Wilkes County residents have access to
Award-winning, experienced healthcare
By Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller
For residents of Wilkes County and the surrounding region, health-related issues are among the top concerns. Here’s a look at how providers within the area strive to take care of the healthcare needs of those who call this part of North Carolina home.
Wilkes Medical Center
Located in the foothills of western North Carolina, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Wilkes Medical Center has served as a site for compassionate, award-winning care for those living in the surrounding communities for more than 70 years.
The mission: To promote health of those in the region by being an exceptional and compassionate provider of care remains unchanged.
As a part of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Wilkes Medical Center offers the resources of a nationally recognized academic medical center, which enables people to access world-class health care close to home.
Wilkes Medical Center providers offer a full range of care. Specialties include cancer services, cardiology, cardiac and pulmonary rehab, emergency services, general surgery, orthopedics, ENT, urology, primary care, birthing services and women’s health.
The compassionate and qualified caregivers offer a blend of care, which includes the latest technology and diagnostic capabilities, through their highly skilled and trained team care.
“We have the resources of a world class academic medical center, coupled with the friendly and compassionate care and experience you and your family deserve and expect,” said Chad Brown, president of Wilkes Medical Center. “It’s the perfect package you won’t find in many communities such as ours. We are your hometown hospital that offers exceptional care with an exceptional experience, right in your backyard.”
In August 2020, the hospital’s newest venture — the Hematology and Oncology-Wilkes Clinic — opened, allowing patients to now conveniently receive diagnosis and treatment of cancer and benign and malignant blood disorders, along with on-site chemotherapy infusion, laboratory and pharmacy services, PET imaging, and access to the latest cancer treatments and clinical trials, while remaining close to home and the support of loved ones.
The clinic is part of Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center network – the only center in the region designated by the National Cancer Institute, and one of only 51 in the country.
“We are always striving to meet the needs of our community and continue to explore, and bring new services and resources to our community,” Brown said. “We are expanding our cardiac services, virtual care and specialty capabilities, women’s services and others, continuing to grow to meet the needs of our community.”
Honors for the center include recognition for patient safety by the Leapfrog Group and being named Best Rural Hospital by MONEY and the Leapfrog Group in 2022. The facility was only one of 23 hospitals in the United States to earn this designation.
Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital
For more than 90 years, Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital has strived to be the best community health system in the nation.
In fact, the organization’s vision strives to set a guiding principle where every member of the team provides the highest level of care for every patient, at every location.
“Hugh Chatham makes a difference every day for local citizens and employers, and our commitment moving forward will be to continue that legacy and ensure that all community members have access to quality healthcare, close to home,” said Paul Hammes, Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital CEO.
A private, not-for-profit hospital, HCMH has provided medical care for the residents of Surry, Wilkes, and Yadkin Counties for more than 92 years.
Now a comprehensive healthcare network, HCMH employs more than 900 healthcare professionals and administrators, including more than 70 physicians representing 28 specialties or subspecialties.
Areas of care span the alphabet, from behavioral health to wound care, with everything in between.
“Hugh Chatham is committed to expanding services and access to care, providing the highest quality healthcare and patient experience, and promoting and advancing the well-being of our community,” Hammes said. “As evidence of our commitment, Hugh Chatham is accredited by the Joint Commission, which surveys, accredits and certifies healthcare organizations that meet their extremely high standards for care.
“Our vision is to be the best community healthcare system in the nation, with service as our guiding principle.”
Primary care services in Wilkes County are offered at three locations: Clingman Medical Center & Express Care, Hugh Chatham Family Medicine - Hays and Hugh Chatham Family Medicine - Boomer.
The Clingman location offers walk-in services and extended hours, Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Additionally, Hugh Chatham offers emergency medicine, stroke care, home health and other specialty services throughout the Yadkin Valley and Southern Virginia.
Honors earned by the medical staff include two Women’s Choice Awards in 2022, Best Hospital for Patient Safety and Best Hospital for Stroke Care, placing in the top 10% nationally.
The facility also attained elite national recognition by achieving the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines - Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award.
During the same period, Hugh Chatham was recognized by Healthgrades for Outstanding Patient Experience, ranking in the top 15 percent nationally. Additionally, following a 2021 survey, the Joint Commission certified the hospital with the Advanced Total Hip and Total Knee Replacement Accreditation, the highest distinction in total joint care.
“Hugh Chatham has an ongoing commitment to prioritizing an exceptional patient experience, while ensuring the health and safety of every patient,” Hammes said. “The well-being of our community is important to every team member, and their compassion, teamwork and dedication is a distinguishing factor for Hugh Chatham. Our organization treats every patient and visitor as if they were family.”
Some of the newest innovations include expanded access to all walk-in, no appointment care options available in Dobson, Elkin, Jonesville and Clingman, and the opening of four new physician practices: Hugh Chatham Endocrinology & Diabetes Specialists, Hugh Chatham Multispecialty, Hugh Chatham Internal Medicine and Hugh Chatham Urgent Care – Elkin.
The Health Foundation
The health and well-being of those who call Wilkes County, North Carolina home, is key to the work conducted by those with The Health Foundation.
A non-profit, The Health Foundation strives to ensure every child and adult is healthy, safe and able to thrive.
“Wilkes County, located in rural Appalachia, is rural, underserved and geographically isolated,” explained Heather Murphy, executive director. “It does not fall into established philanthropic service areas. We are a home-grown cavalry of local volunteers and people who care to make a difference in the world. You need only reflect on our body of work to see we are doing just that.”
Initiatives within The Health Foundation include COPE, the Community Opioid Prevention and Education Team; HWAT, the Healthy Wilkes Action Team; as well as grant making, resilience collaborative works, and an outdoor economic action plan.
“Because complex problems are never solved in isolation, we bring people who share our passion together so that we might develop tailor-made, place-based solutions,” Murphy said. “We utilize a formal Collective Impact Framework coupled with the Human-Centered Design Framework, serving as the backbone entity for a number of initiatives.”
COPE team members strive to tackle the opioid epidemic in the community with a multi-pronged strategic plan which addresses prevention, education, treatment and resilience.
“We have started a working group who will design and implement a Crisis Intervention Team, and we are working with the county government to make recommendations on how to best use the national opioid settlement dollars in our community,” Murphy said. “Our team consists of a broad cross-sector of leaders in business, non-profit, governmental, and the community of persons who use drugs and/or are in recovery from substance use disorders.”
The HWAT addresses issues surrounding healthy eating, active living and chronic disease management, all designed to improve the quality of life for people who live, work, play, pray, and learn in Wilkes County.
“We take a broad look at the environments affecting poor health, because people can only make healthy choices from the choices available to them,” Murphy said. “In a rural, underserved, impoverished location such as Wilkes we have to address food insecurity, transportation barriers, affordability of healthcare, housing and homelessness, upward mobility, toxic stress of poverty, racism and other societal inequalities and improving the outdoor environment.”
Through grantmaking and capacity building, the foundation offers a grant-making program for area nonprofits, leadership training for the non-profit community and even as an incubator for the Child Advocacy Center when its parent agency went into bankruptcy, allowing that organization to become a stand-alone nonprofit agency with national accreditation.
The Resiliency Collaborative works to build both individual and community capacity to address chronic, toxic stressors such as poverty, abuse, mental health disorders, and substance abuse issues. Helping children, families, and those who serve them develops a system of care to deal with multiple forms of trauma.
The foundation also launched the David Shelton Helping Hands Fund to provide emergency assistance for children and families in Wilkes County schools.
The Outdoor Economy Action Plan, a working group outgrowth of HWAT, includes a 180-page outdoor economy plan to improve outdoor recreation and create opportunity for tourism and the relocation of businesses and professionals to the region.
“We are one of five accelerator cohorts of the Made X Mtn program to strengthen Western North Carolina’s outdoor economy,” Murphy said, adding the foundation has helped bring numerous new or improved services to the region including a fresh mobile food market; an adult day care center; on-site emergency heilipad at Wilkes Medical Center; and a respiratory therapy program at Wilkes Community College.
“Our work remains cut out for us, and we lean into the discomfort of not always knowing where our processes may take us,” Murphy said. “That is the beauty of place-based, human-centered philanthropy—that we can be flexible and meet the needs as they emerge. My team and I get up every morning and come to work with heart and enthusiasm, perchance to make a difference in the world.”
Wilkes Public Health Dental Clinic
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Wilkes Public Health Dental Clinic is part of the West Park Medical complex.
Founded in 2000, Wilkes Public Health Dental Clinic’s mission is “To serve the unserved and underserved children and adults of Wilkes County.” It operates on donations from the community and organizations to ensure dental care is available to those in need.
“We are focused on care, education, and results,” said Arden Jolley, executive director. “We understand how important your smile is to how you look and feel, and we pride ourselves on delivering the highest quality of dentistry.
“We ensure our team have the proper education and training to offer the utmost care and treatment for our patients.”
Through years of education and experience, Jolley said the dental providers strive to provide the best possible treatment for their patients. The clinic has been blessed with an amazing dental team. Several team members have been with the clinic since it opened.
“We are able to provide services for all patients, regardless of insurance or financial status,” Jolley said. “We are able to provide dentistry to all ages, recommending the first visit by the first birthday and continued routine dental visits twice a year throughout life.”
Through their efforts, Jolley said, providers have seen a growth in dental care and education for families, resulting in a decrease in dental disease across Wilkes County.
The clinic offers a variety of dental procedures including: dental exams, cleanings, fillings, extractions, root canals, crowns, bridges, dentures and partials. They also partner with local medical officials for the treatment of sleep apnea.
A full-family serving practice, the Wilkes Public Health Dental Clinic offers services in-house access for treatments. The clinic has a walk-in emergency clinic every Thursday morning for any adult in dental pain.
“We hope our patients and families find our facility welcoming and our team caring,” Jolley said. “We work hard to make sure our patients’ needs are met and they leave feeling cared for and with the knowledge they need to continue better dental care at home.”
In 2001, clinic officials established a mobile dental unit to serve every school in Wilkes County, as well as nursing homes, community centers and daycares.
“The mobile unit was designed to provide dental care for the children in Wilkes County and to make access for care a nonissue for the residents of Wilkes County,” Jolley said. “Because of the mobile unit, our team has been able to provide care for those who may not have been able to travel to the office and we have been able to extend dental education to all corners of our county.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Jolley said providers have noticed an increase in their patients’ decay. She credits the increase to poor dietary changes, lack of oral home care and the effects of mental health and depression.
“We want all of our patients to know it is safe to return to the dentist and we are here to assist you,” Jolley said.
Wilkes Recovery Revolution
An accredited Recovery Community Organization, the Wilkes Recovery Revolution is a non-profit organization designed to provide free recovery support services to those within the community.
“Our mission is to create a community where recovery is possible for all by repairing lives, restoring hope and rebuilding the community,” explained Devin Lyall, executive director. “We are a grassroots organization whose efforts support advocacy and community building within the recovery population.”
WRR opened on Nov. 1, 2020. Lyall said organizers found participants are more likely to engage in rehab services when they have a place to feel safe.
“By meeting individuals where they are and allowing them to come as they are, we connect individuals to services and their communities to reduce the harm associated with people with SUD,” Lyall said. “Our participants are our number one concern, and we provide radical acceptance in an authentic, organic, and person-centered experience.”
WRR offers multiple services including crisis assistance, transitional housing, peer support, transportation, employment services, certification course funding, work-study opportunities, dental care assistance, and health and wellness classes.
Governed by a board of directors, Amanda Hooper, operations director, said more than 51 percent of the board has live experience with recovery.
“We believe that people who have been there and had their own experiences are in a unique position to provide individuals in crisis or in need of support with the most authentic and compassionate services,” Hooper said. “We genuinely ask people to come as they are, and we will help them with a self-directed plan to wellness with no judgment or preconceived notion of what they need.
“We will only offer our experiences when called upon and be here to help guide people and their path to recovery. We believe that recovery is any positive change, so we help individuals discover what that looks like for them.”
The R3 Recovery Center, located in Wilkes, is a community center staffed by certified recovery support professionals dedicated to providing free support and resource navigation services. Most of the organization’s programming is housed there, along with access to a computer lab, safe spaces and free pantry items.
One program, the Wilkes County Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative, helps local employers navigate the effects of substance use on the workplace. Lyall said organizers have expanded its efforts by creating Recovery Friendly NC, a statewide initiative designed to assist other communities with creating their own recovery-friendly workplace services.
One program, Fresh Start Farm, is the center’s agricultural work-study program which helps individuals earn certifications while operating a small produce farm. The program, in turn, supports Wilkes Fresh Mobile Market, a mobile farmers market designed to bring fresh, locally grown produce to underserved areas of Wilkes County.
The newest program, a Mobile Recovery Health Unit, is designed to help participants who may face a transportation barrier.
“We take all our services on the road to rural parts of the county,” Hooper said. “We believe that this will allow us to truly meet people where they are and make our services more accessible.”
Other future plans include the establishment of an inpatient residential treatment facility in the county.