A check for $600,000 in federal funding for two mobile health units was presented to Patrick County officials on Wednesday, Aug. 24.
U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-Alexandria said important projects like this take collaboration between politicians and parties. “The mobile medical unit that this $600,000 will provide allows you to really get out to the community. Taking healthcare to the front door if necessary is incredibly, incredibly important,” he said.
Warner said Patrick County has already made strides to provide healthcare to the community, especially since the Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County closed in 2017. “Kudos to what you’re doing at the rescue squad right now, but getting folks to the rescue squad is kind of hard,” he said.
Warner said one of the things the county needs to help provide healthcare to the county is telehealth. “One of the things that I actually think was good that came from COVID was that it accelerated the utilization of telehealth by more than a decade,” he said.
The other necessity is improved broadband connectivity. Warner said that while getting high-speed broadband connectivity that is affordable is not a guarantee that Patrick County will be successful, “not having it guarantees the community will not be successful.”
Over the last 25 years, Warner said close to 1,000 rural hospitals have been closed across the nation with virtually none being reopened. “Getting this hospital reopened is an enormous challenge. What your delegate (Wren Williams, R-Stuart) did to make sure the process through the Department of Health and the other agencies was expedited … this could not be happening anywhere in this time without his good work,” he said.
9th District Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said providing healthcare is a challenge for rural areas in general. “Patrick County is certainly well aware of that fact,” he said. “Getting care to patients, bringing and keeping providers in the area, ensuring enough resources to meet the need, all these problems create more burdens on rural communities.”
Griffith said challenges like this require those in office to do what they can. “So, the Patrick County mobile health units are the result of opportunities seized and that we’ve worked on with bipartisan cooperation,” he said.
West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) public information officer Nancy Bell said when she first started with the health district six years ago, she was tasked with community health assessments. “Franklin County had Carillon and they had a nice process. We had some non-profit goals beyond what the hospital wanted and we were okay with that,” she said.
Bell said the same was true with the Martinsville-Henry County area as there was a lot of infrastructure and data in place. “Then I came to Patrick County, and no one even knew what the process was and it never happened here before,” she said.
This meant the county was starting from scratch. Bell said she went to various leaders in the county, including administration, economic development, and tourism, to ask who should be part of the process.
“What usually happens is these high-level officials will give you someone from their management team, but members of the board of supervisors, the county administrator herself, everyone came and worked with us on this team,” she said.
Bell said the team had Community Health Solutions from Richmond come and do a telehealth demand study, which was eventually implemented in some of the local rescue squads. “I look at Patrick County like Legos. You have to snap a piece here and snap a piece there, and this is a huge piece and it’s going to make a huge difference,” she said.
Patrick County Emergency Services Coordinator (EMS) Scottie Cassell said the mobile health units will act like a doctor’s office on wheels that will go wherever they are needed. “When we do that, we’ll have an ambulance with it usually that could transport to the hospital if need be,” he said.
As he understands it, Cassell said the units could be retrofitted to be used for dental or medical services. “It could be retrofitted to anything, which is the great part. It’s not a one-and-done,” he said.
Cassell said the mobile health units will be available for use once the county officially receives the money. “We hope once it gets in it will be a short turnaround,” he said.