Success Stories in Outer Banks Community Medical Care

By Molly Harrison | Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Medical services on the Outer Banks have expanded and more people than ever have access to care thanks to three federally funded, community-owned nonprofit medical centers and the ever-increasing services at free community clinics in Nags Head and Frisco.

With the opening of the new Manteo Community Health Center on July 11, there are now three Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in the region, one in Manteo, one in Ocracoke and one in Engelhard on the Hyde County mainland. 

FQHC facilities are federally sponsored health centers governed by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). They receive federal funding to offer medical services to underserved populations, create whole-person care without financial barriers to care and bridge the gap in healthcare for underinsured, uninsured, Medicaid and Medicare patients. However, the centers function as board-governed nonprofit organizations, and the employees of the clinics are employed by the nonprofit organization, not the government. In this region, the Engelhard Medical Center manages both the Manteo Community Health Center and the Ocracoke Health Center and is responsible for operating and hiring employees and contractors for the three clinics.

Photo: The grand opening of Manteo Community Health Clinic was held on Tuesday, July 11. 

Joe Rockenstein, CEO of the Engelhard Medical Center, says federal grant funding allows the clinics to operate with high-quality, patient-centered care and allows their providers to spend more time with patients. The centers offer primary care, pediatric care, care for migrant and seasonal farm workers (in Engelhard), behavioral health, pharmacy services, dental health in some locations and telemedicine. The community-owned centers provide care to all persons in need, regardless of their ability to pay. They serve patients who are covered by insurance, Medicaid and Medicare as well as those with no insurance.

Opening the Manteo Community Health Center took a great amount of community effort and cooperation during a time of medical crisis in the town. The outcry for expanded care started on the streets among the townspeople after patients at the existing medical facility received letters about discontinuation of their care. Word spread to the Manteo Board of Commissioners, who immediately established the Town of Manteo Health Care Task Force to work on the issue. About that time, Rockenstein reached out to the Town of Manteo with a possible partnership solution. "The timeframe, from the night the commissioners established the task force to the opening of the center on July 11 was 370 days," says Malcolm Fearing, chair of the task force. The location of the Manteo Community Health Center is in a renovated building on Budleigh Street (formerly the Centurylink office).

Dr. Jennifer Harrison is the Manteo clinic’s physician. 

As she explains, "It's important that we have some variety in choices of medical care, and this is a different kind of clinic that can serve everyone, from those with the best insurance to those with no insurance."

In addition to patient care, Harrison says the Manteo clinic also has a focus on health education, from how to prevent chronic health issues to understanding insurance deductibles to choosing a Medicare plan. "We have some big ideas to bring to the community," she says.

Harrison says she is extremely excited to be working for this type of community clinic. "This is exactly why I got into family medicine," she says. "In this model people get better quality care. The physician gets to know the family. We are getting the whole picture to treat the whole person."

Photo: Community Care Clinic of Dare's Nags Head location

Also providing medical services on the Outer Banks, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, is Community Care Clinic of Dare. Founded in 2005 by the Albemarle Hospital Foundation, Dare County Department of Public Health and Outer Banks Hospital, the clinic was established as a grassroots response to the needs of uninsured and underinsured people in the community. With locations in Nags Head and Frisco on Hatteras Island, Community Care Clinic of Dare offers primary care, pharmacy services, chronic disease management, addiction treatment, patient resources and interpretation services to more than 750 patients a year.

Big news at the Community Care Clinic of Dare is that they will open a new Dental Clinic on August 29, making Community Care Clinic of Dare the first Integrated Clinic on the Outer Banks.

Executive Director Lynn Jenkins says that Dare County is considered a dental desert with not enough access to dental care. When the clinic surveyed its medical patients about dental care, the responses were alarming. Thirty-nine percent of patients had never seen a dentist or had not seen a dentist in more than 10 years. Forty-two percent of patients responded that they had difficulty chewing, swollen nymph nodes, pain in their teeth and white or red patches in their mouth. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they would feel better about themselves if they had regular dental care. Jenkins says the clinic receives about 25 calls a week about dental pain.

The new Dental Clinic will have a staff dentist, dental hygienists and emergency dental care and is located in the back of the main clinic in Nags Head. The clinic expects to serve 1,500 patients in its first year.

Facilities like these are examples of community members recognizing gaps in care and working together to fill them.

Manteo Community Health Center

402 Budleigh Street, Manteo, (252) 305-3005,

Ocracoke Health Center

305 Back Road, Ocracoke, (252) 928-1511,

Engelhard Health Center

33270 U.S. Highway 64, Engelhard, (252) 925-7000,

Community Care Clinic of Dare

425 Health Center Drive, Nags Head, (252) 261-3041

50347 N.C. Highway 12, Frisco, (252) 262-3041

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks.