PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Drones will soon deliver prescription medications to rural residents on the Eastern Shore and Tangier Island.

Riverside Health System announced it is working with several area partners on the project they hope will help patients live healthier. The project is being paid for in part with grant money from The U.S. Department of Transportation. DOT awarded the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission a $1.8 million Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation grant.

Two things people love about the Eastern Shore – undeveloped stretches of seaside land and the carless Tangier Island – also present challenges for those who live there.

“Not every post office delivers to the house,” Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital President Nick Chuquin told WAVY. “So even if a patient can get mail order through their insurance company, they still have to figure out how to get from home to the post office to pick up that medication.”

On the island, patients may have to wait days for a boat to bring medication, but
drones could put a prescription on a patient’s doorstep in a matter of hours.

Riverside will use medical cargo drones from the company DroneUp in Virginia Beach. The first flights will take off from Shore Memorial Hospital and deliver hypertension medications to the high number of high blood pressure patients on Eastern Shore.

Later, they will deliver critical care supplies to first responders.

However, before the anticipated launch on June 1, there’s work to be done.

The Virginia Institute for Spaceflight & Autonomy (VISA) at Old Dominion University will manage the overall project.

“One of the big challenges is (being) beyond visual line of sight,” said VISA Director Dr. David Bowles. “Right now you have to get special approval from the FAA to do that.”

Another anticipated challenge Bowles told us is community acceptance. A demonstration day has been scheduled for next week to start making people aware of what’s in the air and the potential benefits to the community’s health.

“This is something that can be replicated in any rural area of the Commonwealth, and of the country,” Chuquin said.