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Vision on verge of reality

U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield (center) takes his first look at an area in Ahoskie that will soon become a joint medical venture between R-C Community Health Center and the ECU Medical and Dental School. The Congressman is joined here by Jack Justice (left), CFO of RCCHC, and Dr. Robert Chadwick of the ECU School of Dentistry. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

AHOSKIE – A shared vision to improve healthcare in rural areas of the nation will be showcased locally.

Construction will begin soon on a dual-purpose facility in Ahoskie. There, Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) has a $6.2 million federal grant in hand to construct a state-of-the-art, 40,000 square foot facility off Hertford County High School Road. Meanwhile, the East Carolina University Medical and Dental School will open a service learning center in Ahoskie. That stand-alone center, which will join RCCHC’s new facility, will be staffed full-time by ECU Dental School students (completing their residency obligations) and school faculty.

On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield visited RCCHC’s corporate office where he was briefed on the status of both new projects.

Jack Justice, CFO of RCCHC, gave the Congressman an overview of the new Ahoskie facility. Justice said due to $6.2 million of funds from the Affordable Care Act, plans are underway to construct the Ahoskie Comprehensive Care Center. That two-story facility will house RCCHC medical and corporate offices.

“On RCCHC’s part, this new facility will eliminate two leased facilities,” Justice said.

The bottom floor will become the home of 48 medical exam rooms and offices. The top floor will house the administrative function of RCCHC.

“It will increase our capacity to see more patients,” Justice said. “Plus it adds the dental aspect, which is very much needed in this region.”

Justice said construction bids on the project will hopefully be awarded by June 30. That will also bring about the need for construction jobs.

“I’m very impressed by all of this, especially the dental component; I’m the son of a dentist,” Rep. Butterfield said. “The need for dental care is greater in our rural communities.”

Dr. Robert Chadwick of the ECU School of Dentistry offered more details about the new facility in Ahoskie. He also praised Butterfield for his work, beginning four years ago, to help launch the effort to bring a School of Dentistry to East Carolina University.

“The facility here in Ahoskie is our first clinic,” Dr. Chadwick said, adding that site preparation for the new office is underway and construction bids were scheduled to be awarded on Thursday.

“What we’re looking at here is for this clinic to become not only a model for healthcare in rural areas of this country, but a model for the future of dental education as well,” Dr. Chadwick noted. “This marks the first time we’ve co-located a dental school and a federally qualified healthcare center (RCCHC) together.”

Chadwick said the Ahoskie facility would become a learning/training center for 12 seniors (on three, nine-week rotations) enrolled in the ECU School of Dentistry. Faculty will also be a part of the Ahoskie office.

“What we’re doing is basically stretching the wires and moving the fourth floor of our school in Greenville out to the rural, underserved areas of the state,” he stated. “Hopefully this new facility will be ready in March. Of course it will be three years before our first class of seniors will train here, but we will offer a residency program that starts next summer and we’ll be teaching here next summer. This will be a fully functioning general dentistry office with 16 labs, complete with dental assistants and hygienists. They will know what it feels like to be in dental practice.”

“We share the same vision for rural communities,” Butterfield said.

Kim Schwartz, Chief Executive Officer for RCCHC, said her organization’s new facility will become a “one-stop shop” for primary medical care, pediatrics and behavioral health.

“What this means for us is offering healthcare services to potentially 5,000 to 10,000 new patients, more space and at least 15 new full-time positions in addition to up to 60 new jobs for construction of the facility,” Schwartz noted in an earlier interview. “Additionally, this investment represents an immeasurable amount of tax benefit to our area.”

She also stressed that such a facility could be used as a tool to recruit new doctors and other medical providers.

RCCHC’s new medical center and ECU’s dental facilities will be built on land deeded to RCCHC and the university by Roanoke-Chowan Alliance. That entire property is 27.6 acres and includes the current RCCHC building, Northside Behavioral Health and ViQuest. The buildings will be constructed in the southwest corner of a now empty parcel of land behind those facilities.

In recognition of the Congressman’s ongoing efforts to help improve healthcare in his rural district, Daniel Glaze, Chairman of the RCCHC Board of Directors presented Rep. Butterfield with the Healthcare Visionary Award.

“As your constituents, we realize your plate is full working on our behalf. As such, we appreciate that you have kept as a priority improving the health status and improving the access to quality healthcare for all persons in our area, regardless of skin color or ability to pay,” Glaze said.

“As you well know we’ve been able to build a brand new facility in Colerain, improve our facilities and expand them in Murfreesboro and we’re about to break ground on a new state of the art healthcare clinic with 48 exam rooms here in Ahoskie. With each of these projects, we can draw a direct line to your advocacy and support on our behalf. For all you’ve done, please accept this award of gratitude,” he closed.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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