Brothers Melvin Gerald, MD, and Keith Gerald celebrated the return of G&G Healthcare to Whiteville at a ribbon cutting Thursday hosted by the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.
Manager Keith Gerald said it was going to be “good to be back, and we are anxiously awaiting April 15, when we’ll begin to see patients.”
That same day, G&G also became only the second eastern N.C. medical practice to receive hurricane recovery funds from the North Carolina Medical Society’s philanthropic foundation since Hurricane Florence.
Chamber President Jennifer Holcomb said G&G was the first medical practice for which she and her staff had held a reopening ceremony since Florence, although several retail businesses damaged by the floodwater have reopened in the same or different locations.
The previous G&G location at 803 S. Madison St. had three feet of water standing inside after the hurricane, Keith Gerald said.
“Our personnel all transferred to Cerro Gordo,” he said. It was the second time in less than two years that the practice had relocated due to hurricane-related flooding. The Gerald family operated three G&G Healthcare offices in Columbus County before Hurricane Matthew wiped out their office in Fair Bluff two and a half years ago. They continued to see patients at their Cerro Gordo and Whiteville locations until Hurricane Florence flooded out the Whiteville practice.
G&G heard that the medical society’s foundation could help them resume the level of service they had previously offered Whiteville-area patients.
Keith Gerald said the $60,000 would help replace destroyed medical equipment not covered by other sources. Patient records were safely stored electronically and not damaged by the storm, and the practice does not operate a lab. The biggest obstacle that Florence threw at G&G and its patients was the loss of a convenient Whiteville location. The downtown office had been seeing about 20 patients a day before Florence, he said, and some of those patients had not managed to make the trip to Cerro Gordo for needed follow-up care since then.
“We did all we could to get back to our patients and remove that barrier,” Gerald said.
Cynthia Ellis, practice manager, said she looked forward to continuing to serve the community in the new location. “We’re very excited to be back,” she said.
Hours in the new location at 326 Columbus Corners will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; extended hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Relocate or rehabilitate
Directors from the medical society and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) attended the celebration. Henry Hawthorne Jr., MD, and Pat Johnson spoke on behalf of Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear, the agency that administers area Medicaid programs. Along with Columbus County officials and Chamber of Commerce leaders, the speakers all remarked on the resilience of the Gerald family and their commitment to providing quality health care in an area that often faces a shortage of health care options.
At least another six practices, and “probably more,” are still applying for help from the NCMS Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, said spokesperson Elaine Ellis (no relation to Cynthia Ellis). The process is lengthy because the Foundation waits to see what reimbursement a practice gets from insurance before committing funds to help relocate or rehabilitate.
Funds for the disaster-stricken offices came from generous contributors in North Carolina and nationwide, Ellis said. Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Medical Association and many concerned doctors heard about Hurricane Florence’s devastation and sent in contributions to help N.C. colleagues get back on their feet.
“The foundation is really dedicated to helping underserved rural areas,” Ellis said. One ongoing NCMS Foundation program places physicians and physician assistants in communities lacking adequate medical care. The professionals make a five-year commitment to work in the needy area, and the foundation repays their school loans. Removing barriers to care is “kind of what we’re all about,” said Ellis.
Gerri Mattson, MD, president of the NCMS Foundation Board of Trustees, released a statement praising Melvin Gerald and G&G staff. “He and his family have persisted through two devastating hurricanes in order to care for those who have come to depend on them,” said Mattson.
“In the face of ongoing adversity, the Gerald family is a community staple as they serve patients in this area who need it most. The Physicians Foundation is honored to support the North Carolina Medical Society as it helps physicians resume caring for their patients following the devastating storm damage,” said Gary Price, MD, president of The Physicians Foundation. “It’s our hope Dr. Gerald can get back to leading his community and providing quality health care for Whiteville residents, who otherwise would have few options for care.”