Greenville, N.C. – Project SEARCH, an educational program offered at ECU Health Medical Center, is proud to announce 11 students graduated from the program Tuesday, June 6: Caleb Askew, Ke’Shaun Brown, Isabella Davis, Shilah Gibbs, Johnathan Guadalupe, Ebony Hyman, Gwenisha Mosley, Kymecia Pugh, Kimiko “AJ” Roberson, Jai Sadler and Jose Vargas.

Project SEARCH is a one-year internship program for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities in their last year of high school with the goal of providing real-world practical skills and increasing the chances of competitive employment.

“ECU Health is very proud to host Project SEARCH to bring educational opportunities to everyone in the East,” said Doris Hill, Project SEARCH coordinator at ECU Health. “This program gives students the opportunity to learn job skills that can be applied after graduation and brings diversity to our organization and the local workforce. We are proud of the tremendous growth of our 11 graduates throughout the program, and we are all very proud of their accomplishments.”

The Project SEARCH program at ECU Health Medical Center began in 2015 through partnerships with Pitt County Schools, RHA Health Services and the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Students complete internships in various departments at the hospital, including central services, East Carolina Heart Institute cafeteria, the SurgiCenter, main medical center cafeteria, endoscopy center, grounds, environmental services and the neuroscience intermediate unit.

“Project SEARCH gives our students support to transition into the workforce through skills development and a customized job search in the second half of the program,” said Katie Houmard, Project SEARCH instructor. “This program grows the confidence and independence in all of our students, and many of our graduates have gained competitive employment in our community. I am so proud of all of our students and am excited to see them continue to grow and become employed.”

The employment rate for youth with disabilities is about 60 to 70 percent less than youth without disabilities, according to the Office of Disability Employment Policy. The Project SEARCH program has proven results with a 65 percent employment and 90 percent retention rate nationally.

Students who participate in the program are enrolled at various Pitt County high schools including J.H. Rose, D.H. Conley, South Central, Farmville Central, North Pitt and Ayden-Grifton. The class of 2023 is the eighth, and largest, class to graduate from the program. The students this year were the first class to receive CPR training and certification while in the program.

“Project SEARCH has allowed our son to gain independence,” said Doug and Laura Askew, parents of graduate Caleb Askew. “He wakes up, brushes his teeth, gets dressed and waits for the school bus by himself, which he has never done. I have never seen him this excited to go to school or work. He loves Project SEARCH.”

The Project SEARCH program began in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and was developed as a means to meet entry-level employment needs at CCHMC, support their diversity initiative and partner with schools and community services agencies. Project SEARCH is now an international program with over 400 sites in existence now in at least 45 states and with programs in England, Scotland, Ireland and Canada.

Press Releases

ECU Health Medical Center Echocardiography Laboratory team poses for a photo with their certificate.

Greenville, N.C. – ECU Health Medical Center Echocardiography Laboratory (Echo lab) earned a 20 Year Bronze Accreditation Milestone for its reaccreditation and pediatric echocardiography reaccreditation by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC). The Echo lab has also been granted a three-year term of accreditation by the IAC in Echocardiography in the areas of adult stress, adult and pediatric transthoracic and adult transesophageal.

Accreditation by the IAC means that ECU Health Medical Center Echo lab has undergone an intensive application and review process and is found to be in compliance with published standards, thus demonstrating a commitment to quality patient care. Comprised of a detailed self-evaluation followed by a thorough review by a panel of medical experts, the IAC accreditation process enables both the critical operational and technical components of the applicant facility to be assessed, including representative case studies and their corresponding final reports.

ECU Health Medical Center Echocardiography Laboratory team is shown working in a patient setting.

“ECU Health takes great pride in bringing state of the art, high quality care that’s close to home for eastern North Carolina.” said Dr. Dave Harlow, senior vice president of Allied Health at ECU Health.  “ECU Health’s partnership with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University allows us to provide world class training and technologies for clinicians and medical students alike which ultimately improves patient outcomes. These efforts are tailored to our mission of improving the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina, and I am proud of the teams that earned this reaccreditation and the effort it represents.”

A noninvasive ultrasound study called an echocardiogram is commonly used to evaluate heart structure and function and can detect heart disease or signs of serious conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. On average, one American dies every 34 seconds of cardiovascular disease. Each year nearly 40,000 infants in the United States are born with a congenital heart defect, making it the most common type of birth defect. Congenital heart defects are also the most critical, causing more deaths during the first year of life than any other birth defect.

There are many factors that contribute to an accurate diagnosis based on echocardiography including the training and experience of the sonographer performing the procedure, the type of equipment used and the quality assessment metrics each facility is required to measure. IAC accreditation is a “seal of approval” that patients can rely on as an indicator of consistent quality care and a commitment to continuous improvement.

“Eastern North Carolina sees higher rates of chronic diseases including hypertension, diabetes and stroke, all leading to higher rates heart disease,” said ECU Health Medical Center Echo lab medical director Dr. Raj Nekkanti, who also serves as a professor in the Division of Cardiology and Program Director of the Cardiology Fellowship Program at Brody. “Having a high-quality, consistent Echo lab helps ensure accurate diagnoses and is instrumental in creating treatment plans for patients. Early diagnosis of heart disease can drastically improve outcomes for patients, highlighting the necessity of these types of services. We are proud to offer this high-quality care to a region that depends on it.”

Awards | Heart and Vascular | Press Releases

ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum speaks during a press conference unveiling ECU Health's logo.

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.”

ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum speaks during a press conference unveiling ECU Health's logo.

Community | Press Releases

ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum speaks during a press conference unveiling ECU Health's logo.

Greenville, N.C. – ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum issued the following statement:

“This is an important moment for rural health care in North Carolina as our legislators have struck a deal to move Medicaid expansion and the Healthcare Access Stabilization Program (HASP) forward in the legislative process and one step closer to passage. Medicaid expansion will provide coverage to more than 100,000 people in the East and HASP is vitally important to stabilize health care delivery in rural North Carolina. On behalf of ECU Health and the communities we are proud to serve, I extend my deepest gratitude to our elected leaders for this important development and we look forward to it becoming a reality. While this won’t solve all of the challenges we face in rural health care, this is a critical and necessary step.”

ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum speaks during a press conference unveiling ECU Health's logo.

Press Releases

ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in the daytime.

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.”

Community | Press Releases

An ECU Health EastCare ambulance drives down the road.

Washington, N.C. ECU Health Beaufort Hospital, a campus of ECU Health Medical Center President Debra Hernandez, MHA, RN, FACHE, CENP, will assume the fulltime role as senior vice president, System Emergency Services effective Feb. 26.

Debra Hernandez, MHA, RN, FACHE, CENP

Hernandez joined ECU Health in 2018 as the president of ECU Health Duplin Hospital. In 2020, she transitioned into a dual role as president of ECU Health Beaufort Hospital as well as system vice president of Emergency Services.

Hernandez’s transition into this role goes hand-in-hand with ECU Health’s investment in transforming its care delivery system with the goal of ensuring patients receive care at the right place and time across the region. Emergency Services are a critical component of health care delivery and impact capacity, access and clinical operations, particularly at a time when patient volumes in emergency departments are high. Hernandez, alongside physician leadership, will be responsible for clinical and operational excellence for system Emergency Services.

“I want to thank Debra for leading a transformational period at ECU Health Beaufort Hospital and for her willingness to tackle this new challenge,” said Brian Floyd, chief operating officer, ECU Health. “Debra’s expertise and experience in overseeing Emergency Services are particularly valuable in today’s health care environment where we are seeing increasingly high demands in emergency departments across the nation, state and here locally. I have full confidence in Debra’s ability to optimize our system-wide Emergency Services and improve clinical efficiencies for patients and team members.”

With Hernandez’s transition into her new role, Dennis Campbell, II DHA, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, CPHQ, will serve as interim president at ECU Health Beaufort. Campbell has been with the health system and in his current role as ECU Health Beaufort’s vice president of Patient Care Services for more than two years.

Emergency & Trauma | Press Releases

A patient prepares for an MRI.

Roanoke Rapids, N.C. – ECU Health North Hospital is bringing comprehensive care close to home with its newest service providing advanced diagnostics through a mobile PET/CT service that began Feb. 2, 2023. PET/CT scans help diagnose different conditions such as cancer, heart disease and brain disorders while improving patient comfort.

“ECU Health North is proud to invest in our patients and care teams by bringing advanced mobile PET/CT services closer to home for our patients,” said Jason Harrell, president, ECU Health North Hospital. “We serve a vast rural area where access to high-quality, specialized care may be many miles away. Innovative technology like the combined PET/CT scan will allow our team to more conveniently create personalized treatment plans for each patient.”

Providers are able to perform the combined scans simultaneously in the same machine, eliminating the need for separate visits while reducing the time needed for scans.

A patient prepares for an MRI.

Without this advanced technology, providers traditionally must overlay images of a patient’s individual CT scan and PET scan, which is less efficient than the combined scans offered by this new technology. Combined PET/CT scans take both scans of the patient in the same position for a higher level of accuracy to detect the presence and spread of illness or disease.

“The combined PET/CT scan allows us to more quickly diagnose health issues such as tumors or heart conditions so that we may begin treatment as soon as possible,” said Dr. Sandeep Pandit, Hematology/Oncology, ECU Health North Hospital. “We know early intervention gives patients a higher chance of survival and recovery, and having the PET/CT service available locally will help us improve quality of life of our patients while they undergo diagnosis, treatment and recovery.”

The mobile PET/CT service is the first PET scan and CT scan service for the Roanoke Rapids area. The mobile service is in partnership with Alliance Imaging and will be on ECU Health North Hospital’s campus every other Thursday from 8-11 a.m. Patients who receive a referral from their provider can schedule an appointment by calling 252-535-8888.

Press Releases

A team gathers to discuss patient care at the ECU Health heart center.

Windsor, N.C. – ECU Health is pleased to announce ECU Health Bertie Hospital has been named a 2022 Human Experience (HX) Guardian of Excellence Award® winner for physician engagement by Press Ganey, the global leader in health care experience solutions and services. This award is part of Press Ganey’s annual ranking of the top hospitals and health systems in the country, according to performance in physician engagement.

“It is an honor to receive this award on behalf of the dedicated team members who make ECU Health Bertie a top performing hospital for physician engagement,” said ECU Health Bertie Hospital President Brian Harvill. “It takes a dedicated group of individuals working together to care for a community. I could not be more proud of the ECU Health Bertie doctors, nurses and support staff who work tirelessly to provide excellent patient-centered care to those we are honored to serve.”

A team gathers to discuss patient care at the ECU Health heart center.

As a winner of the Press Ganey HX Guardian of Excellence Award®, ECU Health Bertie is in the top 5% of health care providers in physician engagement in the last year. Press Ganey works with more than 41,000 health care facilities in its mission to reduce patient suffering and enhance caregiver resilience to improve the overall safety, quality and experience of care.

“By putting their patients and workforce first each and every day, ECU Health Bertie Hospital is demonstrating their unwavering commitment to their employees and to the communities they serve,” said Patrick T. Ryan, chairman and chief executive officer, Press Ganey. “The caregivers at ECU Health Bertie have inspired us with the compassion, empathy and human connection they bring to the clinical healthcare setting. We are honored to partner with them as we celebrate their achievement.”

Team member engagement is central to how ECU Health creates positive experiences and delivers upon its mission to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina. Per fiscal year data, ECU Health Bertie providers rated their engagement better than the national average in all five key engagement performance indicators: engagement, alignment, safety, resilience and diversity.

“As an organization dedicated to providing rural health care, ECU Health understands that exceptional patient experiences are created by compassionate, energized and engaged teams,” said ECU Health Chief Experience Officer Dr. Julie Oehlert. “This award from a globally recognized health care leader like Press Ganey is a testament to our whole team which goes above and beyond to overcome the challenges we face and ensure communities across our region have access to high-quality compassionate care they deserve.”

To learn more about ECU Health Bertie Hospital, visit ECUHealth.org/Bertie

Awards | Featured | Press Releases

An ECU Health team member assists a patient during a mammogram.

Greenville, N.C. – The National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC), a quality program administered by the American College of Surgeons, has granted accredited status to ECU Health Medical Center for the ninth year. Patients receiving care at a NAPBC-accredited center have access to information on clinical trials and new treatment options, genetic counseling, and patient-centered services including psychosocial support, rehabilitation services and survivorship care.

“ECU Health serves a vast rural region burdened by high prevalence of chronic diseases including cancer,” said Brian Floyd, chief operating officer of ECU Health and president of ECU Health Medical Center. “Our partnership with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University allows us to provide research and clinical trials for patients, as well as recruit high-quality cancer care providers, both of which largely contribute to our accreditation. Bringing standardized, quality care close to home for the 1.4 million people we serve helps us meet our mission of improving the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.”

An ECU Health team member assists a patient during a mammogram.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for women in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The even higher prevalence of cancers in eastern North Carolina highlights the importance of having an accredited cancer care center in the region. Access to preventative screenings and early detection allows for less invasive treatments, a greater variety of options and a greater potential to prevent the spread of breast cancer.

“ECU Health is committed to maintaining excellence in the delivery of comprehensive, compassionate, patient-centered, high-quality care for patients with all types of cancer,” said Dr. Emmanuel Zervos, executive director of cancer services at ECU Health, and professor at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. “Patients with breast cancer at ECU Health benefit from a robust team of disease site specialists in surgery, oncology and radiotherapy who are committed to working together to provide the type of care this important designation represents. I am grateful to our ECU Health team members and new breast cancer program leader, Dr. Karinn Chambers, for not only adhering to these standards but surpassing them.”

Accreditation by NAPBC is granted to programs proven to provide the best possible care to patients with breast cancer. To achieve voluntary NAPBC accreditation, a breast center demonstrates compliance with the NAPBC standards that address a center’s leadership, clinical services, research, community outreach, professional education and quality improvement for patients. Breast centers seeking NAPBC accreditation undergo a site visit every three years.

To learn more about breast cancer screenings and treatment options near you, please visit ECUHealth.org/breast-cancer.

Cancer | Featured | Press Releases

Greenville, N.C. ECU Health, the premier health system serving eastern North Carolina, experienced a transformational year highlighted by the introduction of a new brand, announcement of a new behavioral health hospital, recognition of multiple team members on the state and national levels and realization of clinical achievements and innovations that enhance the care for the 1.4 million people the organization proudly serves.

“As we reflect on the historic year that was and celebrate our achievements, I want to take a moment to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the team members who make ECU Health what it is: a premier rural academic health system dedicated to serving the people who call eastern North Carolina home,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, ECU Health CEO and Dean of the Brody School of Medicine. “As one year comes to a close and another begins, I know the next chapter of our shared story will be just as important. Our efforts in 2022 helped position us to navigate the complex challenges we face moving forward by bringing clinical, education and research innovations, but we still have work to do in the upcoming year and beyond to ensure our communities have access to the high-quality care they deserve.”

The following highlights are only a few of the many achievements across ECU Health in 2022. For a more comprehensive review of the year, please visit: ECUHealth.org/YearinReview2022

Evolving to ECU Health

The re-brand to ECU Health is a visual reminder of how transformative the year has been. The ECU Health logo is a symbol of the commitment to transforming and elevating health care for millions, training the providers of tomorrow, collaborating with community partners to solve complex issues and bringing clinical innovations that improve the lives of those who call this region home.

The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and the health system began a joint operating agreement on Jan. 1, 2022. In April, the two organizations hosted a press conference and shared the new logo for ECU Health and announced the brand launch that would begin in May.

In the months since, there have been visual changes across the health system from signage around hospitals and clinics to websites and social media channels. More importantly, the creation of ECU Health has opened the door for the system to improve access to care across eastern North Carolina while training health care professionals through Brody.

Expanding access to behavioral health care in eastern North Carolina

Access to behavioral health care is crucial across the country, but especially in rural areas like eastern North Carolina. In June, ECU Health and Acadia Healthcare announced plans 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.

Slated to open in spring 2025, the hospital will operate through a joint venture between ECU Health and Acadia, the largest standalone provider of behavioral health care services across the United States. Together, the organizations will invest approximately $65 million in expanding behavioral health resources in eastern North Carolina.

The hospital will include 24 inpatient beds specifically for children and adolescents with mental health needs. These beds will be the first of their kind in ECU Health’s 29-county service area and the only child and adolescent beds within 75 miles of Greenville, North Carolina.

Twenty-two ECU Health nurses recognized among Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina

This year, 22 ECU Health nurses were selected to the 2022 NC Great 100. This is the largest number of ECU Health nurses to receive this recognition. The honorees were celebrated at a gala hosted by The North Carolina Great 100, Inc. in Greenville in October.

Since 1989, The North Carolina Great 100, Inc. has recognized and honored nurses around the state for their commitment to excellence and to promote a positive image of the nursing profession. Out of thousands of nominations that are submitted annually, 100 recipients are selected based on their outstanding professional abilities and contributions made to improving health care services to their communities.

ECU Health Beaufort Hospital designated as primary stroke center by The Joint Commission

In July, ECU Health Beaufort Hospital – a campus of ECU Health Medical Center was designated as a primary stroke center by The Joint Commission and the American Heart/Stroke Association, recognizing the hospital’s preparedness and expertise to care for stroke patients. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the state, resulting in more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease.

With ECU Health Beaufort’s designation, all ECU Health’s hospitals are stroke certified by The Joint Commission.

Community | Featured | Health News | Press Releases