On January 5, Samantha Kummerer of ABC11/WVTD reported that in Franklin County, Annette Strong spent weeks trying to arrange transportation for her husband, Jeffery Strong, to get to his dialysis appointments three times a week at a clinic just 12 minutes away in Wake County. He is unable to walk and can’t see, which means transportation isn’t as easy as getting in the family’s car. Jeffery needed a transportation company that could provide a stretcher or wheelchair, travel outside of the county, and bring him to dialysis centers. After the company, HealthFirst Transport, was no longer able to provide these services, the Strong family had very few options left.
Resources do not exist to serve counties’ growing population and social needs, companies and organizations providing services are short staffed, and exorbitant rising costs of services are just a handful of the issues that many rural residents often face when attempting to access health care in their communities, leaving them feeling as though they are falling through the cracks.
When asked how these issues can be addressed at the state level, Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation’s (FHLI) President and CEO, David Reese, highlighted the work that FHLI is doing to bring patients and communities together to begin to tackle issues like transportation that were highlighted during the pandemic.
“Part of what we do at the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation is spending time with rural communities helping them begin to identify how they are addressing challenges, working toward solutions, and then helping them create alignment and then leverage the access that we have so that they can really begin to think about whole-person health and not just the one issue of transportation,” explained Reese.
North Carolina is nearly twice as rural as the national average, with about 40% of our NC residents living and working in rural areas. Those citizens face unique challenges that are less common to folks in urban areas. The NC Rural Health Association (NCRHA) developed the 2022 NC Rural Health Snapshot to highlight opportunities to improve health in rural communities. The NCRHA is the affiliate of the National Rural Health Association and is housed within FHLI. The Association focuses on all issues affecting our rural communities including access to healthcare and hospital closings, adequacy of healthcare networks, limited broadband and challenges related to housing, food, education, employment, and transportation.
FHLI’s Community Voice team values the voice of our rural community partners and authentically listens to them. The team uses this feedback to help rural communities figure out ways to improve their challenges or to connect them with other organizations and resources that are more appropriate and equipped to make a difference. This is where NCCARE360 can be utilized.
As the first statewide coordinated care network that better connects individuals to local services and resources to help meet these needs, NCCARE360 provides a solution to a fragmented health and human services system by connecting providers and organizations across sectors in a shared technology network where they can electronically refer individuals and families who have unmet needs to community resources. “We assume that everyone knows every resource that is available back within their community and that is just not always the case, and this is part of North Carolina coming back together,” Reese said.
Reese said the NCCARE360 Network allows North Carolinians to think differently about how they connect and become healthier, and he is optimistic that solutions will be forged in North Carolina communities over time. “This is it’s not a 60-yard dash; this is the marathon. This is how we rebuild after COVID but this is also about how we create the pathway for healthier North Carolinians.”