Editor’s note: National Rural Health Day is Nov. 21, 2019. Throughout the month, we are sharing stories to highlight the challenges and good work being done to improve health care in rural America. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of the Sandhill ConNEXTion.
As a child growing up in Jefferson, Jessica Brubeck came to understand that all things are not equal in the field of medicine. Health care was not always easy to find in many rural areas. Nor was it easy to afford.
As an adult, she decided to make a difference, becoming a nurse practitioner and choosing a path that would lead her back home. “I know what it’s like to not have resources,” Brubeck says. “I know what it’s like to not have much access to medical care.”
After the Sandhills Medical Foundation began working toward opening a medical clinic in Ruby, the foundation tabbed Brubeck to lead the way. The new clinic held an open house on Aug. 6, 2018. “I think I met everybody in Ruby at that open house,” she says.
Businesses and residents in the area helped raise $60,000 to renovate the dilapidated building where Dr. Michael Velarde, truly a small-town doctor, once cared for the community. “They tell me people would follow him home and he would treat them in his driveway,” Brubeck says.
The Sandhills Medical Foundation, which also operates clinics in McBee and Jefferson, sought help from Ruby and the surrounding communities. State Rep. Richie Yow helped raise about $16,000. Sandhill Telephone donated $12,000.
“Sandhill has always believed in giving back and supporting the communities we live and work in,” says Sandhill Telephone Board President Dale McCluney. “We believe the medical clinic is much-needed in the town of Ruby, and we are pleased to be able to assist in making this a reality.”
The reality for many of the clinic’s patients once included long drives to neighboring towns for medical care and even medicines. “A lot of our patients are older, and traveling can be really hard on them,” Brubeck says. “They don’t like it at all.”
Some would make the drive to Chesterfield or Cheraw, while others might make a 40-minute drive to Florence or even across the state line to Monroe, North Carolina. Now, those people have an option close to home. Brubeck and her staff of three started out seeing a couple of patients every day. That number grew to about 10 per day by the end of 2018. “We hope to double that,” Brubeck says. “It’s growing little by little.”
Though there is no doctor on-site at the Ruby clinic, Dr. Sharon Browning, the consulting physician from the McBee clinic, is a phone call or email away, Brubeck says. So far, Brubeck says most of her patients have suffered from common maladies like colds and viruses. Other health concerns, however, are all too common in the area — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. In addition to giving treatment, Brubeck and her staff also provide education.
“We have a lot of patients who come in and don’t know what medicines they’re taking,” she says. “We take the time to go over each one. Sometimes we’ll even write it down on a card for them. So, there’s a lot of education with these patients coming in. We have the time for it now. Though we’re getting busier each week, it’s important to take that time with them.”
Brubeck says she is patient-driven, which is what made her a perfect fit for Sandhills Medical. She says she understands her patients because, at the end of the day, she is one of them.
“This job definitely brings a smile to my face,” Brubeck says. “My patients are spoiled. I treat them like they’re my family, and I would want to be treated the same way. They want somebody who is going to sit down and talk to them and listen to them.”
She says patients are too often numbers on an insurance form, but not so in Ruby. At the Ruby clinic and the others Sandhills Medical Foundation operates in the region, a sliding scale determines how much patients pay for visits. A patient’s status as insured or indigent makes no difference.
“I worked in an emergency room for so long, and I would see patients who just did not know what to do next,” Brubeck says. “You’d see the constant rollover of patients, and you’d tell them to follow up with a doctor wherever and whenever they could.”
But Brubeck says clinics such as the one in Ruby can help stop that cycle in rural areas, providing affordable care for those who need it most. “I hope we’re very successful here and that we have a high patient population that continues every day,” Brubeck says.
“If we can grow the Ruby clinic and grow the office, I would love to be able to get medicine for our patients easier — to get a pharmacy in there so that they don’t have to drive those distances. That would be one of my goals.”