HCHF partners with Dogwood Health Trust to expand primary care services

Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation (HCHF) and Dogwood Health Trust have joined forces in support of expanding primary care services on the Plateau through establishment of Blue Ridge Health – Highlands Cashiers, a new health center which will open in late June.

“We could not be more grateful to Dogwood Health Trust for partnering with us as an initial funder of our current highest priority,” said Robin Tindall, CEO HCHF. “We hope that our generous donor community will join Dogwood in supporting primary care on the plateau, and we look forward to introducing everyone to new physicians in the weeks and months ahead.”

HCHF has made great strides toward its mission to improve the health and well-being of Highlands, Cashiers and surrounding communities. Since February 2019, the Foundation has awarded over $3 million in grants to 75 organizations and has also led extensive efforts to decrease the spread of COVID-19 across the plateau through school screenings, community testing, and COVID-19 vaccination clinics. 

As these measures continue to benefit communities throughout the area, the Foundation is now turning its attention to resolving a problem that has long plagued the plateau: insufficient access to primary healthcare services.

Like many rural areas across the country, in recent years the plateau has experienced significant difficulty recruiting and retaining primary care practitioners. In the past decade, eight of ten local physicians have stopped practicing on the plateau. A shortage of physicians can have dire consequences for the communities affected – a reality that was underscored during local listening sessions conducted by the Foundation. Without exception, every participating organization cited limited access to affordable healthcare as being among the top three contributors to systemic community problems.

Given its reach and capacity, the Foundation was uniquely equipped to respond when called upon to help resolve this escalating problem. Following a thorough needs assessment and extensive research over the course of two years, a collaborative solution was conceived, and plans are now well underway for the opening of Blue Ridge Health – Highlands Cashiers, a comprehensive family medicine center operated by Blue Ridge Health in collaboration with Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) where, as a Rural Teaching Practice, UNC School of Medicine students, and MAHEC Family Practice Residents and many others will become acquainted with our unique community while providing quality primary care during their rural rotations.

At a time when fewer than three percent of North Carolina’s medical school graduates choose to practice in rural areas, the plateau has benefitted immeasurably from the steadfast care provided by Dr. Patti Wheeler and Dr. Scott Baker who have delivered dedicated care for many years through their respective family medicine practices in Highlands. “Dr. Wheeler and Dr. Baker have been the saving grace of family medicine on the plateau, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude,” said Dr. Richard Ellin, HCHF board member and head of the committee charged with addressing the plateau’s shortage of primary care practitioners.

The plateau area’s rural location and demographic makeup factor into its designation by the Health Resources and Services Administration (an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) as both a Healthcare Provider Shortage Area (HSPA) and a Medically Underserved Area (MUA). These designations are indicators that at current levels, the number of physicians does not meet the plateau’s population health needs.

“HCHF has put together an innovative solution to increase access to healthcare in its surrounding rural communities,” said Dr. Susan Mims, Interim CEO of Dogwood Heath Trust.   “With Dogwood’s health and wellness strategic priority in mind, we are pleased to partner in this collaborative initiative by partially funding the first-year start-up costs to grow the number of providers serving the rural Highlands Cashiers Plateau area, and to expand access to the broad range of services offered by Blue Ridge Health.”

The health center, located between Cashiers and Highlands on the hospital campus in the Jane Woodruff Clinic, will serve patients with two physicians whose combined experience and skill sets make them a synergistic pair and a perfect addition to the mountain’s medical community. Ann Davis, MD has been a family medicine doctor for 10 years, with 5 years of experience as a teacher for medical residents. Kristy Fincher, DO will treat all patients from infants to seniors. Dr. Fincher has extensive experience in sports medicine and a true love of treating the whole family.

“Dogwood’s grant of $300,000 is especially appreciated as it lays a solid foundation for the additional financial support that will be needed to get the health center up and running,” said Tindall.

HCHF will seek donations from the community to fulfill its “Leap of Faith” five-year commitment to financially support the health center. Dr. Walter Clark, Board Chair of HCHF said, “We invite everyone on the plateau to join us in supporting the establishment of a lasting solution to ensure high quality, sustainable primary care on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau for generations to come.”  

Click HERE to join in Lifting Health and Well-Being, Together.                 

About HCHF

The Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation was established on February 1, 2019 as a 501(c)3 public charity to improve the health and well-being of Highlands, Cashiers, and surrounding communities. Together with generous donors, the Foundation aims to make positive and lasting change by supporting projects and programs that improve health and well-being in the communities we serve. Visit our website at www.hchealthfnd.org to join us in Lifting Health and Well-Being, Together.

About BRH – HCHF

Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, together with generous donors, will provide initial funding and subsidies to establish Blue Ridge Health – Highlands Cashiers which will be operated by Blue Ridge Health, a 501(c)3 non-profit patient centered medical home delivering quality healthcare that is accessible and affordable for all.

Additionally, MAHEC will establish a Rural Teaching Practice working in concert with Blue Ridge Health. Recent medical school graduates who want to expand their knowledge of rural medicine will have a Rural Resident Rotation at the center along with current UNC School of Medicine students, WCU Nursing School Students and even local high school and middle school students who are interested in the healthcare field.

Two primary care physicians and support staff will offer a comprehensive continuum of health care services for all ages from infants to seniors, including healthy lifestyles and nutrition programs, screenings, treatments for acute illnesses and minor injuries, physical exams, women’s services, minor office procedures and chronic disease management …all under one roof. Insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid will be accepted, and a sliding-fee scale will be available for eligible patients ensuring that all people are served regardless of ability to pay.

About Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust is a private foundation based in Asheville, North Carolina with the sole purpose of dramatically improving the health and well-being of all people and communities of 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary in Western North Carolina. Dogwood Health Trust was created from the net proceeds of the sale of Mission Hospital System and focuses on innovative and equitable ways to address the many factors that contribute to overall health and wellness, with a focus on housing, education, economic opportunity, and access to care and health resources. Dogwood Health Trust works to create a Western North Carolina where every generation can live, learn, earn and thrive, with dignity and opportunity for all, no exceptions. To learn more, please visit www.dht.org.

About Blue Ridge Health

Blue Ridge Health (BRH) is a nonprofit healthcare system that works closely with communities to meet the ever-changing healthcare needs of our region with high-quality, comprehensive, and accessible healthcare services. With 33 locations throughout Western North Carolina, BRH offers primary care, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health and nutrition services that prioritize the patient care experience. For 57 years, BRH has served as the leader in community-focused healthcare, providing services to communities in Transylvania, Henderson, Rutherford, Buncombe, Polk, Jackson, Haywood and Swain Counties. If you would like more information about BRH visit www.brchs.com.

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