When the Hatteras Village Medical Center closed its doors in December 2010, it left a big void in the community.
Beyond the loss of convenient access to medical care, there was a general feeling of having lost an important piece of island history—a piece that spoke to the independence and resourcefulness that characterizes islanders and their tight-knit communities.
Despite the fact that the facility had been most recently operated by one of the largest hospital systems in the state, it began as a small, rural health clinic, established in the 1960s by a group of villagers who fought to bring reliable medical care to the island.
In a way, the Medical Center was more than a health care facility. It was a cultural institution.
And now, nearly three years after it shut down—and 50 years since it first opened—it’s finally returning to its roots.
Starting Monday morning, Nov. 25, the Hatteras Village Medical Center will once again provide comprehensive health care to islanders and visitors alike, operating as a private, non-profit, community-based corporation that will be run by a local board of directors.
In short, the island has its rural health center back.
And, in keeping with tradition, we have a bunch of determined, resourceful villagers to thank for it.
Basically, as soon as the Medical Center closed, a handful of concerned villagers rushed in to try and save it.
They formed a private, non-profit corporation, and the board—comprised of chairman Ted Midgett, county commissioner Allen Burrus, Hatteras Village Civic Association president Dennis Robinson, and villagers Geraldine Farrow and Hal Gray—spent the next two-and-a-half years securing the facility, finding funding, and tracking down the equipment they would need to reopen the facility.
They also began their search for a health-care provider, knowing that finding the right person for the job would be the key to the clinic’s success.
The board members knew needed someone special — someone who would be willing to integrate into the local community, who had experience working with diverse populations in rural areas, and who could adapt to and thrive in the island environment.
They needed someone like Margaret Jazayeri.
A 38-year-old physician’s assistant, Jazayeri is a self-described “small-town girl,” and she’s got the laid-back charm and earnest smile to prove it.
She’s also got deep roots in Eastern North Carolina.
She was born and raised in Grifton, N.C., and received two bachelor’s degrees from East Carolina University—one in environmental health and one in physician assistant studies. She has also lived and worked in coastal towns.
On top of all that, she’s also a confident, caring, and accomplished medical professional.
After completing her degree in environmental health in 1997, Jazayeri started working as a sales representative for a drug company.
But it didn’t take her long to figure out that she was on the wrong side of the glass. She realized that her real passion was for helping people in a direct way—working one-on-one with patients and doctors.
So, she went back to ECU and, in 2004, completed her bachelor’s degree in physician assistant studies, and, after that, completed her master’s in physician assistant studies at the University of Nebraska.
Licensed physician assistants (PAs) are permitted to practice and prescribe medicine in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And when it comes to primary care—particularly in rural areas—their practice closely parallels that of a physician. They work under the supervision of a medical doctor.
After completing her master’s, she moved to Wilmington and began working as a PA.
That’s when she met her husband, Ray Jazayeri, a Kalamazoo, Mich., native who, at the time, owned Rum Runner’s piano bar in Wilmington.
After a few years in Wilmington, the Jazayeris were looking for a change. They decided to move to Florida, where Margaret continued working in the medical field.
Unfortunately, her father’s health began to falter, and she and her family moved back to North Carolina to be closer to him. They settled in Raleigh, where Margaret was recruited by Duke University Medical Center to work in their primary care clinics.
During her time at Duke Primary Care, she worked in the rural health clinics they had established in Piedmont towns, such as Mebane and Hillsborough. She realized how much she loved working in that environment.
And after a while, even Ray—an admitted “city boy”—started to notice that Margaret was at her best when she was working with the people in small towns and rural communities.
When her father recovered, the Jazayeris moved briefly back to Florida, before deciding to settle down—now with their very young son Kamran—in Charlotte.
Margaret had been recruited by the Carolinas Healthcare System—the ninth largest healthcare system in the country—and was working in primary care in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area.
“Charlotte was just too big,” she said with a laugh. “Even for Ray. We were both ready for a change.”
She submitted her resume to the Office of Rural Health and was talking to the folks at Duke Medical about possibly returning to work there.
That’s when Cheryl Ballance, the manager of the Hatteras Village Medical Center, called her. Ballance, who lives on Ocracoke also manages two other rural health centers – one on Ocracoke and one in Engelhard.
After researching the area and talking to her father’s wife, an Elizabeth City native who owns a house in Ocracoke, Margaret and Ray decided that Hatteras seemed like a good fit for them and their 14-month-old son.
“We’re very happy,” said Dennis Robinson, a member of the Medical Center board. “We are so lucky to have her.”
As Jazayeri and her family settled in this past week, the board put the final touches on the Medical Center.
And starting Monday, the Hatteras Village Medical Center will be open, providing medical care to all patients and populations. Medicare, Medicaid, and all major insurances will be accepted.
A budget for the Hatteras Village Medical Center is still a work in progress, but Ballance hopes it can break even in about a year. It will be funded by grants and patient fees – and, to some degree, community donations.
The center offers well care, preventive care, disease management, and sick care to patients of all ages and is open five days at week.
In the beginning, at least, it will not offer after-hours care.
The staff includes a registered nurse and a front-desk person.
“[The Medical Center] is truly a great asset for our community,” Robinson said.
And he’s not the only one who’s excited about it.
Jazayeri said that, though she didn’t know yet if she would even have patients to see on Monday, she is excited about the work and is ready to get started.
“I know what I’m doing,” she said with a big smile, taking it all in stride. “So if anyone comes in, I will be happy to see them.”
The Hatteras Village Medical Center will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until noon and from 1 until 5 p.m. It will be closed on holidays, including Thanksgiving and the day after.
The phone number is 252-986-2756, which is the same one the medical center had in its former life.