In the summer of 2020, the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union donated a gift of $500,000 to the NC AHEC Program with the intention of supporting primary care clinics in continuing their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of the nine AHEC regional centers were allocated a portion of the funds to support their local practices. 

Greensboro AHEC distributed funding to practices in their service region in the form of mini-grants up to $10,000 with the aim of supporting the provision of telemedicine services, improving the health status of patients, and preparing for post-COVID-19 realities of technology in patient care. Several clinics across the region applied for the mini-grant, and after review, four regional clinics were selected.

Barn Door Health in Randleman, North Carolina is an independently-owned clinic led by Michael Martin, FNP. Michael uses telemedicine to facilitate an increased patient compliance with follow-up appointments for diabetes management. 

“The proliferation of smartphones ensures the possibility of telemedicine appointments in this rural community,” Michael shared. “Many patients drive up to one hour to be seen at the clinic.” 

With the mini-grant, Barn Door Health plans to acquire two computers and tablets for video conferencing, in-home diabetic monitoring devices, and a new module for their electronic health record that allows the clinic to provide vulnerable patients an accessible means to complete necessary chronic disease management appointments via telemedicine.

Michael Martin, FNP, is the owner of Barn Door Health in Randleman, N.C., one of four practices selected to receive an SECU mini-grant for telemedicine services and patient-care technology projects.  

Belmont Medical Associates in Reidsville is a recognized Patient Center Medical Home that has served local families for over 50 years. Providers at the clinic know that improving patient communications and empowering them to be interactive in their care leads to better health outcomes. Their aim is to focus on improving patient communication and education among those with multiple comorbidities. 

Belmont’s leaders welcome the news. “Our website is now being utilized by more patients than ever across all ages and populations. We believe that improving our web presence by making it simpler and more interactive will improve the quality of care for our patients.” 

Over the next six months, the clinic will be enhancing their patient portal, clinic website, social media, and in-home monitoring devices to better facilitate patient engagement in their health.

Over the past few months, the Orange County Health Department has focused on getting children caught up on missing immunizations since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented families from receiving important preventative vaccines due to stay-at-home orders and limited clinic hours. The health department has partnered with Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro school districts to implement a curbside immunization program. The health department plans to use the mini-grant funds to purchase supplies to set up these curbside clinics and provide the critical personal protective equipment for their staff. The target population for the curbside clinic will be rising high school seniors, and if successful, will be expanded to other age groups of children.

Many of the patients at the Free Clinic of Rockingham County have multiple chronic conditions and are at high risk of COVID-19 complications.

 “Our clinic provides free medical care for people living at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below and to those who have no health insurance,” said Executive Director Kim Rider. “Most of our patients are employed as ‘essential’ workers: wait staff, cashiers, childcare workers, nursing home, and janitorial staff.” 

Because of these factors, the Free Clinic of Rockingham County plans on establishing “parking lot” appointments for patients without smartphones or WiFi access. In addition to this new access point, the clinic will provide at-home monitoring devices, such as blood pressure cuffs for patients who can complete a traditional telehealth visit. Kim also plans to upgrade their internet service and providers’ laptops to provide a better telehealth experience.

In addition to the mini-grant funds, Greensboro AHEC’s Practice Support team will be providing free quality improvement support to the clinics, such as assistance with budget, workflows, and evaluation. 

“This is an amazing opportunity that the N.C. State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) has provided to frontline physicians across the nine counties in our region,” says Greensboro AHEC Practice Support Director Suzanne Lineberry. “Small clinics often lack the funds to upgrade technology or purchase simple capital investments. With these SECU funds, we have four amazing, hardworking clinics that have taken on the challenge to improve their clinical practices and provide more services for their patients.”

To learn more about practice support initiatives across the state, visit ncahec.net.

STORY BY JOSHUA DAVIS