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Nearly $2 million in grants to help fund health care needs of poor

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Sept. 26, 2000)   —   The receding floodwaters after Hurricane Floyd a year ago revealed more than property damage. They uncovered a need for greater access to care and preventive health services in certain areas of Pitt County.

Today, Dr. Tom Irons, president of HealthEast, the physician-support subsidiary of University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, announced that nearly $2 million in grants from public and private sources have been received to address health care issues for the underserved and uninsured of Pitt County. The announcement was made outside the First Born Community Development Center in Grimesland. Irons said an estimated 17,000 people in Pitt County, or about 14 percent of the population, are without health insurance.

"While the flood brought people and communities together, it also exposed the appalling health status of many of our neighbors," said Irons. "The adverse effects of the flood added insult to an already vulnerable population with serious and diverse health care needs." The funds will be used to develop a network of community health resource centers in the rural communities of Belvoir, Grifton and Grimesland and in west Greenville. Irons said the primary function of the centers is to provide local residents with preventive care information, care management and education and to link them with a primary care provider. Most will provide the information in English and Spanish to meet the bilingual needs of the community. In addition, services such as health screenings, mental health counseling, immunizations and basic medical treatment will be available at the centers on a rotating schedule.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, contributed $897,000 for the development of the resource centers as part of its Community Access Program. The grant will be administered through a partnership with the N.C. Office of Research, Demonstrations and Rural Health Development. The Duke Endowment donated $498,480. Pitt County Memorial Hospital and the Pitt Memorial Hospital Foundation each committed $250,000 to the effort. Most of the hospital's and the foundation's contributions will be applied to the medication-assistance program.

Although a number of areas in the country are experimenting with such health initiatives, Irons said the Pitt County project is the most comprehensive that he is aware of. It relies more on a partnership with existing community volunteer organizations and less on a single, central resource for health services.

During last year's flood, Irons was among the leaders of a massive effort to deliver medical services to community shelters in Pitt County. What he and his colleagues saw alarmed them. "We saw dozens of patients on prescription medications they could not afford," said Irons. "We saw people with chronic health problems, which would invariably lead to major complications, yet they were not able to get preventive treatment in a coordinated way. We said to ourselves, 'Golly, we could come together and do this.'"

According to Irons, patients who come to the resource centers will be assigned a care manager. Care managers coordinate all aspects of the patient's care, ensuring the patient has access to the appropriate care for his or her needs. Most patients will be assigned to practicing physicians who have volunteered their services for this project. Irons added that a portion of the grant money would be set aside to cover patient costs for prescription medications. Irons sees the medication-assistance program as a key to helping uninsured patients follow the physician's counsel and take the necessary steps to achieve good health.

Initially, PCMH officials will work closely with local community leaders to operate the centers. Representatives from Pitt County Indigent Care, an independent community charity focusing on the health needs of the poor and uninsured;


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