June 22, 2011 FacebookTwitter More...

UPDATE:  Hatteras Village Medical Center is
spruced up and closer to opening


The Hatteras Village Medical Center was quiet and cool on a hot day last week, an eerie feeling for those of us who remember the hustle and bustle in the center over so many years.

The center has been empty since HealthEast Family Care closed its Hatteras location and pulled back to its Avon clinic only.

Since then, Hatteras village residents have formed a Board of Trustees to re-open the center as a non-profit rural health center. 

That would be taking the center back to its roots.  It was first opened as a rural health center in the mid-1960s through the efforts of Hatteras villagers who wanted to bring medical care to the island.

The board is working with Cheryl Ballance, administrative director of rural health clinics in Ocracoke and Engelhard.

Both the Ocracoke and Engelhard centers, she said, have been operating with funds and grants through the North Carolina Office of Rural Health and Community Care, which works to help rural communities serve the indigent and uninsured.

However, the state money “goes up and down,” and makes planning for health care at the center difficult. And the state’s budget in now under more pressure to make cuts than ever before.

“We are in a position,” she said, “of not being able to break even by charges from patient services alone.”

In 2009, Ballance began looking for “other avenues” for grants. She applied for and received a grant for $80,000 to explore how the centers could become Federally Qualified Health Centers. In December, she submitted a grant application for $650,000 in renewable federal funding for operations at the two centers.

The “federally qualified” designation, she said, is different from “federally designated” rural health center status and would make the center eligible for some of the $9 million in new federal money for community care.

The application, Ballance feels, is a strong one. The grants will be awarded in August, and she is very optimistic.

The new funding would allow the Ocracoke and Engelhard clinics to expand their medical services.

The two centers would reorganize and merge their boards into one corporation, which will be known as the Coastal Community Health Alliance. Ballance would continue as administrative director of both.

Ballance is now also the administrator of the Hatteras Village Medical Center.

She explained that the Hatteras Village Medical Center would eventually operate under the Coastal Community Health Alliance umbrella. It was not incorporated in time to be part of the Federally Qualified Health Center grant, but would operate as a “satellite” location.

The Hatteras Center, she said, will eventually have a full-time medical provider, a registered nurse, and a front office staff person. The medical provider will ideally be a physician, she said, but could be a nurse practitioner.

Ballance has already obtained a one-time grant of $100,000 from NC HealthNet to get the doors open in Hatteras. She said last week that she expects to receive the funds very soon.

It’s “start-up” money, she said, that is designed to hire the health provider, and it will eventually be supplemented with patient care fees and even other grants that Hatteras would be eligible for as part of the Coastal Community Health Alliance.

Ballance and the board had hoped to re-open the Hatteras Center in May, but that didn’t happen, mostly because of the challenges of finding a health provider.

“It’s taking so long because we want to find someone who will stay in Hatteras, be a part of the community, and provide continuity,” Ballance said.

It will happen, she said firmly.

The Hatteras center could have opened earlier with part-time providers.

However, Ballance said, that she and the Board of Trustees want a more permanent solution.

“Some members of the board are a little disappointed,” said Allen Burrus, vice-chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners and one of the five board members.

“However,” Burrus said, “we need to be patient.  The right person is what we need, not just any person….We have to believe that special person is out there.

“We did it before,” Burrus said, referring to the hiring of Dr. Seaborn Blair in 1990 and Dr. Dan Burroughs before that. “And we will do it again.”

Ballance said that currently the state Office of Rural Health is helping with recruiting a provider.

The Hatteras Village Medical Center, she said said, is incorporated and has applied for its non-profit status and is in the process of applying for provider numbers for Medicaid and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Since HealthEast cleared all of the office equipment out of the building when it left, Ballance is searching for everything from chairs and desks to examination tables. She is hoping that she can get them donated to the Hatteras center.

Dare County owns the medical center and will continue to provide for its upkeep, though the county will not fund operations.

Recently, employees of the county’s Buildings and Grounds Department spent time getting the center in shape for its next life.

Their work was obvious during a tour of the building last week. The center was bright, clean, and sparkling.

It has been scrubbed down, its cinder block walls are now painted bright white, and new rugs cover some of the floors.

The HVAC system has been repaired, and work has been done on the roof.

County employees, Burrus said, took a special interest in sprucing up the medical center -- spraying down steps, replacing some outside doors, repairing cracks in the walls and foundation, and doing some carpentry work.

The cost to the county was about $18,000, mostly for the work on the HVAC system, said county finance director David Clawson.

Neither Ballance nor Burrus  wants to venture a guess on a date when patients can again receive primary care at the Hatteras Village Medical Center, but they assure islanders that it will happen.


For more information, read a March 22 article on Cheryl Ballance and her work at all three medical centers.


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