Trone visits a community health center | Local News
CUMBERLAND — Although they haven’t been directly impacted as heavily by the national shortage of medical professionals, staff at the Tri-State Community Health Center told Rep. David Trone on Wednesday that they felt the crunch of the COVID-19 in other ways.
Trone, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 6th congressional district, visited the health center as part of a two-day visit to western Maryland during which he visited sites in Washington counties and Allegany on Wednesday, with plans for further stops at Allegany and Garrett on Thursday.
Tri-State operates five clinics in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, executive director Susan Walter said, and serves 20,000 patients between its sites each year, though that number “has really dropped” to around 18,000. in 2020. Many patients at the center are few. Income. Walter said the organization received a total of $7 million in federal grants during the pandemic.
The healthcare group operates a primary care clinic in Kelly Road and an obstetrics and gynecology clinic in Cumberland on the grounds of UPMC Western Maryland, as well as primary care facilities in Hancock, McConnellsburg, Pa. and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
While they were trying to win over mental health clinicians before COVID-19 started, Walter said, the pandemic hampered their progress. As a result, they collaborate with providers who offer support for substance use disorders and mental health issues.
It is “strangely a problem” to try to attract such suppliers to rural areas, Trone said, because there is “a shortage of people to come and do the job”.
Walter praised health center staff and said their turnover has remained low.
“People are so determined to come to work, which was really, really difficult,” Walter said. “We have learned that the stamina of our staff is incredible. They all deserve wings.”
Mandy Blackburn, site manager at Kelly Road Clinic, said she sees “a ton” of patients seeking help for SUD. Transportation to access needed care is often difficult for some in the first place, she noted. Many end up in treatment in Frederick or Logan, West Virginia, due to low local availability.
“Most of them also don’t have a commute, or someone doesn’t have a good enough car to take them where they need to go, because it’s usually out of town,” he said. said Blackburn. “Of course, there’s not much in Cumberland for them. They can’t all stay in the hospital.”
Some patients living with SUD, Blackburn noted, sometimes want forms of treatment that aren’t available or experience problems with the solutions offered. Many also have to wait a long time to see specialists when needed.
The center’s gynecology practice also sees patients struggling with inappropriate substance use, said site manager Diane Markwood. Patients are asked about substance use, mental health and more when seen, Markwood said, which helps connect them with the right resources.
Walter said another challenge is keeping wages competitive to attract new workers and retain existing ones.
“If UPMC needs to raise its rates, we need to be able to do that as well,” Walter said. “We haven’t had, thank goodness, people walking away saying ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ but that’s what’s happening nationally.”
The tax relief received as a result of the pandemic has been a boon to that end, Walter said. The funds also helped the center purchase a trailer to use as a testing and vaccination station.
“We want (staff) to be happy, fulfilled and paid equally,” Walter said. “That’s where the COVID funds that have come to us have been fabulous. We’ve been able to use some of it for hazard pay, raises and bonuses.”
Trone praised the staff at the center for providing “the ultimate customer service”.