• 59°

Medical care grows in Ahoskie

Local officials - to include Kim Schwartz, Dr. Colin Jones and Jack Justice of Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center; Sue Lassiter of Roanoke-Chowan Hospital and Dan Joyner of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce - joined with Dr. Greg Chadwick and Dr. Phyllis Horns of the ECU School of Dental Medicine and others to formally break ground on twin medical facilities that will be constructed off Hertford County High School Road in Ahoskie. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

AHOSKIE – One year from now, healthcare opportunities in Ahoskie will grow by nearly 50,000 square feet.

Recently, officials with Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) and the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine formally broke ground on a twin facility that is the first of its kind in North Carolina.

RCCHC will construct a 40,000 square foot Health Center facility, funded by a $6.2 million federal grant from the Affordable Care Act.  Meanwhile, the ECU School of Dental Medicine will construct an approximate 8,000 square foot Service Learning Center. That stand-alone center, which will adjoin RCCHC’s Health Center facility, will include 16 dental chairs and be staffed full-time by ECU faculty dentists, residents, and students. ECU will hire additional staff locally. The Ahoskie site is the first is among 10 ECU Service Learning Centers to be located across North Carolina.

Construction is scheduled to begin immediately on the two facilities, located off Hertford County High School Road behind Viquest, that will be linked together by a covered walkway.

“It’s a happy, happy day for many people….the staff of Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center, our Board of Directors; the ECU School of Dental Medicine. It’s also a happy day for the people of the Roanoke-Chowan region,” said RCCHC CEO Kim Schwartz.

This joint effort began early in 2008 when Dr. Tom Irons, of the then fledging ECU School of Dental Medicine, returned a telephone call to Schwartz.

“I reached out to him after we were awarded Federally Qualified Heath Center status,” Schwartz recalled. “We desperately needed a way to offer oral health services. After many, many trips to Ahoskie and hours and hours of brainstorming, a partnership was formed between the two healthcare providers.

“We knew at that time we had something pretty amazing,” Schwartz added. “This partnership is the very first of its kind in the nation, one between a community health center and a dental service learning center, and it’s here in Ahoskie.”

The facility, Ahoskie Comprehensive Care (ACC), will become a health center home for all of RCCHC patients…… “One home where patients can see their primary care provider, a behavioral health care provider and now a dental care provider, all at a fee based on their income,” Schwartz said.

She added that because of the federal grant, ACC will be built mortuage free.

“This represents a great community partnership,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences at ECU. “We’re happy to be in this region of the state to bring you not only first-class healthcare, but first-class dental healthcare as well. In a short period of time we’ll have dental students, dental residents and dental faculty here in Ahoskie, working with the healthcare providers here, working with the community here.”

Dr. Greg Chadwick, Associate Dean of the ECU School Dental Medicine, agreed with his colleague.

“We appreciate the support here of the community and the community health center,” he said. “East Carolina University and its  School of Dental Medicine values the opportunity to work alongside Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center to make a difference in people’s lives by improving their health, oral health and general health. Everyone is watching us, joining a dental school and a community healthcare center to work together to deliver care and to educate the next generation of dentists.”

The Dental School, the smaller of the two projects, will perhaps be the first to open. Dr. Chadwick said that opening could come as early as late Spring of 2012.

“We’ll begin to provide care at that point when we’ll have our faculty dentists onboard,” he stated. “Then, next summer, we’ll start our Advanced Education and General Dentistry Residency Program. Those (student) residents will be the first ones here in Ahoskie.”

By 2014, seniors enrolled in the ECU School of Dental Medicine will be arriving in Ahoskie for nine-week rotations.

Dr Chadwick also noted that the School of Dental Medicine will hire local physicians. He said the ultimate goal was to hire 10 individuals by 2014.

In introducing Sue Lassiter, President of Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, Schwartz praised RCH, through the Roanoke-Chowan Alliance, and University Health Systems who donated the land for the new twin facilities.

“We chose this spot for our construction based on that, but this site was also intentional because we already have the ViQuest Center here, we have Northside (Behavioral Health) here; we wanted to make this another medical campus in Ahoskie that, along with the hospital, can reach out to an endless number of people seeking health services and a healthy lifestyle,” Schwartz said. “RCH has become a viable and wonderful partner in all this.”

“We at RCH offer our congratulations to the community health center for the measure of success they have achieved in their first six years of existence,” Lassiter said. “We also acknowledge the ECU School of Dental Medicine for expanding their access to quality dental services and selecting Ahoskie as the first site for a dental service learning center in the state of North Carolina.

“When this new facility is open for business, this community will enjoy a whole new level of access to healthcare and dental services,” she added. “Roanoke-Chowan Hospital is excited about the new opportunities to partner and work together in pursuit of improving the health and quality of life for the people of the Roanoke-Chowan communities that we serve.”

“This is a crowning achievement for Ahoskie,” said Dan Joyner, Executive Vice President of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce. “This will mean a great deal for our town for years and years to come.”

The new ACC is scheduled to open in September of next year. Not only will it house the RCCHC offices (on the second floor), it will become the new home of Ahoskie Family Physicians, now located in cramped quarters on Academy Street where as many as 60 staff members treat up to 200 patients per day. The new facility will boast of  48 exam rooms, larger laboratories and an in-house pharmacy.

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.

email author More by Cal