Cara Vitadamo has been a nurse since 2011 and has provided help to people in a variety of rural settings including hospitals, homes and psychiatric care.
She likes to help people feel better. But working in the countryside is not easy.
“There is definitely a lack of suppliers and a lack of resources in Pender County,” Vitadamo said. “I’ve faced these challenges as a nurse and I’ve seen people face them too.”
More health news:How 111 Wilmington nonprofits will spend $9 million from hospital sale
As the need continues, New Hanover Regional Medical Center is partnering with Black River Health Services in Pender County to start a rural family medicine pathway. It will be led by Dr. Janalynn Beste, Family Medicine Residency Chair and Director of Residency at NHRMC, and Dr. Joe Pino, associate dean and director of the Wilmington campus of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
In 2021, Black River of Pender County received a $500,000 grant from the Federal Health Services and Resources Administration to start a teaching health center. According to a press release from NHRMC, it is scheduled to begin in 2024. Pino, Beste and partners will spend 2023 developing the curriculum and finding directors, a coordinator and the first class of residents for the program.
According to officials, program participants will spend their freshman year at NHRMC and half a day at Black River. During the second and third years, they will provide outpatient family medicine services to patients in rural areas.
Face the challenges
While raising rural challenges and health care, Pino emphasized how Pender County is like “a two-county story,” with more growth in the east because it’s close to the beach and Wilmington.
“Then there’s everything else in Pender County,” he said in an NHRMC article. “It’s very rural. Many farming communities populate the western half of the county.”
For someone who lives in central Pender County, officials noted that a round trip to Wilmington is about 50 miles. In addition to gas savings, another benefit is that Black River is federally qualified to get reimbursed through Medicare and Medicaid, services that rural residents are more likely to use.
When it comes to dealing with the challenges of accessing rural health care, Vitadamo said she has faced difficulties getting help for her 8-year-old son. In the summer, he was referred to a pediatrician for mental health services.
“It was very difficult to find anyone in this area,” he said. “We have only found one to provide these mental health services. This appointment was made in the summer and the next available appointment was not until June 12, 2023, almost a year away, which is awful. There is an Huge ongoing mental health crisis. As a result, it’s already difficult to find services and having this long wait has been very frustrating.”
More from Pender County:How Pender’s “keystone” of emergency management works to maintain public safety
Vitadamo lives in what he considers a rural part of Hampstead away from busy US 17 where most of the businesses are located. After reaching out to its insurance officials, Vitadamo was only able to provide two more seats for services. One was in Jacksonville and the other in Wilmington.
Telehealth (connecting with a doctor online) is another option, but it’s not easy with limited Internet access.
“This can be very frustrating, especially if someone is in a mental health crisis,” she said.
STAY CONNECTED: Keep up to date with the latest Pender County area news by subscribing to StarNews newsletter and following us on Facebook and Instagram.
Journalist Chase Jordan can be reached at [email protected]