Are local medical services keeping up with growth?

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In 2003 Hurricane Isabel came ripping through the Town of Colonial Beach and the town was forced to take a good look at its emergency preparedness. Among a few other things, the town discovered that it had very few medical resources within the community should adversity strike.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Richard Dunn announced that he was relocating his practice. This upset a great many people as Dunn had built up quite a following within the community. The absence of Dunn’s practice would also have left the community with even less medical resources as Dominion Medical Center located across from Days Inn had only one physician at the time whose practice was restrictyed to patients over 15.

A committee was formed to take a really good look at the medical coverage situation here in the town and what the committee found was that Colonial Beach, in fact Westmoreland County, was considered to be medically underserved in every category across the board – primary care physician, nurse practitioner and psychiatry. Appropriate medical services became a part of the vision that was being constructed for the town.

Kel and Rosie Hoovler saw a need within the community and brought in the Colonial Beach Medical Center, which has been a tremendous asset. Without it, Colonial Beach, at the present moment, would have no doctors practicing within the community as the Dominion Medical Center has not had a physician on staff for over 6 months.

They do have a doctor in King George who sees Colonial Beach patients and a podiatrist who comes to the office on Fridays. Also, the town is now without a dentist for the first time in 35 years. Doc Gares retired on December 21 and he will be sorely missed.

The Hoovler’s clinic, the Colonial Beach Medical Center, offers the services of a family practitioner, Dr. Williams on Wednesdays, a physician’s assistant, Amin Karkin, on most Fridays, a nurse practitioner on Saturdays, Dr. Larry Boulware on Tuesdays to see walkins, and Dr. Luma Ghalib as its full time resident physician. Dr. Ghalib received her fellowship training in Endocrinology from Chicago Medical School, completed her Internal Medicine residency at the Medical University of Ohio and received her medical degree from Baghdad University Medical College in Baghdad, Iraq. Dr. Ghalib specializes in internal medicine, the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, thyroid, obesity, women’s health and other hormonal disorders. Dr. Ghalib is board certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine with certification in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.

But with all the new construction and pending increase in population, that still does not provide the town or the county with sufficient medical coverage. Both communities are still considered medically underserved four years later the studey and at the present population level. There is no pediatrician within the Colonial Beach community, no doctor who gives immunizations. The Colonial Beach Medical Center does not see any patients under two because of the way the practice is structured, and if the baby boomers really are planning to retire here as hoped for and expected, they will expect certain expanded medical services. This still leaves the town with no dentist.

Beth O’Connor, Director of the Rural Health Association, points out that Westmoreland County and Colonial Beach, both of which have high poverty levels, may also be looking at further coverage problems due to the presidential veto of the SCHIP bill. This was the funding that came from the federal government to support the FAMIS program, an aspect of Medicaid that provides insurance to children who would otherwise go without. Patrick Finnerty, Director, Department of Medical Assistance Services says, “Virginia is currently operating our FAMIS program under a continuing resolution passed by Congress. The continuing resolution allows states to use carryover funds and allocates additional funds to states facing a shortfall during the continuing resolution period.� Using these funds, it is estimated that Virginia will be able to “sustain FAMIS through March 2008.�

O’Connor also draws attention to the fact that the Rural Health Safety Net bill was vetoed as well and explains this as a pool of federal funds, some of which went towards keeping hospitals in rural areas open. Dr. Thomas Urungu, director of the Three Rivers Health District, of which Westmoreland County is a part, confirms that to lose this funding would not be a good thing for Riverside Tappahannock Hospital as they receive monies from this source. Urungu says he is familiar with Colonial Beach as he volunteers at the Guadalupe Medical Clinic.

In the not too distant past the Town of Colonial Beach supported two full time physicians who covered for one another during vacations. So whose responsibility is it to go out and find doctors? Although medical services are contained in the comprehensive plan, it is an extremely brief mention and in no way implies any responsibility on the part of the planners to put together a medical plan for the community. The town manager says that he has never heard of it being a town’s responsibility to seek out doctors yet supposed it could, but Mayor Pete Bone says it’s up to the Board of Supervisors to ensure that the entire county is properly covered and that Colonial Beach is a part of the county.

Dr. Urungu agrees and says that the Town of Colonial Beach “needs to lobby the Board of Supervisors. They need to find a champion there, someone who will make this a priority. It takes forward thinking people who see what’s coming down the pike in ten years to make things happen.�

One of the opportunities which will be offered to the community, hopefully within the coming year, is the Urgent Care Center which is being built in King George, and which will service the local community as a destination for medical services. With this new center, emergency personnel will be able to divert much of the ambulance traffic which now heads for Fredericksburg, but which is not a true emergency.
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