare reform, sitting in the middle is a peaceful island known as Community Health Centers.

On Tuesday night, a large crowd heard and witnessed the key role that Community Health Centers have in maintaining and delivering healthcare to rural America.

During the Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center’s (RCCHC) second annual observance of National Health Center Week, a pair of keynote speakers sang the praises of the local healthcare provider, one that covers Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Northampton counties.

“While America and the world watches the debate over healthcare reform, Community Health Centers all over our great nation, such as the one based here in Ahoskie, are saying look at what we’re doing,” U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) told the crowd gathered at the Ahoskie Inn. “Community Health Centers make healthcare work. They evaluate what works in their communities.”

The Senator continued, “Community healthcare is very much a solution as we look at healthcare reform. We cannot close those doors. You are on the front line; you lead the charge in delivering affordable healthcare. You are taking care of your patients and taking charge by delivering new technology.”

Burr noted the cost-saving message in President Obama’s version of healthcare reform.

“Community health centers are already doing that…what you do day in and day out saves money,” Burr said. “We are grateful to our Community Health Center workers for the jobs they do. This is a very special community in the Ahoskie area, one that recognizes the importance of your Community Health Center.”

Dr. Pamela Byrnes with the National Association of Community Health Centers also praised the work of the RCCHC and others like it throughout the nation.

“Community Health Centers across our country have met our medical needs for many, many years,” Dr. Byrnes said. “In some rural areas they are the only healthcare provider.”

In her eyes, Community Health Centers do more than just provide primary care.

“The dedicated staffs at these centers look for the nuances in each of their patients,” Dr. Byrnes said. “Each center sees hundreds of patients each day, and has time to listen to their concerns. These centers find ways to make it work…no wall is too thick, no wall is too high. And the best part is they get it done at a cost that, on average, is 41 percent less than other healthcare providers.”

Echoing Senator Burr’s thoughts on the key role Community Health Centers play in healthcare reform, Dr. Byrnes stressed that policymakers need to look no further than the success story of medical providers such as RCCHC.

“Look at what they are doing and doing right,” she said. “Look at their Migrant Farm Worker program; their ability to see and treat those living in poverty…look at their TeleHealth program which is changing the face of modern medicine. But if you don’t look at any of those things, then I implore you to look at the way they treat all people with the same respect…no matter if they’re black or white, rich or poor; can pay or not pay for the services rendered. That’s where you see the true face of Community Health Centers.”

One such patient spoke of how RCCHC changed her life.

Tamara Joyner, a 37-year-old homemaker in Murfreesboro who home schools her two sons, suffers from a variety of ailments. Repeated trips to doctors’ offices and numerous medical tests consumed much of her time…that is until she become involved in July of last year in the TeleHealth program.

“Now, I’ve taken charge of my illnesses instead of letting them take charge of me,” she said, referencing the TeleHealth home monitoring program. “All the different doctors and the information they provided was overwhelming to keep up with. TeleHealth was the answer. It monitors daily my blood pressure, blood sugar and weight.”

In her “State of Community Health” address given during Tuesday’s banquet, RCCHC CEO Kim Schwartz touted the gains recently made in providing healthcare locally. She noted that RCCHC is now ADA (American Diabetes Association) certified, complete with a Diabetes Educator and Nurse Case Manager; has expanded its TeleHealth program; added behavioral health screenings and health screenings for migrant farm workers; and now boasts of an HIV outreach program.

Schwartz also noted an increase in the number of patients seen annually by RCCHC staff, saying it now serves over 16,000. That fact has led RCCHC officials to seek funding to expand their facilities.

Thanks to federal stimulus money, there will be a new RCCHC Clinic built in Colerain while the Murfreesboro Clinic will expand in size.

However, the biggest news is that RCCHC is seeking over $10 million in combined federal and state funds to construct a 43,600 square-foot facility in Ahoskie to replace its current 7,000 square-foot office, one that often sees in excess of 150 patients per day.

“We have submitted the application for the new Ahoskie facility that will be built on donated land behind the ViQuest Center,” Schwartz stated. “It’s our goal there to bring primary care, dental care, pediatric care and behavioral health care all under one roof.”

Not only would the proposed facility bring new construction jobs to the area, it will maintain 124 sustainable healthcare jobs.

Also making remarks at Tuesday’s banquet were Ben Money, CEO of the North Carolina Community Health Center Association; the Rev. Daniel Glaze, a RCCHC Board member who is heading up the organization’s Capital Campaign; and RCCHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Colin Jones.

Special awards were given to Schwartz and to Joann Powell, RCHCC Clinical Coordinator/Medication Assistance Programs, recognized by RxStrategies CEO Fenton Markevich.

Also recognized was Dr. Stanleigh Jenkins in appreciation for his 40 years of service to patients in eastern North Carolina.