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Amid Coronavirus pandemic, Patrick County facing uphill battle on healthcare

(WDBJ)
Published: May. 8, 2020 at 12:05 AM EDT
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Travelling long distances to get to a doctor is an unfortunate reality for many people in our rural hometowns. Now, at a time where health care is at the top of everyone’s mind, a new report is shedding light on how serious the situation is in Patrick County.

The Patrick County Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan is a first of its kind, and lays out the barriers people face when accessing health care.

Some of its findings were stark.

"We have one of the highest child abuse rates in the state here in Patrick County. We have opioid issues. We have unemployment issues. So there's a lot that we need to be working on," said Virginia Department of Health Spokesperson Nancy Bell.

According to Bell, the assessment was urgently needed. Two and a half years ago, Pioneer Community Hospital in Stuart, the only hospital in the county, shut down. Within the last week, the county's only urgent care also had to reduce services because of COVID-19.

"We're shrinking resources in a time of shrinking resources," said Bell.

The assessment was compiled using surveys, focus groups, interviews and data. "We've brought citizens of all walks of life around the table. We've been working on it for two years," she said.

One of the biggest issues identified in the report was access to health care. While the county's primary provider, the Patrick County Family Practice, can handle many issues, emergency cases have to travel to Martinsville or Mt. Airy, North Carolina, to access care, a trip that frequently takes more than an hour.

Kulik Strategic Advisors, a consulting group, is being brought in to figure out what happens next. Consultants got a first look at the assessment Thursday, and will be spending the next three months turning it into an action plan.

CEO Tracy Kulik says they already have ideas, including using federal dollars to create a network of small community health offices in the county.

"It doesn't take much to bring this up," she said, noting some offices could open as early as 2021. "You could have an equivalent or superior health care system."

One thing that won't be on the table: bringing back Patrick County's Community Hospital

"The white flag has been waved, dropped on the ground and stomped on," said Nancy Bell.

Bell says the building is too old, and too damaged, to save. And she adds the model of healthcare it represents, brick and mortar rural hospitals, just isn't practical in 2020.

“With the COVID changing the way healthcare is delivered, I think it’s sort of the beginning of the end. I think we’re going to be looking at a whole new way of delivering healthcare,” she said.

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