Health and Medicine

Blue Cross NC, UNC-Chapel Hill collaborate to expand rural primary care

An $800,000 investment from Blue Cross NC will increase patient-centered primary care and recruit more residents to enter health care professions in Rockingham County and the neighboring area.

The Old Well fountain.
(Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill today announced the UNC School of Medicine’s new Primary Care Rural Advancement Program to address a need for better access to health care in Rockingham County. Made possible by an $800,000 investment from Blue Cross NC, the program will increase patient-centered primary care and recruit more residents to enter health care professions in the county and the neighboring area.

Along with UNC Health Care’s purchase of the former Morehead Memorial Hospital (now UNC Rockingham Health Care) in Rockingham County last year, the program will help prepare the region to expand its ability to provide health care in the rural community.

“We want people to have access to high-quality primary care no matter where in North Carolina they call home,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, President and CEO of Blue Cross NC. “This investment will help make sure primary care physicians get the resources, education, and training they need to practice in rural communities.”

The North Carolina General Assembly is supporting the program with additional funding to augment Blue Cross NC’s investment. The 2016 Rockingham County Community Health Assessment Report states that the county has the lowest rate of primary care physicians per 10,000 residents at 4.7, compared to neighboring counties and to the state average of 7.6. It can be challenging to work as a health care provider in rural communities, largely because of limited access to resources like specialized medical and social services. The Primary Care Rural Advancement Program will incorporate multidisciplinary opportunities for students pursuing medicine, nursing, pharmacy and other health professions to better prepare them for practicing in rural communities. The program will also support current Rockingham County providers as they strengthen primary care access, implementing care models that include both behavioral and physical health.

“Thanks to this generous gift from Blue Cross North Carolina, and support from the General Assembly, we will be able to enhance patient-centered primary care services in Rockingham County,” said Cristy Page, chair of UNC Family Medicine. “The funding will help us work with the community to better understand its health care needs, while developing a collaborative approach to meeting those needs with our local community partners. We aim to build a training pipeline for primary care and to work with practices to improve quality of care, through initiatives like making tele-behavioral health available in the community through the UNC Physician’s Network. We will continue to meet with key stakeholders in the design and implementation of these next steps, and we appreciate the opportunity to make a difference in Rockingham County.”

In January, the former Morehead Memorial Hospital was renamed UNC Rockingham Health Care, following its purchase by UNC Health Care. Since then, the hospital has expanded services such as oncology, added new medical providers and continues to look at ways to better serve residents of the county and surrounding area.

“I would like to thank Blue Cross North Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill for joining the General Assembly in this significant investment in Rockingham County,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger. “Access to high-quality health care in our rural communities is a constant struggle, and this program will not only increase that access, but will also train and prepare future generations of healthcare workers, ensuring that access continues.”

The investment is part of Blue Cross NC’s larger commitment to contribute $50 million toward community health initiatives in 2018 and is partially funded through $40 million in tax savings generated through the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. At UNC-Chapel Hill, Blue Cross NC’s investment will support For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina, the university’s historic $4.25 billion fundraising campaign. It is inspired by the Blueprint for Next, Carolina’s overall strategic framework built on two core strategies: “of the public, for the public,” and “innovation made fundamental.”