Local Doc To Lead Health Office
Retired Pinehurst physician Robin Cummings has been named director of the Office of Rural Health and Community Care (ORHCC), a state agency that helps communities get low-cost access to medical care.
"This is an opportunity to see how creative we can be in meeting the challenges in health care, both now and in the future," said Cummings, who started March 7. "We need to find ways to ensure access, control costs and improve quality."
To that end, ORHCC established a task force earlier this week that will meet four times between now and September, and conduct stakeholder meetings in at least eight rural counties.
"Our goal is to come up with four to six specific recommendations that we can work on that would move the needle," Cummings said. "We're trying to narrow it down to things we can accomplish and that can make a difference."
ORHCC, a division of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), was established in 1973 during the administration of Gov. Jim Holshouser and currently supports 28 rural health centers with funding and technical support. The agency also helps to place medical, psychiatric and dental providers in communities throughout North Carolina.
"Gov. Holshouser said the reason he started it was he realized so many rural counties did not have access to good health care," Cummings said. "North Carolina was the first state to have an office of rural health. Now, every state has one.
"Gov. Holshouser should be very proud of that legacy."
Cummings, 57, a former cardiothoracic surgeon, spent the past five years as executive director of Community Care of the Sandhills, a nonprofit health care network serving 71,000 Medicaid enrollees in Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties.
"This new job takes what I have been doing to another level," he said. "I am looking forward to this new challenge."
David Bruton, a retired Moore County physician who served as DHHS secretary during the second administration of Gov. Jim Hunt, said he lobbied Gov. Pat McCrory to appoint Cummings to Bruton's old job.
"I leaned on my Republican friends, even though I try not to let it be known that I have any," Bruton said. "Robin would have been a perfect secretary, but an old yellow-dog Democrat doesn't have a lot of pull."
Still, Bruton said he was happy that Cummings is leading ORHCC.
"I think it's a good thing for medicine, a good thing for North Carolina, and a good thing for Robin," Bruton said. "Robin has a lot of experience with the management of Medicaid, and that is a particular place where the state has to have good management moving forward.
"Right now, America is broke, and one of the reasons is the runaway spending of Medicare and Medicaid. I think it's a crucial time for someone with Robin's talents to be in that job."
Cummings said he appreciated Bruton's efforts.
"David and I are good friends," Cummings said. "He's done a lot for me."
Cummings noted that ORHCC only has 40 employees, which should make his job easier.
"The office has really been an innovator over the years," he said. "We're able to act quickly when someone has an idea because there's not a lot of bureaucracy."
Cummings said another goal is to figure out how to provide better access to health care for uninsured and underinsured patients in North Carolina.
"I find that exciting because, as a provider, I feel like decisions in health care are made by folks who haven't taken care of patients or been out there in the trenches," he said. "I look forward to interacting with different people from across the state to begin resolving some of these issues."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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