Hertford County August 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

Weyling White, mayor of Ahoskie in Hertford County, recalls the moment he decided to seek that office. He had just brought his grandmother back to her home after a lunch celebration for her birthday, and he noticed a hole in the side of her house. Looking closer, he found several more, and then bullet casings in the driveway. And none of those things were there a couple of hours earlier when he picked her up for the party.

Someone had fired bullets at or near his grandmother’s home – perhaps only minutes earlier. At that moment in a grandmother’s driveway, a campaign for mayor began.

Mayor White’s urgency for change is shared by the staff and leadership of the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) in Ahoskie. The federally qualified health center – a nonprofit receiving federal funds to provide services to medically underserved areas and populations – is a community hub, serving 16,810 patients in 2022 with a range of health services. Since COVID-19, many of those services have been in particularly high demand, including mental health consultations and treatments.

In fact, there is only one psychiatrist in the area – and that therapist doesn’t treat children. This is a tragically common theme heard across the state during Blue Cross NC’s Extra Miles Tour. And in Hertford County, there are additional practical problems that worsen the problem of access to mental health care, including the language barrier facing the county’s migrant agricultural workers who travel with the seasons from Florida up the East Coast to New England.

Still, there are plenty of signs of progress. The center’s mobile health unit, which went into service at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, is succeeding in expanding access to care. The mobile unit can provide everything from physical exams for school athletes to diabetes assessments to mental health screenings. The mobile unit does much of its work in the evenings, as most farm workers can’t take time off during the day for medical appointments. Many who are treated in the mobile unit haven’t visited a doctor’s office in years – concrete proof that investing in the mobile unit is vital to making care available for a large part of the local population.

The health center is moving ahead with urgency to meet the growing demand for its services. A rural area like Hertford County has health needs that can be quite different from major metro regions. RCCHC is “upscaling” its staff through professional development offerings, allowing employees time away from work for classes and training focused on rural care. Multi-year residency and internship programs provide hands-on instruction, with an aim toward producing more credentialed health care workers who will ultimately choose to live and work in the area for the long term.

The center’s focus on dental care is gaining momentum. As the root cause of many broader health problems, dental health is an all too often neglected part of overall well-being. And it’s another front of the effort to expand access to care in Hertford County, where there are only two dentists; in neighboring Bertie County, there are no dentists at all, which increases demand for Hertford’s two providers. RCCHC is moving ahead with plans to build a dental office to alleviate some of the strain.

Mayor White’s practical and immediate response to seeing a problem is symbolic of the roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-to-work attitude of Hertford County’s leaders and citizens. They are a model of determination and innovation for all of Northeastern North Carolina and beyond.

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U39702, 9/23