week, the Ocracoke Health Center was awarded a $358,967 Distance
Learning and Telemedicine grant from the U.S. Department of
The Ocracoke Health Center has partnered with the North Carolina Office
of Rural Health and Community Care and Brody School of Medicine to
establish a telehealth “virtual health safety net” in Dare and Hyde
This will specifically link health care access points designed to meet
the needs of low-income and underserved Dare and Hyde county residents
with specialty care, behavioral health care, and even primary care.
These health care access points include the Ocracoke Health Center,
Engelhard Medical Center and Hyde County Health Department in Hyde
County, and the Hatteras Village Medical Center, two sites of the Dare
County Health Department and the Community Care Clinic of Dare County.
“We want to increase patient access to specialty care that, due to
geographic land and sea barriers, many patients delay or forgo,” said
Cheryl Ballance, administrator of the two health centers in Hyde
“By offering teleconferencing-driven specialty appointments at the
local health care access points, patients will receive care when and
where they need it.”
She hopes that we also will be able to expand behavioral health care
access for uninsured and indigent populations who often have to wait
for services due to local provider shortages and travel and financial
The project will also provide each of these access points with the
opportunity to receive teleconferencing-based consultation and
education from the North Carolina Office of Rural Health and Community
Care that will help maximize clinical operations and integrate clinical
and operational best practices.
This funding will facilitate communication between the sites in order
to maximize and share resources. It will also allow the sites to offer
their professionally isolated health care providers with opportunities
to interact with peers and participate in educational opportunities,
since such access is an important factor in physician/clinician
recruitment and retention.
This grant money is specifically for the purchase of cart-based video
conferencing units specialized for the medical practice and will allow
12 simultaneous connections with high definition video. The project
also includes peripheral technology, such as digital stethoscopes for
exams and laptops used to access patient records.
"These distance learning and telemedicine grants, administered through
the Rural Utilities Service can eliminate the barriers of time and
distance that often challenge rural areas," said Randall Gore, USDA
Rural Development state director.