Health Team

Rural clinics help fill in coverage gaps

Posted September 11, 2012 3:52 p.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2012 6:36 p.m. EDT

— Sixty-year-old Katherine Chavis can't afford health insurance.

About 30 years ago, she started coming to Piedmont Health in Prospect Hill for herself and her children.

"I have just a small percentage of copayment that I pay," she said.

Seeing her this day is Dr. Mimi Miles, a UNC resident physician.

UNC Family Medicine is expanding their residency program by bring more physicians here for their training.

Dr. Miles was eager to take advantage of it.

"There's a great need to provide a medical home for people without insurance, for people who need care the most," she said.

Studies show that if residents train in rural areas, they'll be three times more likely to establish their practices there. It's one answer to increasing access to medical care among underserved populations.

The Cecil Sheps Center for Health Services Research shows that in 2005, of the 408 graduates of the state’s medical schools, only 2 percent were serving in rural communities five years after graduation.

"We'll be able to provide probably over 2,000 more patient visits a year for having residents here," said Dr. Evan Ashkin of UNC Family Medicine.

This center also has a veteran staff of nurses and physicians. They moved last year into this new state-of-the-art facility, which places multiple services such as dental care under one roof.

"And I have been able to come here for the medical part and dental at the same time," Chavis said. She can also pick up her prescriptions right away in the center's pharmacy.

"This building is really built so that everybody can see each other," Dr. Tom Wroth, Piedmont Health medical director, said. "Everybody can communicate and work together more efficiently as a team."

That's why it's also an ideal training environment for young doctors who may just plant their roots here, where they're needed most.

Piedmont Health was the state's first community health center 42 years ago.

UNC Family Medicine hopes their collaboration with the Caswell County facility will become a model for expanding the residency training program to other areas of the state.