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Community colleges address the health needs of their North Carolina communities

Six community colleges are becoming catalysts for improving health and wellness in their rural North Carolina communities through a partnership with MDC and its Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust-funded Healthy Places NC Community College Learning Network.

By Brittany Jeatter

“When my daughter had been battling some congestion and coughing, I was able to make an appointment first thing one Friday morning. I was able to just bring her in to work with me that morning and she was able to see the Nurse Practitioner via the telemedicine unit on campus. Thankfully, she was treated with a prescription and I picked up her medicine from a local pharmacy, and she was able to return to school within an hour. I was so grateful that I didn’t have to miss work and she didn’t have to miss school, and she was seen in a timely manner.”

–Valerie Dobson, Department Chair, Health Sciences & Coordinator, Health Information Technology Program, McDowell Technical Community College

At the end of September, community college representatives, partners, and funders met at MDC for their annual Healthy Places NC Community College Learning Network convening.

Funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the Healthy Places North Carolina initiative is a multi-year initiative in which, through partnership with MDC, six community colleges in rural areas are becoming catalysts for improving health and wellness in their communities.

MDC provides technical assistance to community college leaders and facilitates monthly peer-learning calls among college leadership so they can share innovative techniques for serving rural communities. McDowell Technical Community College, located in Marion, N.C., is one of the colleges in the learning network working to improve access to affordable healthcare—a significant challenge in rural McDowell County, where high blood pressure and obesity are common.

Many individuals living in rural communities—especially in the South—are challenged by the closings and consolidations of hospitals, clinics, and doctor offices. Access to affordable health care is exacerbated by limited access to reliable transportation, underinsurance, and understaffed clinics, which compound the higher rates of chronic illness and health disparities when compared to urban populations.

On a mission to improve healthcare access in their rural county, McDowell Technical Community College is attempting to bridge the disparity of access to health care by offering free or reduced-price health care on campus. At McDowell, the lead Healthy Places N.C. team partnered with The Center for Rural Health Innovation (CRHI) for the purchase and management of a telemedicine unit. CHRI assumed all billing and collections responsibilities and provided access to a nurse practitioner via the unit.

The unit allows students, faculty, and staff to receive a consultation with a doctor at minimal cost. A visit to the telemedicine equipment includes a live video‐chat with a doctor as well as an initial screening (interactive stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, thermometer, etc.) conducted by the health liaison to assist the doctor in making a diagnosis. Services provided include blood pressure screening, strep test, and urinalysis test. Ear, throat, skin abrasions, temperature, pulse, and oxygen saturation are also evaluated during a visit.

Halifax Community College, located in Weldon, N.C., is another college in the learning network that’s providing health services to staff and faculty on campus and to community members. The college is partnering with the Rural Health Group to create a school-based health center, which was the was the only health related facility in Weldon when it was created.

The services provided by the health center include vaccinations, dental services, chronic illness management, vision and health screenings, physicals, and referrals for specialized services. Through the Healthy Places initiative, Halifax was able to build an on-campus comprehensive Wellness Center, where the school-based health center and on-campus gym are located. During the past three years, McDowell Tech and Halifax have acted as health agents in their communities while bridging the healthcare accessibility gap.

Like all the colleges in Healthy Places N.C., McDowell Tech has expanded the community’s view of what it means to provide a holistic approach to educating and training the workforce in its region. The two colleges’ work demonstrates how educational institutions can move out of their traditional roles to meet the needs of those in their communities and address issues that have huge impacts on the physical health of their current and future students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.