RCCHC gives birth
AHOSKIE – A new star in the medical field shines bright in Ahoskie.
Despite its opening nearly three months ago, Thursday was scheduled as the grand unveiling of Ahoskie Comprehensive Care (ACC), the new home for the medical providers and clinical staff of Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) – Ahoskie, as well as the corporate offices of RCCHC. The new ACC building is located in 120 Health Center Drive, just off Hertford County High Road, directly behind the DaVita Dialysis Center.
ACC’s spacious waiting room was the scene of a standing room only crowd attending the event, which included a formal ribbon cutting. In addition to U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who delivered remarks, the event was attended by numerous dignitaries. That group included Betty Jo Shepheard, the Eastern Representative for U.S. Senator Richard Burr; Joyce Mitchell, representing U.S. Senator Kay Hagan; Hertford County Commissioners Bill Mitchell, Johnnie Ray Farmer and Howard Hunter III; Ahoskie Mayor Brien Lassiter, Murfreesboro Mayor John Hinton; and Superior Court Judge Cy Grant.
There were letters of congratulations sent to RCCHC/ACC from North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, and Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Rev. Dr. Daniel Glaze, Chairman of the RCCHC Board of Directors, presided over the 75-minute ceremony.
“As much as today is a celebration of this wonderful facility and all we have been able to do together, it’s also a day of thanks. Each of you, literally and figuratively, has your thumbprints all over this building and we are grateful for all you have done to make this day a reality,” Glaze said.
Dan Joyner, Executive Vice President of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce, said Ahoskie and HertfordCounty were blessed to have this facility open.
“We are grateful for those in our community who had the vision and perseverance to make this possible,” he said. “The services provided here will be available to all of our citizens, without regard to social or economic status. This facility will allow our town and our county to have a much greater potential to grow and prosper in the future. It will also help to advert the seemingly inevitable decline that has plagued so many of our small towns in eastern ‘Carolina. Together with Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital and the ECU School of Dental Medicine next door, Ahoskie will become a focal point for healthcare services in this region.”
Sue Lassiter, President of Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, brought congratulations from the staff of her medical facility.
“Several years ago leaders of this community identified a need to increase access to primary care, mental health care, and dental health for the people of this area,” she said. “A dream was formed of a Federally Qualified Health Center. The more we worked on this project, the more excited we became of our vision to improve access to health care for all those who needed it, especially the most vulnerable of our population, the indigent and the uninsured. It was an uphill road for us to climb, but we got there and we are excited and encouraged over the opening of this facility.
“What a great day it was when Kim Schwartz was hired as the RCCHC Director,” Lassiter continued. “She is an extraordinary leader with extraordinary talents. She artfully builds relationships and inspires those she leads. She and her team brought millions of dollars in grants to this area. Because of her efforts and those of her team there are people across this nation that now know where Ahoskie is. What started as a tiny idea years ago has grown into a major accomplishment for so many and we are so proud to have RCCHC as our medical partner. This facility holds the future for healthcare for our area.”
One of the partners in that bright future, Dr. Michael Sholtz, Associate Professor of the ECU School of Dental Medicine and Director of Community Dental Practices, also offered remarks at Thursday’s event.
“One of first orders for me as Director of Community Practices was to open our first Community Service Learning Center located right next door to this facility,” he noted. “We did that in collaboration with RCCHC and I can tell you that was a wonderful experience, both personally and for ECU, to have the opportunity to work with that organization. Together, we have brought affordable health care and dental care to the people of this region. When I tell people across this state and nation what we did together here in Ahoskie, they are in awe. You deserve this and for us to help bring this to you is our pleasure.”
Butterfield praised the RCCHC leadership for their vision to improve the quality of health care in the region.
“What can I say about Kim Schwartz other than she has tireless energy and passion for her work,” Butterfield said. “She means so much to this community, as do all the health care providers of this region, to include Vidant and the ECU School of Dental Medicine.
“I am so delighted to be with you today to share in this happy occasion,” he continued. “I’m happy to help celebrate the progress of this health care facility and the progress of this community.”
It was Butterfield who orchestrated a $6.2 million federal grant from the Affordable Care Act to bring this new facility to life.
“When President Obama was first elected to office, he had campaigned on the idea of bringing universal health care to the American people,” Butterfield recalled. “It wasn’t a novel idea; every American president in the past 50 years had talked about health care reform. I certainly knew about access to health care because I’ve lived in rural eastern North Carolina all my life. I know the health condition of our citizens here – the high instances of diabetes, heart disease and cancer – and I know the importance of bringing access to health care to them. These diseases are preventable and reversible when people take advantage of comprehensive primary care like what is found here in Ahoskie. This facility removes the barriers of access to health care.
“I see access to health care as a right, not a privilege, that should be afforded to every American,” he continued. “Sadly, for some that right is not realized. That’s why I supported this project here in Ahoskie, the comprehensive care facility and the dental clinic next door. Both provide access to care regardless of a person’s ability to pay and the people of this region will be healthier because of this effort.”
Making reference to the nation’s $16 billion deficit, Butterfield said some of that is driven by the high cost of health care.
“We’ve got to get that under control,” he said.
Schwartz, who joined RCCHC in June of 2005, has witnessed the fledging medical facility more than doubling its number of patients and nearly doubling the number of staff members (59 to 110). RCCHC currently has a net worth of $12 million.
“I liken today to a christening…families coming together to celebrate the birth of a special child,” Schwartz said. “You may think of it as a sometimes uncomfortable pregnancy due to the years and years of planning it took to get to this day. It was a long labor and today, finally, the birth of a beautiful baby. But with birth, as most parents know, is where the real work begins.”
Schwartz continued, “The legacy here is not just this building. That legacy began a long time ago. The building is just brick and mortar; the services we provide come from people who, like me, believe that our local citizens deserve nothing but the best when it comes to delivering quality health care that is open and accessible to all. We believe we have a high standard of care here and promise to maintain it now and in the future. Thank you to all who have made this dream a reality…a dream that includes the first-ever partnership in the entire nation between a Federally Qualified Health Center and a university. And to think, it’s all right here in Ahoskie….the only one.”
Two special presentations were part of Thursday’s ceremony.
Ken Barnard, a former member of the US Armed Forces and President of Patriot Hunts, presented ACC/RCCHC with an American Flag that once flew proudly over a U.S. military compound in Afghanistan. The flag was accompanied by a plaque.
Patriot Hunts is an organization that takes injured military veterans on hunting and fishing trips.
Barnard was accompanied by Jack Justice, CFO of RCCHC, who is a former member of the U.S Special Forces and a volunteer for Patriot Hunts.
The other came with Dr. Claudia Morris, RCCHC Board of Directors Development/Planning Chair, announcing the establishment of the newly formed RCCHC Foundation. Included in her announcement was the Foundation’s first endowment, named in honor of Dr. Charles Sawyer and his wife, Lois. Dr. Sawyer has been in practice in Ahoskie for over 50 years.
“Charles and Lois Sawyer epitomize the core of who we are as a community health center and the values we stand for,” said Morris. “Every human being is deserving of respectful, quality care and they have helped to provide that for this community. They have touched the lives of so many here…from health care, to education, to church and to the service organizations.”
“To say I’m shocked and surprised are small words,” Dr. Sawyer said. “I’m honored to have served this community for 50 years. Lois and myself are grateful and appreciative of this honor and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
That endowment, along with hopefully more to come to the Foundation, will assist in offering nursing scholarships, the recruitment process of new medical providers, and the purchase of necessary equipment.
The 45,000 square foot ACC, encompassing two floors, includes 48 primary care patient exam rooms as well as extending medical care to include pediatrics, behavioral health, and dentistry through an adjoining facility opened last year by the ECU School of Dental Medicine. Also included at the new facility are larger and improved laboratories, and an in-house pharmacy.
RCCHC also includes Colerain Primary Care and Murfreesboro Primary Care.
For more information, call 252-209-0237, ext. 7112 or visit www.rcchc.org.