LILLINGTON, N.C. (Jan. 19, 2011) — Lillington has been selected to be the site of an educational and patient-care facility of the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine.
ECU announced today at the Harnett County Government Complex that it will build one of its community service learning centers beside the new First Choice Community Health Center off U.S. 401. There, dental students and residents will train and, together with ECU faculty members, provide care to local residents.
“This is going to be a very good site, a good collaboration with First Choice Community Health Center,” said Dr. Gregory Chadwick, associate dean for planning and extramural affairs at the dental school. The two facilities “will really have an impact on primary health care in Harnett County.”
Lillington is the fourth site to be named for what will eventually be 10 such centers across the state and the first in central North Carolina. The other sites identified so far are Ahoskie and Elizabeth City in eastern North Carolina and Sylva in the western part of the state.
The 7,700-square-foot center will be a fully functioning general dentistry office with 16 treatment rooms, X-ray equipment, educational space and more. The state will own the land, and construction could begin this year if all goes well, Chadwick said.
Sheila Simmons, executive director of First Choice, said the partnership with ECU will be important to her community. “The future consists of not just ‘make a difference’ but ‘be the difference,’” she said, “and this collaboration will allow us to be the difference.”
Full-time dental school faculty members will staff the center, along with dental hygienists and other staff members, and fourth-year dental students and residents will train at the center. Chadwick has described the centers as similar to “moving the fourth floor of the dental school — the clinical training — off campus to rural areas of our state where dental services are needed.”
Retired Lillington dentist Dr. Catherine Evans praised the plan for the education it will provide students and care it will provide for residents who might not get it any other way. “It will give access to dental care to people who cannot afford it on large basis, and I’m talking about basic care,” she said.
The school will admit its first 50 students, all North Carolina residents, in August, with plans to admit 50 each year.
North Carolina 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. Harnett County has one dentist for every 10,000 people, Simmons said, less than the state average of about 4 dentists for every 10,000 people.