Apr 262013


Dr. Donald Ribeiro, left, and Bethel Mayor Mike Whitehurst prepare to cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony of the Bethel Health Care Center on April 25, 2013.   (Aileen Devlin/ The Daily Reflector)

Dr. Donald Ribeiro, left, and Bethel Mayor Mike Whitehurst prepare to cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony of the Bethel Health Care Center on April 25, 2013. (Aileen Devlin/ The Daily Reflector)

By Michael Abramowitz

Friday, April 26, 2013

The property on which the new Bethel Health Care Center sits is mostly asphalt, but it is a special place to the people of the town.

The center, operated by the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University until the school closed it on Sept. 1, celebrated its rebirth as a private practice community clinic on Thursday.

ECU operated the former health clinic for 32 years before closing it, citing declining patient enrollment, an outdated facility and cost overruns. Instead, administrators directed patients to the school’s family medical center in Greenville.

“The closing of this clinic in September took us to our knees,” Bethel mayor Mike Whitehurst said, “because it feeds the drugstore which feeds the beauty parlor which feeds everything in town. A large portion of our population lives on a fixed income and just can’t get to Greenville for their care.”

Instead of looking backward when they got the news, the community decided to look forward and try to figure a way out of its problem, Whitehurst said.

The town residents decided to take the matter to a higher source and held a public prayer vigil in June in the clinic parking lot.

Things started to happen, Whitehurst said, but the town had to make a plan.

“Even if we could get someone here to provide care, where are you going to put them? So, we sent a letter to (ECU chancellor Steve Ballard) and told him we wanted to buy the building,” the mayor said.

Following some administrative consultation with University of North Carolina officials, Ballard and ECU sold the building to Bethel in January for $1, Whitehurst said.

“We did everything we could think of to get this place up and running, with no success. We wanted the clinic to be like it once was, but we asked God to do what He wanted,” Whitehurst said.

Soon after that, the mayor said, Dr. Donald Ribeiro came to Bethel with his clinical team and told Whitehurst he wanted to open a health center there. The town closed the deal by renting the building to Ribeiro for $1 a month, Whitehurst said.

“The loss of health care in Bethel left a big void here, where access is difficult,” Ribeiro said. “All citizens deserve health care, and they had great care here for many years, provided by the Brody School of Medicine. We’re tickled and thankful to be able to continue providing medical care to our rural community, where the patients are.”

The health center was reequipped with the same tools for practicing, bought at auction for “a really nice price,” Whitehurst said.

Operations started again in January, but it took a few months to settle in and get things running smoothly. That done, and with about 750 patients served, the center officially opened with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, prayers and speeches by Whitehurst, Ribeiro and physician assistant Lee Quinn, who told about 50 people there that God made the decision for him to come to Bethel.

“I know this center is ordained by God, and every day we serve here is a confirmation of that,” Quinn said.

The health center primarily serves Bethel residents, but also reaches out to residents of other small communities, including Oak City, Robersonville, Conetoe, Penny Hill, Tarboro and Williamston, said Donna Spence, one of the center’s two nurse practitioners. It operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays, providing ongoing care to patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, and acute illnesses like sinus infections and bronchitis, Spence said.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Elmira Watson, a World War II veteran nurse who worked at the clinic 50 years ago, said. “Transportation is a great problem for us and we need this health center and all that it provides here.”

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9571.

via The Daily Reflector.


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