Cara Vitadamo has been a nurse since 2011 and has provided assistance to people in various rural settings including hospitals, homes and psychiatric care.
She loves helping people feel better. But working in rural areas is not easy.
“There is definitely a shortage of service providers and a lack of resources in Pinder County,” said Vietadamo. “I faced these challenges as a nurse and I saw people face them as well.”
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As the need continues, New Hanover Regional Medical Center is partnering with Black River Health Services in Pender County to begin a rural family medicine pathway. It will be led by Dr. Janalyn Best, Chief of Residency in Family Medicine and Director of Residency at NHRMC, and Dr. Joe Pino, Associate Dean and Campus Director at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Wilmington.
In 2021, Black River of Pender County received a $500,000 grant from the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration to start an educational health center. According to an NHRMC press release, it is scheduled to start in 2024. Pino, Best, and colleagues will spend 2023 developing the curriculum and finding directors, a coordinator, and a first class of evaluators for the program.
According to officials, program participants will spend their first year at NHRMC and half a day at Black River. During the second and third years, they will provide outpatient family medicine services in rural areas.
Bringing up rural and healthcare challenges, Benno brought up what Pender County looks like as a “story of two counties,” with significant growth on the East Side due to its proximity to the beach and Wilmington.
“And then there is everything else in Pender County,” he said in the NHRMC article. “It’s a very rural area. Many farming communities inhabit the western half of the county.”
For someone who lives in central Pender County, officials have indicated that the round trip to Wilmington is about 50 miles. Besides saving gas, another advantage is that Black River is federally eligible for reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid—services that rural residents are most likely to use.
When it comes to dealing with the challenges of accessing health care in rural areas, Veetadamo said she has struggled to get help for her 8-year-old son. In the summer, he was referred by a pediatrician for mental health care services.
“It was very difficult to find someone in this area,” she said. “We only found one to provide these mental health care services. That appointment was set in the summer and the next available appointment wasn’t until June 12, 2023 — almost a year later, which is horrible. There is a massive mental health crisis going on. As a result, it’s already hard to find On services, after such a long wait, it was very frustrating.”
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Vetadamo lives in what she considers to be a rural part of Hampstead, away from busy US 17 where most businesses are. After contacting the insurance administrators, Vietadamo was only able to provide two more places for services. One was in Jacksonville and the other in Wilmington.
Telehealth (contacting a doctor over the Internet) is another option, but it’s not easy with limited access to the Internet.
“It can be very frustrating, especially if someone is going through a mental health crisis,” she said.
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Reporter Chase Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org