The N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care (ORHCC) is coordinating the efforts of 40 agencies planning “Appalachian Care,” a special medical mission event in June 2014 to deliver free medical services for more than 18,000 people from 14 counties in western North Carolina and northern Georgia that are designated as medically underserved and health professional shortage areas.
Early in 2012, North Carolina’s Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) staff approached the ORHCC about a partnering opportunity that could potentially benefit many NC communities. Anne Braswell, manager for Integrated Healthcare Delivery Systems at ORHCC, and her staff worked closely with the NC ARC and “safety net” provider organizations as well as the Georgia State Office of Rural Health and the GA ARC program to assess needs and resources throughout the region and apply for assistance from the Department of Defense’s Civil-Military Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Program. Under the IRT Program, medical care is provided free of charge for community members by local volunteers alongside military personnel, while also providing training opportunities for military reservists.
The primary service location planned for the Appalachian Care Medical Mission is Andrews, N.C., with satellite sites at Bryson City, N.C., and Clayton, Ga. The 14 targeted counties include Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania in North Carolina.
During a two-week period in June 2014, the three communities will host dozens of volunteer medical providers donating services along with more than 100 military medical personnel. The three sites will offer primary care, dental care, optometry, behavioral health care, and veterinary services.
Murphy Medical Center, local health departments, community free clinics, rural health centers, departments of social services, local emergency medical services, and law enforcement are among the participating agencies. The 172nd Multi-Functional Medical Battalion (U.S. Army Reserve) based in Ogden, Utah will lead the participating detachments of military medical personnel. Continuity of care will be coordinated by care managers who will connect patients needing follow-up care with local resources.
“We are fortunate to have the Appalachian Care Medical Mission on the calendar,” Braswell said. “Collaborating with so many organizations and dedicated individuals will not only help to improve community health in the region, but also promises opportunities to partner around other challenges for years to come.”
According to Lt. Col. Russell Reiter, the 172nd MMB commander, the group conducting the Appalachian Care Medical Mission will be composed of service members from across the United States. Reiter said, “The 172nd is honored to have been selected by the Department of Defense to lead this mission. Our Soldiers are proud to use their medical knowledge to benefit a deserving American community like the Appalachian Region and look forward to repaying a small portion of the support we have received from our fellow Americans since 9-11.”
As part of this effort, ORHCC provided two future healthcare leaders from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health with a unique opportunity to experience community health in action while planning the Appalachian Care Medical Mission. ORHCC intern Peter Lyu drafted the application for IRT support in 2012. Currently, ORHCC intern Spencer Brady is helping coordinate planning and logistical arrangements among the more than 40 agencies partnering in the mission.