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Ahoskie lands ECU Learning Center

GREENVILLE – East Carolina University officials announced Monday that Sylva, Ahoskie and Elizabeth City are the first three locations for community service learning centers that will be part of the university’s new dental school.

The university plans 10 of these centers in rural and underserved areas throughout the state. Dental school faculty members will be based in the centers, along with advanced dental residents and senior students who will receive enhanced dental education in real practice settings. The students and faculty will offer much-needed dental care to citizens in the areas surrounding the centers.

ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said the community service learning centers represent an important step toward increasing access to dental care in North Carolina. The state is below the national average in the ratio of dentists to population, and that ratio has declined recently as the population has increased faster than the supply of practitioners.

Four North Carolina counties have no dentists at all, and five more counties could soon be without dentists because their dentists have reached retirement age. In addition, 39 mostly rural counties had a decrease in dentists between 1997 and 2007.

“ECU’s motto is ‘to serve,’ and these centers we are announcing today will provide a true service to the citizens of North Carolina,” Ballard said. “ECU is pioneering a national model with these community centers and we are absolutely committed to its success.”

Dr. James Hupp, dean of the dental school, said the communities that will have the service learning centers are being selected on the basis of access.

“We are looking for the areas where dental care is in short supply and difficult to obtain,” he said.

Exact locations for the centers in the first three communities have not been identified. University officials are continuing discussions with local leaders to determine the best places to locate the centers in the selected communities.

Sylva is in Jackson County, in the mountains west of Asheville, while both Ahoskie and Elizabeth City are in the northeastern part of the state.

ECU’s dental school plans to admit its first students for the fall semester of 2011. About 50 students will be admitted every year. The North Carolina General Assembly has provided about $90 million in funding for construction.