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‘Not a normal clinic’: The importance of access to care

Access to health care is something most people don’t think about very often. Just like clean drinking water or the ability to find fresh food, it’s something that’s easy to take for granted. But for many people across the state, finding the health care they need is an ongoing battle. Like the families of Surry County, located in the foothills of North Carolina. For some, getting quality care isn’t as simple as making an appointment or heading to the local hospital.   

That’s where the team at Surry Medical Ministries (SMM) comes in. As a member of the NC Association of Free & Charitable Clinics, which receives funding and support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), SMM was able to establish the county’s first dental clinic for the uninsured population in the area. Thanks to SMM’s hard work and innovative solutions, numerous families and individuals now have access to the dental care they need. 

Watch how SMM serves Surry County


[SCREEN TEXT] Nancy Dixon, Surry Medical Ministries, Executive Director & President of the Board of Directors

Our rural hospitals struggle. I think that's not a secret to anybody in health care.

We have folks who need to come here that may not be able to receive charity care at the hospital.

Our patient load started getting bigger and we were saying, "Hey, patients can't always get in."

Where were the gaps in what we were doing? And what was the quality of care? 

We are a community health center.


[SCREEN TEXT] Dr. David Dixon, Surry Medical Ministries, MD. Lead Physician & Medical Director

Our motto should be "we are not a normal clinic." As opposed to trying to build a system where, okay, let's fit everybody into this system.

We try to see where the needs are and meet that need. 


Our mission is to increase access to care for everyone by reaching out, one by one.


That means transportation, changing our visit slots to accommodate what's going on with them. Home visits, we'll do that – I'll do that.

You know, these aren't fancy, novel ideas, but they're basically meeting the patients where they are and recognizing that they need that kind of extra help.


The need for more intensive outreach to our H-2A farmworker community was highlighted.


The opportunities for health care, for this population, is really almost nonexistent, as far as good coverage.

[SCREEN TEXT] Nereyda Valencia, Surry Medical Ministries, Farmworker Care Manager 

Our farmworker health program, we provide resources to our farmworker population. 

I don't know them. They don't know me. 

So it's like the way I interact, the way you come, it means a lot. Like if you come in and just see them as patients, no, like, you kind of see them as your friends. I see them as my uncles. I see them as my cousins.



It's very rare to see a clinic that has bilingual staff.



A new farm worker, He told me, like, “Hey I talk to you.”

So then right then and there, I knew there was something going on.







We don’t do wisdom tooth extractions?


They might. It's possible.

It depends upon, you know, the severity of it all sorts of things.

It’s swollen and sounds like it's going to be infected. 

Let's go ahead and move on this.

They’ve got a clinic tomorrow. Let me pull some strings.

Everything with dental is volunteer. I mean how many dentists to we have?

We’ve got 11 patients on the schedule. 

Here we go. Let’s see what’s happening.

“Send him on.”

Good news.




The doctor answered and said, “Send him.”


This guy's been dealing with a broken wisdom tooth for over six months.

You make little things happen, and it's so cool to see.


What we work on is keeping them, from just going to the emergency room.

Our services are $4, which, it's nothing, but we do waive that.

I want you to have your medicine. I want you to stay healthy.

I'm an unpaid employee. Doctor Dixon works for $100 a month.

How the clinic is funded: through donations. People are giving money so that we can provide services either for nothing or for very little pay.


That's probably the big reason that I think Surry Medical Ministries has been successful is just outstanding support.


We were really fortunate.

During the Extra Miles tour, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina chose to come and make a visit.

They really were just interested in everything we did here.

We wrote a grant to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and that provided the funds for two self-contained dental carts that can be used in our dental surgery suite.

They can also be rolled on to a mobile clinic.

Really outfitted our whole entire dental suite.

We're small, but we actually over 30 years have had a big impact for the people who have never had good access or consistent access to health care.

So it's vitally important for all of us that, for our communities to be healthy, it takes each person to be healthy.

[SCREEN TEXT] Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina

To learn more about Blue Cross NC community investments, visit the Community and Diversity Engagement page.


And Martin, dynamic media producer at Blue Cross NC, served as interviewer and producer. John Fulton, dynamic media manager at Blue Cross NC, served as photographer.

authors photo

Stephen Childress

Stephen Childress


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