Golden Leaf Foundation “Eastern North Carolina Telehealth Network”

The goal of this project is to leverage our extensive experience in telemedicine and successful sustained operations to establish four new telemedicine sites in medically-underserved rural communities in Eastern North Carolina. This project has five primary objectives:

  1. Improve health in these communities by increasing access to  specialty care and improving continuity of care
  2. Improve the business climate in these communities by improving the availability and efficiency of specialty services
  3. Improve the retention and recruitment of health professionals in these communities by reducing professional isolation via telemedicine
  4. Ensure sustainability of telemedicine, by incorporating the ECU Telemedicine Center’s best practices
  5. Measure the outcomes of the project, to quantify telemedicine’s impact on health and the community, and make the business case for further diffusion of telemedicine

This project is supported via a $350,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation. Grant funds were used to procure a standard equipment set for each of the sites that is similar or identical to those installed at our existing telemedicine sites, and this includes videoconferencing equipment (codecs, cameras, cart, and monitor) and telemedicine peripherals (otoscope, dermatoscope, electronic stethoscope, and general examination camera). The grant also provides high-speed telecommunications and approximately 25% of a nurses salary at each of the four involved partner sites for two years. Our partner sites in this project are:

HealthEast Family Care is a physician practice located on The Outer Banks of North Carolina in the village of Avon.  This office provides comprehensive family care and emergency services to residents and visitors of Dare County, which is geographically isolated and often disconnected from the mainland due to weather and road conditions. This region has experienced tremendous growth in the past ten years, due primarily to an influx of retirees as well as expansion of local service industries associated with the increased population and level of tourism. The physician providers of this practice location also rotate their services through the smaller medical office located in Hatteras village. Both offices will see an increase in patient care services during the tourism season by as much as 70%. Office hours are extended to include Saturday services during the season as well. 

Pungo District Hospital, established in 1947, is a private, non-profit forty-nine-bed acute care community hospital located on the Belhaven waterfront. PDH's mission is to continuously improve the health of the people of our region by providing quality patient care. PDH provides medical care to patients in eastern Beaufort and Hyde counties, with an approximate patient population base of 25,000 and a service area of approximately 1,260 square miles. Services offered at this facility include acute care, transitional care, intensive care, ventilator care services, surgical/endoscopy services and a 24-hour emergency care center. In addition, Pungo District Hospital offers a wide range of outpatient clinics and programs which include mental health services, nutritional counseling, and patient education. The hospital currently employs approximately 130 people full-time and is the largest single employer in Belhaven.

Goshen Medical Center in Faison, NC opened its doors in 1981 as a non-profit organization to provide high-quality affordable and accessible health care to people in Duplin and adjoining counties. This community health center operates through ten clinics within Duplin, Sampson and Wayne Counties. Each of these rural counties, with a combined population of 50,000, are medically underserved and designated as HPSA areas. Profits from serving insured patients are not distributed to owners or private doctors but are used to create and provide services for people who otherwise may not be served. In 2004, GMC treated 21,263 individual patients (82,174 medical encounters). 3402 of these patients were Medicaid recipients while 8292 were uninsured.  GMC provides numerous screenings, health fairs and other services for local businesses. In recent years this facility has also provided onsite services for major employers such as Carolina Turkeys and Guilford Mills. Because they are hourly employees, we attempt to help these laborers minimize time away from work for medical services.  Lost time means lost money, which can cause the employee and his/her family to do without food or other necessities. 

Tillery Community Center is a “crossroads” rural community located in one of the poorest counties (Halifax) of North Carolina. Three thousand people live within a 5 mile radius of the Tillery Community Center. 98 percent of Tillery residents are African American. 85 percent of these residents are over 60 years old, and most of them are female. In 1981, Concerned Citizens of Tillery, a non-profit organization, secured a $15,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for the renovation of the Community Center and program development.  Almost all of the community’s farming jobs have disappeared; low-paying factory jobs, located fifteen to forty-five miles away, are now the main employment option. Younger adults are usually unable to find work in the local area and have migrated to northern cities to find jobs and raise families. Historically, the area dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, as one of several resettlement communities. Settlers were promised “40 acres and a mule” as well as a small house and some chickens in exchange for farming the land (Concerned Citizens of Tillery, undated).  Residents speak proudly of their continuing efforts to challenge the system through legislative actions, efforts for healthcare reform, solicitation of funding and collaborative relationships with nearby universities.