Caring for a rural community

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 2:45pm
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Block Island Health Services asked the island community to join in a conversation about the challenges of operating a rural health clinic and the opportunities to sustain and grow a vital community healthcare facility. BIHS Operations Chief, and Director of the Wellness and Risk Reduction Program Allison Warfel and BIHS Executive Administrative Assistant Kyra Ernst presented this topic to the community on Monday, Jan. 20 at the Island Free Library.

“Both are engaged in higher education that is geared in the healthcare field,” said BIHS Board member Laura Parsons in her introduction of the two presenters.

“The board of the BIHS... determine the long-term needs on the island and how we best meet those needs, and how we are going to fund it. This is the beginning of helping all of us in the community,” said Parsons. “Most of us know relatively little about it.”

Warfel began the presentation by saying, “our challenges here are so unique, we can’t look anywhere else for solutions.”

One of the unique aspects of Block Island is that it is designated as a rural community.

Because of that designation, Block Island benefits from such grants from the federal Health Resources & Services Administration. The HRSA helps people who are geographically isolated and medically vulnerable, “providing grant funding to rural programs,” said Ernst.

To name a few of the challenges of being in an island environment, Ernst said “the most common challenges are disease, lack of transportation services, provider services, and primary care.”

Ernst and Warfel said other island and isolated environments were in similar situations, such as Catalina Island and Martha’s Vineyard, which have expanded services for their patients. The HRSA, Rural Health Clinics, and the Federal Qualified Health Center help rural communities receive health care and provide some funding.

The Block Island Medical Center had “6,500 total patient visits” in calendar year 2019. Warfel said. “We saw sick people more than moped and bike accidents. We want to make this a safe place to come and stay, and a safe place to live.”

Warfel discussed having extended program needs here, including therapy, physical therapy, and women’s health assistance.

The presentation came to a close, with focuses on new goals for island-based health services. Ernst and Warfel encouraged the idea of creating a sustainable community for health care, with expanded health services for all, regardless of ability to pay.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity. We have great staff, medical direction,” said Ernst. “It’s an opportune time to take advantage and move forward with the Medical Center.”

The Block Island Health Services Board of Directors, which oversees the Medical Center, has started a $7.5 million capital campaign in an effort to expand trauma care and purchase housing for the interns who regularly staff the center in the summer.

“The question is how we can maximize the resources we have, while still staying true to our mission,” said Warfel.