McDowell County to Expand Access to Medical Services for Low-Income Residents

Investment is a Part of Long-Term Healthy Places NC Initiative

With support from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, McDowell County will expand a program to serve low-income high utilizers of emergency medical services. This investment is part of the Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative, a long-term program aimed at improving the quality of life and health in rural, financially disadvantaged North Carolina counties.

The McDowell County Emergency Medical Services (McDowell EMS) received a grant of $339,427 over two years to expand its Rural Community Care Paramedic (RCCP) program that connects residents with primary care, transportation, and various other community resources. The program served 607 patients during its first two years and has prevented unnecessary hospital readmissions to McDowell Hospital. In addition, the services have led to an 82 percent reduction in EMS transports and emergency room visits among patients receiving intensive assistance.

“McDowell EMS community paramedics work closely with various community partners to ensure we take a holistic approach to meet the individual needs of each patient. This non-traditional service has proven extremely effective by establishing patients with a primary care home, reducing the number of EMS transports and non-emergent visits to local ERs,” said Emergency Services Director William Kehler. “Through strong partnerships with community agencies, the Rural Community Care Paramedic program will continue to enhance the level of service provided to our patients.”

Community care paramedic programs such as the one in McDowell have shown strong results around the country and the state. When it began in 2013, the McDowell EMS Community Care Paramedic Program was one of the first programs of its kind in North Carolina.

The program estimates that over three years it will divert 150 patients with mental health issues from the emergency room and refer an additional 150 new patients to primary care. Through partnerships with regional hospitals, the program aims to increase referrals to the RCCP program by 30 percent, preventing an estimated 50 readmissions annually.

“We’re proud of the innovative work being done in McDowell County to connect rural residents with the care they need,” said Allen Smart, Interim President and Vice President of Programs at the Trust. “Accessing health care services can be especially difficult in low-income, rural areas because of significant transportation barriers. The RCCP program will help community members with few to no health care options access medical services.”

McDowell County has been participating in Healthy Places NC since 2012. The Trust plans to invest $100 million in 10 to 12 rural, low-income counties over a 10-year period. Six other counties—Beaufort, Burke, Halifax, Rockingham, Edgecombe and Nash Counties—currently participate in Healthy Places. For a complete list of grants approved by the Trust’s Health Care Division, visit here.