Our Commitment to the People of Tangier Island

Riverside wins award for commitment to Tangier

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Riverside won the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association's 2014 Community Benefit Award for its support of the Tangier clinic. Accepting the award from VHHA Chairman John Fitzgerald, right, are: Dr. Barry Gross, Riverside's chief medical officer, left; and Kimberly Clark, who oversees the clinic and also manages White Stone Family Practice.

Many years ago, on Tangier Island it was common to see people lined up outside a dilapidated, dank and moldy building waiting to see one of the doctors who visited the island occasionally. On this tiny island in the Chesapeake Bay, where most of the 500-plus residents work as watermen or serve the summer tourist industry, people delayed seeing a doctor. Fifty years ago, the only professional health care was provided by a hodgepodge of charitable doctors who made the trek to the island once a week or so, mainly during the summer. Going off the island for regular medical care was a logistical nightmare because the closest health care providers are an hour away by boat, weather permitting, and then there’s additional drive time. The population had inordinately high prevalence of health problems, including Tangier Disease, an inability to remove cholesterol from cells leading to a buildup of cholesterol on internal organs. Lack of health care access, a small gene pool and a difficult watermen’s lifestyle contribute to their health care issues.

Tangier Island

Today, though, there is no long line of people seeking medical services, because access to health care has become reliable and trusted. This is a big change from the old clinic, and it happened mainly due to the efforts of one man. Dr. David Nichols, a primary care doctor who lived and worked on the Northern Neck, visited Tangier and decided to transform health care on the island. He flew to the island every Thursday for more than 30 years, and not just in the summer. He built trustDr. Nichols Clinicwith all of the island residents and helped fundraise for a new facility. Although Dr. Nichols passed away in 2010, his legacy is alive and well on Tangier Island. Nichols’ clinic is now an integral part of island life. Today, Inez Pruitt, an islander, serves the community as a Physician Assistant on staff five days a week. Inez is the heart and soul of the Clinic – she’s the one treating people day and day out.

Riverside Health System continues Nichol’s remarkable dedication and service for people in extreme need of health care access. The system’s mission is caring for others as we care for those we love, and the Tangier Island clinic is evidence of the extension of that mission. Despite the logistic challenges of serving a small and remote island, Riverside provides the resources needed. The commitment to the clinic is part of their social accountability as well as evidence of The Riverside Care Difference: to keep people safe, help heal them, and to treat people with kindness and respect. The islanders have responded to that love and care, and cherish the clinic as part of their daily lives.

Dr. Nichols at Tangier Island

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