Words of Support

Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Operations Bill Bagnell and Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences Phyllis Horns greet Gov. Beverly Perdue during a quick inspection of the ECU School of Dental Medicine construction site on Feb. 17. Operating funds for the dental school were included in the governor's proposed budget which she announced earlier that day. (Photos by Jeannine Manning Hutson)

Perdue pledges support for dental school during visit Feb. 17

By Mary Schulken

GREENVILLE   (Feb. 17, 2011)   —   N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue said funding to open East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine is an urgent need that should stay on track despite the state’s toughest budget in 60 years.

“I don’t know what we would do if we were to build a building this sophisticated to train dentists for all of North Carolina and have it stand empty,” she said during a visit to the school’s construction site Thursday, Feb. 17.

“I hope the people of the General Assembly understand you can’t do that,” she told university officials and reporters gathered on west campus, where the school’s foundation has begun to rise.

Perdue proposed biennial budget includes the $5 million the UNC system and ECU have requested to keep construction of the dental school on schedule. It also includes funding for enrollment growth and financial aid at the state’s universities while trimming the state’s work force by an estimated 10,000 employees.

University of North Carolina President Tom Ross said state funding for enrollment growth and financial aid are priorities.

“We are particularly thankful that (Gov. Perdue) recognizes the critical importance of our enrollment growth funding and need-based financial aid, although those needs would be only partially met, as well as operating reserves for new buildings,” Ross said.

Still, cuts of the magnitude proposed in the governor’s budget would put an estimated 1,500 jobs at the state’s universities in jeopardy, he said, and students will feel the impact.

“With fewer faculty, staff, and course sections, many more students would not be able to obtain the courses and academic services they need to graduate on time,” he said.

ECU’s School of Dental Medicine is set to admit its first 50 students, all North Carolina residents, in August, with plans to admit 50 each year. Currently, the construction site consists of the building foundation, utilities, and the structure for the dental school basement. The steel to frame the building is expected to arrive later this month.

The UNC system has asked for $3.5 million in fiscal year 2011-2012 and $1.5 million in fiscal year 2012-13 to operate the dental school.

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. That need drove the establishment of a second state dental school.

On Thursday, Perdue chatted with ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard at the construction site, asking him how things were going at ECU.

“Things are good,” Ballard said. “We are doing what we are supposed to be doing.”

“I hope I’ll be back again when there’s more to see here at the dental school,” Perdue said.

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ECU to build dental center in Lillington

By Doug Boyd

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.

Dr. Jim Hupp, dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine, speaks Jan. 19 in Lillington. (Photos by Doug Boyd)

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.

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