Nelson County, Virginia is a medically underserved area meaning there are no hospitals within its borders. Until recently, there was limited dental coverage and no pediatricians. For over 20 years, Blue Ridge Medical Center (BRMC) has served Nelson County as a comprehensive primary healthcare provider, but limited space greatly affected the amount of patients they could provide care and they noticed a rise in demand. While BRMC is not a full service hospital, for many residents of Nelson County and neighboring Amherst County, is it their primary source for medical attention.
BRMC’s mission statement reads “to provide quality health care to all people in Nelson County and neighboring communities; and to improve their general health and wellbeing through prevention, education, and treatment.” They live up to their mission by serving clients regardless of insurance coverage or financial status and they bill patients on a sliding scale.
“The recent expansion was our 20 year plan,” explains BRMC executive director, Peggy Whitehead. “We had four expansions in the past, but each time we had already outgrown the space before completion.” By “20 year plan” Peggy means that the recent funding has allowed the center to plan the building’s layout to comfortably accommodate patient and employee growth for many years to come. Gone are the crowded waiting rooms, the cramped pharmacy work floor, and the constant worry and stress. “In 2004, the entire administrative staff moved to a small modular building so that we could have more exam rooms,” laughed Peggy. “Now, each healthcare provider has 3 exam rooms each, which many consider to be the optimal number to provide adequate flow. The pharmacy technicians can now work comfortably and efficiently. Patients have a large waiting area, including a section for children to play. All of these changes, the space, the new hires, the improvement in morale means that the center can see more patients with less waiting time without sacrificing any of the high quality healthcare they have come to know and love.”
BRMC also provides one of the few access points for dental coverage for low-income clients. Due to budget constraints, the original dental facility was a cramped trailer outfitted with only three dental chairs and was staffed only twice a week by visiting dentists. Dental care is a high priority in Nelson County because good oral health can prevent many common diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Since many of the households received their drinking water from non-fluoridated sources such as wells, providing adequate dental coverage is incredibly important for the health of Nelson County’s families.
Thanks to a $2.5 million investment from Fahe, BRMC was able to double the number of exam rooms, create a new pediatrics program with a full time pediatrician, build a dental clinic that accepts patients who use Medicaid, and expand the pharmacy. The center now also provides telecommunication with specialists so that residents don’t have to drive hours away to visit larger cities such as Lynchburg or Charlottesville. Before the expansion, BRMC served approximately 9,000 patients a year. They have estimated that with the expansion they will be able to serve over 11,000 patients.
Along with providing additional care for the community, the expansion has created much-needed jobs for the area. 66 construction jobs were created as well as the equivalency of 10.5 full time jobs at the center. One of those jobs went to Robin Wayne-Herring, who is now currently a front desk clerk. Before being hired full time, Robin was a part time assistant nurse practitioner at BRMC and before that she was unemployed, having been laid off from her job of 8 years at Southern States. “The economy is really bad. There aren’t many businesses in Nelson County and in fact I think that BRMC may be one of the largest in the area,” explains Robin. “During an American Cancer Society Relay for Life event at the Center, Peggy Whitehead announced the expansion. At that moment I knew I had to apply for a job at the center.”
For Robin, working at the facility means several important things. For one, she is a volunteer EMT. Being at the facility allows her a greater contact with the community and helps her be even more involved in the medical field. Secondly, Robin is a patient at BRMC. Even before becoming an employee, Robin felt that the staff truly cared about their patients and they worked hard to make sure everyone felt at home. Equally important for Robin is the handicap accessibility of the new facility versus the cramped conditions of the old. Robin’s young son is also a patient at BRMC and is wheelchair bound.
The recent expansion hasn’t stopped BRMC’s plans for the future. A survey of the town revealed that short of a full service hospital, residents would like to see an urgent care center opened.
Rural Appalachia has traditionally had difficulty attracting hospitals and large primary care centers. The success of BRMC serves as an example of what can be accomplished through collaboration across different organizations and by utilizing and empowering the local medical professionals.