Greensboro AHEC is collaborating with the Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative, a community health program developed through partnerships.

NC AHEC’s work impacts where YOU live.

Like in Rockingham County, where Greensboro AHEC is collaborating with the UNC School of Medicine’s Rural Advancement Program to address a need for better access to health care.

Rockingham County’s rate of primary care physicians per capita is much lower than neighboring counties—39 percent lower than the state average of 7.6 physicians per 10,000 residents. The county has higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and cerebrovascular disease when compared to state averages. Recognizing the county’s need, Blue Cross NC invested $800,000 in the UNC School of Medicine Rural Advancement Program in 2018, and the North Carolina General Assembly, through the work of Senator Phil Berger, is augmenting this investment with additional funding.

The Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative works with key partners and stakeholders to develop a collaborative approach to meeting the county’s healthcare workforce needs. Broadly, the program has three main goals:

  • to meet with key stakeholders to understand the healthcare landscape and health priorities in Rockingham County;
  • to increase access to health care by growing the number of practicing healthcare providers in Rockingham County while supporting existing practices in improving quality of care in their practices; and
  • to prepare and recruit Rockingham County residents to enter future healthcare professions.

“Greensboro AHEC is a great partner to help with implementing these goals,” stated Sherry S. Hay, MPA, Director of Community Health Initiatives and Adjunct Assistant professor at UNC’s Department of Family Medicine. Hay is project manager for the Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative. “Dr. Cristy Page [Executive Dean of the UNC School of Medicine], whose leadership was instrumental in launching this program, identified Greensboro AHEC as a key partner on this initiative from the beginning.”

Greensboro AHEC plays a crucial role in convening stakeholders and making introductions, working with practices to improve quality of care, and hosting health careers pipeline events.

“It takes a while to learn a community and how you can best work together to accomplish priorities,” explained Hay. “Greensboro AHEC is well-placed to usher us through that process.”

Greensboro AHEC service area
Greensboro AHEC serves eight North Carolina counties.

The NC AHEC network of nine regional Area Health Education Centers is specifically designed to align work based on regional need. Greensboro AHEC serves eight North Carolina counties: Alamance, Chatham, Caswell, Guilford, Montgomery, Orange, Randolph, and, of course, Rockingham.

Greensboro AHEC’s Director of Practice Support, Suzanne Lineberry, and Director of Medical Education, Terry Lynn, have been coordinating efforts to implement key aspects of the Rockingham Primary Care Initiative. For Lynn, especially, the Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative hits close to home.

“I was born in Morehead Hospital [now UNC Rockingham]. I’m raising my family in Rockingham County. I have a vested interest in what happens here,” she avowed.

Greensboro AHEC is supporting the initiative in several areas, helping to prepare and recruit residents for future healthcare professions was the primary focus for the first year of the program.

“Greensboro AHEC is instrumental in helping to build a pipeline for future healthcare practitioners to Rockingham County,” continued Hay. “If you can get individuals early, get high school students interested in medicine, they are more likely to come back and practice in that community.”

In November 2018, Greensboro AHEC co-hosted with the UNC Office of Rural Health Initiatives the largest health careers outreach event in the history of that work. All four Rockingham County high schools were represented, along with local community partners, providers, health departments, and community centers. One-hundred-thirty youth heard from a panel of medical experts and current health professions students about what it takes to get into professional healthcare programs and the types of programming available at the community college level to four-year universities like UNC. Local providers shared how rewarding it is to serve a rural community.

“The students got to hear, on a local level, how important it is for people to go into healthcare professions and come back to practice in their communities,” said Lynn. “For the first time, they heard about the specific workforce needs in their home county and how that impacts where they live.”

The next outreach event is on target for fall of 2019. This summer, Greensboro AHEC is hosting their first interprofessional education (IPE) cohort of five students from nursing, pharmacy, and public health programs. The students will spend one full month in Rockingham County clinical settings, where they will be exposed to community providers and the specific health needs of Rockingham County residents.

In addition to these local opportunities for Rockingham youth to discover and learn more about healthcare careers, the Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative sponsors cohorts of high school students to attend the UNC Family Medicine Summer Academy. Once a year, graduating high school students from rural areas of North Carolina have the opportunity to come to Chapel Hill for two-and-a-half days of immersive, hands-on family medicine activities, such as suturing workshops and ultrasound demonstrations. At the conclusion of the program, scholars are matched with mentors who provide continuing guidance and support as the students make their way through healthcare education.

All in all, the nature of the Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative is to evolve to meet community need.

“We are trying to make it about what the community needs,” iterated Hay. “We are hosting additional listening sessions—I’m really interested in hearing from individuals who live in the county, and it’s important that the people are a part of what’s happening.”

For more information about the Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative, contact Sherry Hay at shay@med.unc.edu. Additional information will also be available in the near future at med.unc.edu/fammed.

Rockingham County Primary Care Initiative Key Partners and Stakeholders:

  • Community members,
  • Rockingham County Health Alliance,
  • James Austin Health Center,
  • Primary care practices,
  • Greensboro AHEC,
  • Rockingham County Health Department,
  • UNC Family Medicine,
  • UNC Physicians’ Network,
  • UNC Family Medicine Faculty Development Fellowship,
  • UNC Rockingham,
  • Annie Penn Hospital,
  • UNC Office of Rural Health Initiatives,
  • UNC School of Nursing
  • NC Office of Rural Health
  • School-based health centers in Rockingham County