PATRICK COUNTY – Patrick County has been awarded a grant of $50,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to address health access issues.
Assistant Patrick County Administrator, Geri Hazelwood, worked in collaboration with Nancy Bell of West Piedmont Health District and Leah Manning of West Piedmont Planning District Commission to secure the funding and will co-manage the project.
“We are very excited about working with the health district and other partners to find a solution to our health care access issues,” Hazelwood said.
The funds will ensure that the team working on health improvement in Patrick County receives expert guidance in its quest to improve access to healthcare since the closing of the county’s only hospital in 2017.
Since that time, those who live and work in Patrick County have been forced to leave the county for emergency medical services, and physicians’ offices carry significantly higher patient loads than others across the Commonwealth.
According to a survey conducted by the West Piedmont Health District in 2018, Patrick County lacks medical specialists, and waiting lists for physician visits can be months long.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual 2019 County Health Rankings report notes that while Virginia averages one physician to every 1,300 patients, there are nearly 5,000 patients for each physician in Patrick County.
Dental care is even more difficult to access in Patrick County – there are 8,830 patients per dentist.
The rate of mental health providers per patient is 3,530-to-one, whereas the state average is 680-to-one.
“This plight is shared by rural communities across the nation, but Patrick County’s issue is exacerbated by its mountainous terrain, lack of a transportation system, and continuing need for broadband infrastructure,” said Nancy Bell, Population Health Manager for the WPHD.
Bell is leading a group called Healthy Patrick County which is has been studying health needs in the community since 2017.
“The closing of Patrick County’s hospital and the issue of access to medical care has created a scenario where the team feels it cannot begin to address health concerns without first addressing infrastructure,” Bell Said. “Creative and community-specific solutions are needed to ensure citizens receive the very best, most cost-effective medical services.”
Bell noted that the county’s emergency medical services and physicians are doing all they can to serve the needs of Patrick County, and that she hopes the ARC grant will provide a solution that is equitable to all and that will reduce the strain on existing services.
Hazelwood said an RFP for professional services will be issued in December.
Bell said the consultant’s findings will be presented to the Patrick County Administration and the Board of Supervisors with the end result being a plan for moving forward.
“Our sincere wish that this period of planning and expert guidance will result in community-specific solutions that are cost effective, inclusive and feasible,” she said, noting that additional grant funding will likely be sought to implement improvements.