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Ocracoke nurse-practitioner receives state’s highest honor

Gail Covington is surprised to receive the state’s highest honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Photo by Melinda Fodrie Sutton

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By Connie Leinbach

Gail Covington can now count herself among such North Carolina luminaries as Maya Angelou, Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Andy Griffith after she received The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award May 18.

“I was shocked,” she said about this award, which, since 1963, North Carolina’s governors have reserved as their highest honor. “I never dreamed I would’ve been a candidate.”

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award is bestowed on persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.

Since its inception, more than 20,000 notables and North Carolinians have received the honor.

Covington is a family nurse practitioner on Ocracoke, who operates Island Mobile Clinic.

As such, she will travel to anyone’s home or business for consultation and treatment from Avon to Ocracoke—perhaps the most remote areas in the state.

The award was sprung on her during a party at her friend Sandy Ouellette’s house in Hatteras.

Ouellette, of Winston-Salem, is a certified nurse anesthetist and nominated Covington for the award.

“I was told it was just a social to celebrate my practice in Hatteras,” Covington said. “It was a total surprise.”

As the sole medical provider, she had helmed the Hatteras Village Medical Center for several years before the board of directors closed its doors in October 2017.

“Patients ranged from infants to over 100 years of age,” Ouellette wrote in her nomination letter.

“Although she provided nursing care to patients in urban communities her passion was always caring for patients in medically underserved areas of our state.”

But Covington, who has lived on Ocracoke for almost 50 years, and could have moved elsewhere when the Hatteras clinic closed, felt she could not abandon her Hatteras Island patients and set up a home health care business.

“I want to provide a reasonably-priced care,” she said in late 2017 about her new business. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t have insurance.”

She’s on call for routine visits, managing chronic conditions, all kinds of emergencies and assisting with local EMS as needed. Covington is also the local medical examiner who certifies deaths on the island.

She’s contemplating where to hang her award.  Being mobile, Covington’s office is her vehicle.

“You’re supposed to hang it in your office, but I have a windshield,” she said.

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