Greenville, N.C. – ECU Health is grateful to elected officials for making Medicaid expansion a reality for more than 600,000 people in the state, including more than 100,000 people here in eastern North Carolina. ECU Health is also grateful to see Healthcare Access and Stabilization Program (HASP) funding included in the bill, providing much-needed relief to rural hospitals across the state.
“This is a historic day for health care in our state and especially here in eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO, ECU Health. “ECU Health has advocated for Medicaid expansion for more than six years as we witness first-hand the challenges uninsured and underinsured patients face. With expanded coverage, more patients can receive the care they need to keep them well. We appreciate lawmakers recognizing the importance of providing coverage for our vulnerable community members and this landmark moment is a major accomplishment that will improve the lives of many families across the state. While Medicaid expansion and HASP funding will not solve all the challenges facing rural health care, ECU Health is grateful to see this important legislation become law.”
By ECU News Services and ECU Health News
Getting through medical school can be tough – long hours, books and tests, and more books. However, in between classes and all-nighters, two students from the Brody School of Medicine have established a flourishing volunteer program to bring doula-like services to a region of North Carolina starved for birthing support.
The birthing companion program was started in October 2022 by Uma Gaddamanugu and Shantell McLaggan, both second-year Brody students and Schweitzer fellows. The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship supports graduate health professionals drawn from across the state who learn and work to address unmet health care needs in North Carolina.
Gaddamanugu’s and McLaggan’s fellowship project is focused on improving birth experiences of high-risk pregnant mothers in eastern North Carolina through the free birth support program to add an extra layer of support for women in the birthing process.
Patient populations in rural parts of eastern North Carolina simply need more help, Winston-Salem native Gaddamanugu said, from prenatal care through the laboring process, and certified doulas are an expensive out-of-pocket resource for which most North Carolinians must pay out of pocket because health insurance often doesn’t cover the cost.
“We are the only hospital with a high-risk labor and delivery unit for half the state. You think about how far some of these people have to travel, which makes it way harder for their support people to come with them,” Gaddamanugu said.
In February 2022, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine reported that the state’s maternal mortality rate was 27.6 per 100,000 births, which is slightly lower than the national average, but more than double the previous year’s rate of 12.1 per 100,000 births.
A 2021 study by the North Carolina Maternal Mortality Review Committee reported that 60 women died from pregnancy related causes from 2014-2016. Of those, nearly 60% were from minority racial categories and more than one in three were from rural areas. What’s more troubling – the study determined that 70% of maternal deaths could have been prevented by changing “patient, family, provider, facility, system and/or community factors.”
At first, the program had 18 volunteers, but since its inception in October 2022 the ranks of birthing support volunteers have doubled to 37. At the beginning of February, the volunteers had assisted with more than 70 births, which is “way past our goal that we had initially set,” Gaddamanugu said.
Volunteers from the program come from a wide range of backgrounds, though most are medical or nursing students. Some are undergraduate students from main campus who want to be part of a program that serves the community. For now, the program is staffed almost completely by ECU students, though Gaddamanugu and McLaggan will soon hand the program’s day-to-day management off to first-year medical students who aim to open the program up to the public.
“Our program is very much modeled off a program at UNC. They’ve been doing that for about 20 years,” Gaddamanugu said. “A Wake Forest medical student started a similar volunteer doula program two years ago through the Schwitzer Fellowship. It’s just neat to see that it was possible with the structure of the organization to bring that program here, because there’s a whole different need in eastern North Carolina.”
Gaddamanugu stressed that the volunteers in the program, who support the labor and delivery services at ECU Health, aren’t certified doulas but rather are there to help during the immediate labor process. For one delivery, that might be a non-clinical, non-medical role – a friendly face and a hand to hold – and in other cases it might be running through the hospital to find a phone charging cable so a mother can stay in contact with her other children at home.
Leslie Coggins, a charge nurse on the labor and delivery unit at ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville, said the volunteer program has been a great success, both for the mothers in the delivery process as well as for students on track to become the next generation of health care providers.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with our residents, but now we have almost a pipeline — doctors, potential doctors, nurses, someone interested in birth and supporting birth in its natural function,” Coggins said. “To share that experience with up-and-coming providers and nurses who will be taking our places someday is huge.”
While the volunteer program is currently staffed by students, the student organizers and Coggins as the nurse manager of the labor and delivery unit hope to soon include members of the public. Those interested in volunteering should contact the program by emailing [email protected].
Training medical professionals
The ECU version of a volunteer birth companion program is rooted in experiences both medical students had working as volunteers in hospitals in doula-like roles. Gaddamanugu volunteered during her time as an undergraduate at UNC; McLaggan, who is from Thomasville, spent several years after her undergraduate education working at the Cherokee Indian Hospital in western North Carolina and helped establish a volunteer doula program there.
Both students are interested in pursuing a career in obstetrics.
McLaggan’s mother told her from an early age that she was smart enough to be a doctor. After researching the requirements and being captivated by the science of medicine, she fell in love with the idea.
“I feel like I have the mental, emotional and the physical capacity to do something as strenuous as being a doctor,” McLaggan said. “Because I have those qualities, I feel like it’s my obligation to become a doctor and serve people to the maximum of my abilities.”
Medicine was also a calling for Gaddamanugu, who said that the challenge is humbling but she sees a future where she can make a difference by “maternal and child health disparities in our community” which fit the impact that she hopes to make in the world.
She said that the experiences at the bedside have colored the conversations that she has with her medical school peers about the experience of medicine from the patient’s perspective.
“We know birth is hard, but here is what it really can look like,” Gaddamanugu said. “The U.S. has an awful maternal mortality crisis, and we can hear those numbers all day long in school, but the numbers don’t mean anything until you see it in person, and you realize some of these patients are extremely sick.”
For Dr. Kerianne Crockett, ECU Health OB/GYN and Brody clinical assistant professor, the program has clear benefits for the patients she serves. She has heard from patients who appreciated having another source of support during their delivery.
“Delivering a baby is one of the most exhausting, exhilarating, sometimes scary experiences of a patient’s life,” Crockett said. “There is good evidence that patients with a continuous support person present throughout labor — whether that person is a family member, a spouse or a doula — have better birth outcomes, including lower rates of cesarean delivery. I am so proud that our bright, compassionate, empathetic medical students are now able to be that continuous support person for all kinds of patients, including those who otherwise would not have had anyone besides the medical team there for their delivery.”
Student involvement in health care delivery, and the unique perspectives students offer patients, is a hallmark of a large academic health system like ECU Health. As students learn from the clinical experience of providers at ECU Health, they are empowered to innovate and bring ideas to the table that lead to better patient experiences and brighter outcomes.
“As an academic health system, our medical students help to enrich the patient experience with their energy and ideas,” said Angela Still, senior administrator of women’s services at ECU Health Medical Center. “The birthing support volunteer initiative is a great example of how Brody students go beyond the walls of the classroom and make a direct impact on the patients we’re proud to serve.”
Serving eastern North Carolina
Sometimes the most important support that a birthing companion can provide comes from skills that can’t be taught in a formal doula class.
McLaggan remembers one time she volunteered with a woman who had a number of kids already — the most recent born by C-section. The medical staff recommended another C-section, which the woman was reluctant to agree to due to the complications she had with the previous birth. The challenge that McLaggan was able to help resolve wasn’t convincing the woman to have a C-section, but rather just communicating with her at all. The woman was Haitian and spoke Haitian Creole and little English.
“I happened to speak French, which is very similar to Haitian Creole, so she was able to communicate to me, where she was coming from and what her needs were,” McLaggan remembered. “I was able to bridge that gap and she ended up delivering naturally. I felt so honored and privileged to have been in the room.”
Another of the volunteers in the program has similar experiences with language gaps being a hindrance to quality health care. An undergraduate student recounted to Gaddamanugu how, growing up in eastern North Carolina, she was always saddled with translating for her mother and siblings during medical appointments — a task that shouldn’t really be shouldered by a young person. The student volunteer said, though tears, that she was so grateful to be able to translate for delivering mothers because she knew first-hand the constricting fear and anxiety of being language-locked in a stressful medical situation.
While the language capabilities that some students bring to the hospital bedside are important, Coggins said, patient populations in eastern North Carolina are getting sicker, which often requires the health care team members to devote their attention to the physiological status of the patient.
“We try to promote natural delivery as much as we can,” Coggins said, but sometimes the medical conditions of the mother and baby require doctors and nurses to focus on the immediate illness. “One-on-one support is essential with our patients. A lot of times our sick population are not from around here and don’t have the support system in place, so this is an added benefit so our nurses can focus on what is medically happening and where we need intervene.”
Gaddamaugu is awed at the privilege of being present at a birth.
“I’ve cried every single time; it’s one or two single tears, but they were C-section babies and you could sense the relief in the OR the moment the baby comes out safe and healthy,” Gaddamaugu said.
McLaggan has known that being in the room during the birthing process is what she has wanted to do since before kindergarten. She’s seen a handful of births as a volunteer and continues to be amazed by each one.
“Words don’t describe how amazing childbirth really is. I get so overwhelmed with emotion when I see 37 to 40 weeks of work and love going into this child that is coming into the world,” McLaggan said.
ECU Health Children’s Services
Health Sciences Academy students learn about future employment opportunities at ECU Health career fair
More than 100 ninth grade students from Pitt County Schools and Duplin County Schools attended ECU Health’s career fair for Health Sciences Academy students on March 2. Over 20 hospital departments and exhibitors from partners including Pitt Community College and Beaufort County Community College attended the event which included interactive and creative booths to educate students on different health care careers.
“Health Sciences Academy offers high school students the opportunity to explore different careers in health care and receive real experiences in the health care setting,” said Nancy Turner, program coordinator, Workforce Development, ECU Health. “Presenters in the career fair were able to tell students their career path, including where they went to school, how long degree programs take and degree/certification requirements for their careers.”
The Pitt County Health Sciences Academy is a partnership between ECU Health, Pitt County Schools, Pitt Community College, East Carolina University, the Brody School of Medicine, Colleges of Allied Health Sciences, Engineering and Nursing at East Carolina University, School of Dental Medicine at East Carolina University, the Eastern Area Health Education Center and the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.
The Health Sciences Academy originally launched at six high schools in Pitt County in 2000 and has expanded across schools in Pitt County and in Duplin County. Last year alone, 282 students completed the program and were awarded more than $3.9 million in scholarships to help on their health care career journeys. Those students completed 106,225 volunteer hours at ECU Health.
“Health Sciences Academy allows for ECU Health to develop our workforce locally with students who are passionate about health care and helping people,” said Turner. “One of the most exciting things about the career fair was seeing a former Health Sciences Academy student who volunteered at the hospital and graduated from the program. She completed nursing school at Pitt Community College and ECU. She is now a pediatric nurse at ECU Health and managed a booth at the career fair to tell students about her experience. It truly has come full circle.”
During high school, Health Sciences Academy students complete a minimum of six courses that expose them to potential health care careers and prepare students to pursue college-level health science programs upon graduation. They participate in job shadowing, mentoring, internships, medical research opportunities, career exploration and volunteering.
Students say they participate in the program because they have an interest in working in health care. The career fair taught some students about health care careers they had never heard of or considered. The ninth graders who attended the career fair will soon have the opportunity to volunteer and shadow in those fields.
“Many students here in Pitt County and in Duplin County attend community college and universities locally and end up staying and working at ECU Health,” said Turner. “We are really growing our own workforce. That’s why we created Health Sciences Academy.”
To learn more about Health Sciences Academy in Pitt County Schools, please click here; for Duplin County Schools, please click here.
Students at A.G. Cox Middle School in Winterville learned about the dangers of vaping tobacco or other substances and drug use during an event hosted at the school on Feb. 28.
Pitt County School nurses, ECU Health team members and volunteers, and local high school students acted out two different scenarios for the A.G. Cox students, who are in grades 6-8, to show how quickly things can go wrong.
In one scenario, a student at a party takes a gummy from a friend, which turns out to be laced with drugs. The student then falls critically ill from the effects of the drugs.
In another, a student is taken to the hospital after using a vape they were told did not have tobacco in it, but instead was filled with an unknown drug.
Emerson Fipps, a senior at South Central High School in Winterville, helped act out the first scenario with another student and an ECU Health volunteer. She said she’s proud to support events where she can help other young people set themselves up to make positive decisions.
“Middle school is really where everything starts to come up,” Fipps said. “Teenagers are just trying to find themselves so they’re getting into things that they shouldn’t. They’re not really fully educated about everything these destructive decisions could affect. It’s really good for them to start hearing about it young because when they’re in these situations, they’ll already have the information.”
Tiffany Thigpen, the Region 10 tobacco prevention and control coordinator for the Pitt County Health Department, said schools across the country are seeing an increase of students vaping and using gummies and other drug-infused edibles.
The National Poison Data System reported 3,054 cases of pediatric edible cannabis consumption in 2021, a large increase from 207 cases in 2017.
Thigpen said one of the most important things parents can do to keep their children safe from tobacco and drugs is talk to them.
“Talk to your children, let them know that these things are not safe,” Thigpen said. “Let them know that it is OK to say no. Talk to them about refusal skills and ways to say no to their peers. Let them know they can talk to you about what they’re experiencing. If they do use these products, share the dangers with them and ways to stop.”
Thigpen said the county is working to get as much information as they can into the hands of students about the dangers of drugs and vaping to help stop addictions before they begin.
Laurie Reed, manager of school health services at ECU Health, said partnerships make all the difference for events like the one hosted at A.G. Cox Middle School.
“Our school board and our school health advisory committee are very supportive of programs like this in our school system,” Reed said. “We just hope we’ll be able to offer more of them. It’s a great collaborative effort and it takes a lot of effort on the part of our school nurses, Injury Prevention, our health department, but it’s a great collaborative opportunity for our community.”
Ahoskie, N.C. – After serving 13 years with ECU Health, Judy Bruno, MBA, BSN, RN, NE-BC, FACHE, ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital president, is leaving the organization to pursue other opportunities March 9.
Bruno joined the health system in 2009 as a member of the Outer Banks Health’s leadership team and transitioned to Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in 2016 as the vice president of Patient Care Services. After two successful years as vice president, she accepted the role as president of Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.
Throughout her tenure, Bruno prioritized creating a collaborative, human-caring environment and placed intentional focus on patient safety and quality which led to continual improvement in quality outcomes.
“I want to thank Judy for her commitment to ECU Health over the past 13 years,” said Jay Briley, president, ECU Health Community Hospitals. “Her leadership helped guide ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital through a challenging and transformational health care period and I am grateful for her service to our organization and the communities we serve.”
Brian Harvill, CPA, MBA, will serve as interim president at Roanoke-Chowan in addition to his roles as president of ECU Health Bertie Hospital and ECU Health Chowan Hospital. Harvill has been with ECU Health for 11 years, serving in financial and administrative leadership roles with a focus on sustaining and enhancing health care for rural communities.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity on behalf of the residents of Hertford County and the surrounding communities,” said Harvill. “I look forward to working with the exceptional team at ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital and getting the opportunity to meet community stakeholders as we continue to work toward our mission of improving the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.”
Children and adolescents with mental health care needs will benefit from a $3.2 million partnership between East Carolina University and the United Health Foundation.
The grant will expand the North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program (NC-STeP) within the ECU Center for Telepsychiatry and e-Behavioral Health. The investment is part of the United Health Foundation’s ongoing commitment to working with ECU to address mental health challenges in North Carolina — this time with youth.
In joining leaders to announce the three-year partnership, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper highlighted the critical needs surrounding children’s mental health in the state.
“Not only do we need to pay attention to our health, but our mental health as well and we’re recognizing that more than ever,” Cooper said. “That’s why I am so excited that the United Health Foundation, Dr. Sy Saeed and ECU have come together to try to get mental health treatment to young people in a more efficient and better way.”
Cooper said the NC-STeP partnership between ECU and the United Health Foundation helps advance toward his mission for the state for people to be able to live healthier lives with opportunities of purpose and abundance. Cooper said residents of rural North Carolina know how hard it is to get access to health care. Telemedicine will help bring experts to people wherever they are throughout North Carolina.
“I’m excited about this project. There are going to be people’s lives improved and people’s lives saved because of it,” Cooper said.
Through this expanded program, NC-STeP will provide access to mental health services for children in their established pediatric or primary care setting, removing the stigma sometimes associated with mental health care, said Saeed, director of the ECU Center for Telepsychiatry and founding executive director of NC-STeP. Through telemedicine, the program will offer expert consultation support for clinicians.
“In North Carolina, children experience significant challenges accessing the care needed to address their mental health. More than 70% of children in North Carolina with a mental health disorder do not receive treatment, and 92 out of 100 counties in the state are designated as mental health professional shortage areas,” Saeed said. “A growing body of literature suggests that the use of telepsychiatry to provide mental health care has the potential to mitigate the workforce shortage that directly affects access to care, especially in remote and underserved areas.”
NC-STeP was established in 2013 and has completed more than 56,000 psychiatry assessments in hospital emergency departments and has served more than 14,000 patients in its 23-community primary care settings. The expansion will provide mental health care services to underserved children and adolescents in six community-based pediatric and primary care clinics in rural and underserved parts of the state.
U.S. Reps. Greg Murphy and Don Davis, who helped guide NC-SteP in the General Assembly, have continued to support the initiative in Congress.
“It’s the people with boots on the ground, the people who are actually taking care of patients who deserve most of the praise,” Murphy said. “Sy has been a lifesaver for many individuals.”
Murphy thanked United Health Foundation for funding the initiative that will help address the unique challenges of patients in rural areas.
Davis emphasized the focus on children’s mental health as an important step in the effort to “provide every child a fighting chance to realize the American dream in eastern North Carolina. Dr. Sy has been a fearless voice in this effort,” Davis said.
“We’re honored and excited to partner with East Carolina University to address key health challenges our young people are facing,” said Anita Bachmann, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina, part of UnitedHealth Group. “By working together and creating an interconnected system of clinical and social services, we can continue to produce better health outcomes for North Carolinians.”
The United Health Foundation and ECU also partnered in 2020 through a $1.25 million grant to expand telepsychiatry services to address the mental health needs of expectant and new mothers. Through the Maternal Outreach Using Telehealth for Rural Sites (MOTHeRs) project, ECU developed and deployed a new obstetric care model for high-risk patients and addressed food insecurity among pregnant women.
North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley touted the importance of access to health care — particularly mental health care services — in rural North Carolina.
“There is no health without mental health,” Kinsley said. “In particular, I think we know that mental health needs for children are more acute than ever.”
Kinsley said the investment announced today is a “win-win-win.” The project is being built on a program that has led statewide in expanded access to care.
“Truly it has been ECU driving access to telepsychiatry far before it was a fashionable thing,” Kinsley said.
Innovation is at the center of ECU’s initiatives fostering regional transformation in health care. ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers said the partnership with the university and the United Health Foundation allows many disciplines across campus to address the disparities in health care.
Rogers said the initiative would not be possible without the steadfast dedication and hard work of leaders at ECU, beginning with Saeed, who leads the team responsible for the operational aspects of the program.
“This transformative grant builds on our leadership in leveraging technology to provide care in the region and across the state,” Rogers said. “Our partnership with the United Health Foundation runs quite deep. This partnership has already made a significant impact as we prepare students to address the critical shortage of mental health professionals in our state.”
“Lucky” Xue, Robert D. Teer Distinguished Professor, Department of Management Information Systems, and students in the ECU College of Business are responsible for two components of the project — a virtual reality video game (AI) and a knowledge management system (KM). Xue said the project would have a profound impact on her research, teaching and community engagement.
“The objective of the AI-KM component is to strengthen the collaboration among mental health care professionals, family members and community partners across eastern North Carolina, and to optimize the utilization of existing mental health knowledge while uncovering innovative practices,” Xue said.
“The students from the Department of Management Information Systems in the College of Business will be given the unique opportunity to participate in the system development process. This will serve as a practical application of the knowledge they have gained through their coursework and an opportunity to make a positive impact on society. It’s an excellent chance for them to hone their skills and contribute to a meaningful cause.”
In North Carolina, children experience significant challenges accessing the care needed to address their mental health. This partnership will help connect youth with mental health services in areas with provider shortages, said Dave Tayloe Jr. at Goldsboro Pediatrics.
“We have a significant shortage of mental health professionals, and often these key members of our health care workforce are not paid enough to cover their expenses when they provide mental health services for at-risk children. Most communities do not have even one child psychiatrist to help primary care providers care for the children who have the most serious mental health problems,” Tayloe said. “We have seen great benefit from providing mental health educational courses for primary care health professionals, having mental health professionals who work in the schools, the primary care practice, and the community, and having access to telepsychiatry services for the children most at risk for adverse mental health outcomes.”
The new grant program will take about six months to prepare. Saeed said that through NC-STeP, ECU is serving others as the university’s mission calls it to do.
“Mental health — including psychological, emotional and social well-being — is a vital part of our overall health. This is especially true for children when we consider that for many adults with mental disorders, symptoms were present, but often not recognized or addressed, in childhood or adolescence,” he said. “The good news is that we live in times when the care for mental disorders has never been more effective.”
Read more from ECU News Services.
Student perseverance and community and industry partnerships were highlighted in special presentations at the East Carolina University Board of Trustees’ February meeting.
The board also welcomed Brandon Frye, vice chancellor for student affairs, who officially joined ECU this week.
On Thursday, four students spoke during the University Affairs Committee meeting about their struggles and how ECU programs helped them continue to move forward. The students and the programs are: George Cherry Jr., Students’ Treasure Chest; Nellyana Cordero-Cisnero, Pirate Promise; Adam Harrison, Pirate Academic Success Center; and Iyaira Williams, Purple Pantry. Chris Stansbury, associate vice chancellor and senior operating officer for student affairs, moderated the panel.
In introducing the students, Provost Robin Coger said earning a degree requires students to persevere even when faced with challenges. ECU provides a range of support for student success. “Ultimately they come out of ECU ready for successful careers, but there are a lot of steps in between,” she said.
Cherry, who is earning three degrees and plans to attend medical school, put 24,000 miles on his car driving to class last year from his Bertie County home, where he helps take care of his younger sister. He was able to get help from the Students’ Treasure Chest when his car needed repairs. He is working to give back to the university through service and his involvement in different organizations, including the Student Government Association.
Cordero-Cisnero is a first-generation student from Raleigh who attended community college before transferring to ECU for a degree in elementary education. She said an ECU alum introduced her to Pirate Promise, which gave her a path to a four-year degree. “It opened a new door for me,” she said.
Harrison said he commuted from his home in Williamston his first year, and the connections he made at the Pirate Academic Success Center helped him become a stronger student. He now is a mentor to other students at the center.
Williams, from Raleigh, has volunteered at the Purple Pantry since her freshman year. As an ambassador, she helped the organization win a collegiate hunger challenge and $10,000, and she continues to work with the pantry to combat food insecurity. A recent partnership with the SGA has yielded almost 90 meals donated from unused meal swipes. The SGA also provided funding to purchase a freezer for the pantry to provide frozen meals.
The panel encouraged trustees to continue hearing from students and provide opportunities for conversation. They also suggested continuing to bring awareness to the resources that ECU offers.
In another committee Thursday, the trustee’s Committee on Strategy and Innovation heard an industry workforce panel discuss how partnerships can lead to innovation and economic prosperity in eastern North Carolina and beyond. Participants included representatives from ECU Health, Fly Exclusive and MrBeast. Topics ranged from the importance of building and strengthening partnerships and pathways to identifying ECU student and graduate talent to recruit to their businesses.
Panelist Julie Oehlert, chief experience and brand officer at ECU Health, said both the university and the health system can benefit from working more closely to integrate student experiences into education in a wide variety of disciplines in health care and beyond.
“We share a community, we share learners that we both love deeply, in a variety of settings,” she said. “We share the responsibility of caring for eastern North Carolina; for educating eastern North Carolina and for advancing all the people that live in eastern North Carolina in their learning and in their health. That’s why we are ECU Health now; never before has the imperative for a strong partnership been more relevant or more necessary.”
The panelists and committee discussed ways to encourage partnerships based on innovation and thinking outside the box that will push students to create real-world solutions in situations that prepare them to enter the workforce with concrete foundational experience.
The committee also adopted a resolution on freedom of expression for faculty and students, which was unanimously approved by the full board on Friday. The resolution reaffirms the Board of Trustees’ commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression in which faculty and students can “teach, learn, seek and speak the truth” in an environment where “academic freedom flourishes” and the campus community is given “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn except insofar as limitations to that freedom are necessary to the function of the university.”
Trustees also received an update on refreshing the university’s strategic plan. Committee co-chair Sharon Paynter presented a list of internal and external strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities that impact university initiatives and ways ECU leadership, faculty, staff and students continue to navigate them.
Read more from ECU News Services
Support, action and investment are needed in the East to solve what community members and experts alike are calling a mental health crisis across the region and state. That was the common theme at the Mental Health Town Hall in Greenville hosted by North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Kody H. Kinsley and local legislators Feb. 9.
The bipartisan panel for the town hall featured Rep. Gloristine Brown, Sen. Jim Burgin, House Majority Leader John Bell, Rep. Dr. Tim Reeder and Sen. Kandie Smith, all of whom represent districts that fall within ECU Health’s 29-county service area. With more than 150 people in attendance, community members and representatives for local organizations shared their perspectives on mental health with the panel.
Kinsley said town halls are crucial to help him and other state officials understand the unique challenges in each area of the state.
“We are having mental health challenges all across the state, but every community is different because every community’s resources are different and their needs are different,” Kinsley said. “It’s really important to me as we set statewide policy that we’re doing it in a way that is informed by boots on the ground, and we heard a lot of that tonight, and we know we have a lot of work to do, and I’ve appreciated this conversation.”
Dr. Michael Lang, chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health at ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine said the town hall was a positive step to help share with leaders what he and others are seeing locally. He said it was symbolic to bring the event to Greenville where he and his team see a disproportionate number of patients daily needing mental health resources at the ECU Health Medical Center Emergency Department.
“This was a great event for us overall,” Dr. Lang said. “We had a chance to meet our leadership from Raleigh and let them know about the issues and challenges we’re facing, not only here in eastern North Carolina but across the state. I can tell you firsthand we feel the impact of the mental health crisis here in the region and here in Greenville at the medical center. The challenges we’re talking about, such as a lack of access to resources and a dependence on emergency department visits for those suffering from mental health crises, are felt every day at hospitals across the region. That’s why it is important to focus on improving outpatient behavioral health resources to crate stable environments and prevent hospitalization.”
Officials noted there are at least 350 mental health patients in emergency departments across the state waiting for bed placement on any given day. The lack of access to care and resources are more magnified in rural areas such as eastern North Carolina where there is a disproportionate number of under or uninsured individuals. The bipartisan panel all agreed Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would help provide necessary resources towards solving the crisis and Sen. Burgin noted that Medicaid expansion would allow the state to spend more than $1 billion on improving access to behavioral health resources.
“ECU Health is grateful for our local legislators who are committed to having these difficult but necessary conversations while at the same time pursuing common-sense solutions like Medicaid expansion,” said Brian Floyd, chief operating officer, ECU Health. “Medicaid expansion would help provide needed health coverage to 100,000 people in our region and improve the way we as a state deliver behavioral health resources.”
At ECU Health, the system announced a partnership with Acadia Healthcare to build a state-of-the-art, 144-bed behavioral health hospital in the medical district of Greenville, less than a mile from ECU Health Medical Center.
The hospital, slated to open in 2025, will provide important access to behavioral health services for adults and pediatric patients, with 24 inpatient beds specifically for children and adolescents with mental health needs.
“I’m incredibly grateful for health systems that have been investing in building more behavioral health beds,” Kinsley said. “This is important but I have a job to do on this, too. We have got to increase [reimbursement] rates to help make those beds sustainable and used.”
Halifax, N.C. – ECU Health proudly joined community officials and business and health leaders at a Medicaid expansion roundtable hosted by U.S. Congressman Don Davis at the Halifax County Health Department Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, followed by a tour of ECU Health North Hospital.
Jay Briley, president of ECU Health community hospitals, and Jason Harrell, president of ECU Health North Hospital, attended the roundtable to offer insights on health issues impacting Halifax County and eastern North Carolina. Officials urged the need for Medicaid expansion, and community leaders offered perspective and insight on how to best advocate for expansion in North Carolina, which would provide invaluable health and economic benefits to communities across the region. With Medicaid expansion, more than 600,000 North Carolinians – 100,000 of whom live in eastern North Carolina – would have access to the affordable health care coverage they need.
“ECU Health is grateful for the opportunity to meet with Congressman Davis and other community leaders to discuss Medicaid expansion and other important health care needs for Halifax County and the region we so proudly serve,” said Briley. “Medicaid expansion is a crucial initiative that would provide numerous benefits for the state, and especially here in rural eastern North Carolina, where we see high rates of chronic diseases and high rates of uninsured patients. Simply put, Medicaid expansion would make an important difference in the lives of so many, and we are committed to advocating for this important measure.”
Following the roundtable, Briley and Harrell welcomed Congressman Davis to ECU Health North Hospital for a tour of the hospital, including the oncology unit and women and children’s unit. During the tour, the leaders discussed how Medicaid expansion and the Healthcare Access and Stabilization Program would help provide much-needed relief for rural hospitals across the state, ensuring that rural North Carolinians have access to high-quality health care.
“Rural hospitals like ECU Health North play a critical role in the communities they serve,” said Harrell. “Our hospital is not only a hub for high-quality care, but it is also the largest employer in the county. Medicaid expansion should be a top priority for the state, and we appreciate Congressman Davis’s efforts to advocate for the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.”
Leaders from across eastern North Carolina came together for the Vision 2023 event hosted by NC East Alliance at the East Carolina Heart Institute on the Brody School of Medicine campus on Jan. 13 to collaborate on workforce development solutions for the region.
Titled “The Power of Possibility: Envisioning the Future of Rural Regional STEM Education,” the event focused on education and job training for the next generation of regional leaders. This served as the first planning meeting for the STEM East Network which aims to improve education, professional learning, workforce development and economic development in the East.
Dr. Michael Waldrum, chief executive officer at ECU Health and dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, is an NC East Alliance Executive Board member and said he believes the health system’s partnership with NC East Alliance is crucial to advancing the mission of ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine.
“I’ve been on economic development company boards for over 25 years, and I always say if you really want to improve the health and well-being of a community, you have to drive economic development and if you want to drive economic development, you have to educate people,” Dr. Waldrum said. “It’s really a global perspective – regional transformation and promoting communities involves creating economic opportunities, educating future generations and providing great health care services.”
The event had representation from 29 school systems and 14 community colleges from across eastern North Carolina and the morning session centered on creating an “Industry in School” Alliance that brings together school districts, community colleges and industry in a collaboration designed to bolster the region’s workforce.
Mark Hamblin, chairman of the NC East Alliance, said this new initiative is an important next step for the organization and the region as a whole.
“A couple years ago we were wondering what was next for this organization and when we came together to develop this initiative, it made so much sense because a regional approach is so important to all of us,” Hamblin said.
The STEM East Network steering committee will develop regional solutions to help educators become transformative stakeholders in the regional economy. This will include training educators, from elementary school through college, to better understand the industry and workforce needs of the region. As a result, students will have an increased awareness of jobs available in the region.
A key vision for the program is to keep high school graduates in the region for work and further education while the ultimate goal is to encourage eastern North Carolina’s homegrown workforce to stay and serve in communities across the region.
Dr. Waldrum said for rural health care specifically, this initiative is much needed to develop a strong workforce of future regional leaders.
“In health care we need a strong workforce,” Dr. Waldrum said. “Before the pandemic, workforce was a major issue with massive shortages on technicians, nurses and physicians primarily in rural communities. So we focused on how we could recruit and retain our workforce and provide access to care for a vibrant, rural community. Having a group like this come together and help us in that sector with STEM education and economic development is something that I really want to thank everyone here for making happen.”
Forward thinking and grassroots efforts are helping shape a better future for eastern North Carolina and working together is the best way to impact the region far and wide. ECU Health is excited to partner with industry leaders and elected officials, joining forces on regional initiatives like the STEM East Network to promote positive change in the communities we serve.