HealthNet helps local people find health care

By Si Cantwell

A woman we’ll call Jane came to the New Hanover County Department of Social Services needing health care. She didn’t have insurance, so she was referred to Tileston Health Clinic.

Tileston found free medicine for her high blood pressure, but tests were needed to find out why she was having trouble breathing. New Hanover Regional Medical Center performed the tests and found she had pulmonary fibrosis. Scarring in her lungs made breathing difficult.

She needed a nebulizer, which pushes medicine into the lungs. She’d been to the emergency room several times for treatment.

That’s when Gina Bradley enters the story. She’s the nurse advocate for Cape Fear HealthNet.

HealthNet is a coalition of agencies in New Hanover and Brunswick counties. It helps people find health care. It arose from the Healthy Carolinians initiative and was incorporated in 2008.

Bradley was able to get Jane a nebulizer. She went to Jane’s home to teach her how to set it up and use it. She’s teaching Jane how exercise and a proper diet can help with her blood pressure.

HealthNet’s services go beyond traditional medical care. Bradley teaches moms how to shop on a budget for healthful foods. She might have to resolve a transportation issue or find day care so a patient can see a doctor.

She found an oversized wheelchair and walker for one very large fellow, and a bedside commode for him. She actually rearranged the furniture in his room to make it easier for him to move around.

“It’s almost like it’s contagious,” she said. “Helping people is contagious.”

One of HealthNet’s aims is to find alternatives to emergency room care for the uninsured.

“The emergency room is the worst place to go for primary care,” said Tami Eldridge, executive director of Cape Fear HealthNet. The emergency room stabilizes patients in crisis, she said. There’s no relationship to a doctor or nurse, no follow-up care.

HealthNet finds appropriate places for those who need health care.

“We’re the door that’s open when all the other doors are closed,” she said.

HealthNet has “navigators” stationed at Department of Social Services offices, helping people find the right places to go with health problems. Various agencies provide different services and their eligibility guidelines also differ. Bradley and the navigators work from inches-thick resource guides.

Demand for services is rising. HealthNet made 50 percent more safety net referrals in the year ended June 30 than it did a year earlier, and the number of people served per month was up 61 percent.

Looking ahead, HealthNet’s providers expect to treat 31 percent more patients in the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, with the numbers of uninsured patients rising 59 percent.

HealthNet and its partners need volunteers and monetary donations. They also need help with medicines and medical supplies. One business downsized and donated its office furniture. HealthNet found places for all of it.

Call HealthNet at 798-3594 to find out more, or visit

Si Cantwell: 343-2364

Bradley has formed relationships with health care providers and equipment vendors. She said businesses and individuals are generally glad to help

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