Western NC gains new jobs, increased healthcare capacity, expanded services despite pandemic

Healthcare, a critical economic driver in rural communities, is persevering through the pandemic thanks to partnerships, innovation, and practical leadership.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bakersville Community Medical Clinic, Inc. (BCMC), a regional health group, was experiencing tremendous growth in Mitchell and Yancey counties.

The healthcare team now stays in personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work to protect themselves and their patients.

Tim Evans, the director of grants and business development at BCMC, said the organization has learned a lot through this experience about how to better protect staff as well as patients during these unprecedented times.

“Most of our providers are working remotely,” Evans said. “We have a small staff including one provider working in each clinic. We have even had to work around internet issues and set up places to work remotely with access to internet for those that do not have it at home.”

Adapting to this unexpected global event was possible in part because of recent work to renovate the facilities, expand services, and upgrade equipment at the clinics.

Golden LEAF awarded $150,000 for these renovations in 2019 because it enabled creation of 22 new jobs at these clinics in the medical, dental, and behavioral health fields. With BCMC’s expansion, and in collaboration with Mountain Area Health Education Corporation, the region’s professional medical workforce will receive training through teaching clinics and, ultimately, a rural residency program. In addition, BCMC will modify the opening of its new dental clinic in June to comply with new guidelines and maintain safety.

“The renovated spaces helped put these clinics into the 21st Century,” Evans said. “The new equipment and furniture is easier to clean and sanitize.”

Patients who need to be tested for COVID-19 are seen in the parking lot to keep the inside of the clinic from being compromised.

Due to the pandemic, these clinics have adapted to provide alternative solutions to services by changing hours for in-person visits, meeting via telehealth or even setting up appointments in the parking lot.

“We hold well-child clinics in the morning after the office has been cleaned overnight,” Evans said. “Everyone’s temperature is taken before entering the clinic. We keep patients out of the clinic with as many virtual visits by telephone as possible. We test for COVID-19 in the parking lot at the end of the day.”

While BCMC’s future is certainly exciting, the way it has adapted and responded to the current climate is nothing short of heroic. The changes have been dramatic, decisive, innovative, and necessary. Thanks to practical leadership, strong partnerships, and a commitment to the region, BCMC has responded swiftly to current conditions without losing sight of its bright future in the community.

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