By Taylor Boyd
After weeks of telehealth appointments being solely offered at the Jeb Stuart Volunteer Rescue Squad, officials involved in the project are preparing to launch a similar service at the Smith River Volunteer Rescue Squad building in Woolwine.
The program began in limited areas in January. Christie Fain, executive director of the Caring Hearts Free Clinic of Patrick County, said that while the project is still in the planning stages, it also is ramping up.
“We have done a couple trial runs, and we have had a huge success rate with the patients” involved in the trial run. “At Jeb Stuart, we’ve probably done about 30 patients so far,” she said.
While she does not know the exact date the program will launch in Woolwine, Fain said appointments will be scheduled on Tuesdays, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., which is the same time they are available at Jeb Stuart rescue.
To participate in telehealth appointments, Fain said registrants must be a current patient of either the clinic or Patrick County Family Practice.
At the appointment, patients will have their vitals taken by a rescue squad volunteer before they are connected to their medical provider.
Volunteers at the squad are seeking “basically blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, height, weight, and what they’re there to be seen for,” Fain said. “That usually takes five to 10 minutes, and then (patients) are connected to the provider right after that,” she said.
The goal is for patients be at rescue squad facilities for a max of 30 minutes, she said.
Telehealth appointments cost the same as standard appointments, and also are covered by insurance and Medicaid.
While health officials like Fain hope the program eventually would be available throughout the county, the current program is a pilot study. “It was kind of a jump start to see if we could get it started and” gauge community interest, she said.
If the program goes well through June and July, Fain said she hopes it would be expanded to other Emergency Medical Services (EMS) stations throughout the county.
The telehealth program is the result of a two-year citizen study by the Healthy Patrick County group to find ways to improve access to health care in rural and remote Patrick County. The group was awarded a grant from the State Office of Rural Health with the West Piedmont Planning District Commission (WPPDC) to start the program in July 2021.
“So, we will run through July. Then, depending on how many people that we’ve recruited and who we implanted the plan with, if it’s successful we can reapply to get additional funding to run for additional time and to expand into other EMS stations,” Fain said.
The program is a partnership between participating agencies, the Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
To schedule an appointment, Patrick County Family Practice patients may call or text (276) 692-6122. Caring Hearts Free Clinic patients may call (276) 694-3410.