Chad Tucker, director of the Volunteer Services Department at the Medical Center, shakes hands with Jennifer Congleton, administrator of pastoral care and volunteer services, while they hold the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service: Paid Volunteer Director.

The 2023 North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteer Services were recently announced, and four volunteers with ECU Health have been recognized. The award honors the true spirit of volunteerism by recognizing individuals and groups who make a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service. The ECU Health award winners this year are Shantell McLaggan, Gaddamanugu Uma and Ed Chambers. Chad Tucker won the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service: Paid Volunteer Director.

Shantell McLaggan and Gaddamanugu Uma

Shantell McLaggan and Gaddamanugu Uma are third-year medical students at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows who have led the effort to train more than 60 health professional and undergraduate student volunteers to serve as doulas in ECU Health Medical Center’s Labor and Delivery Department.

The 2023 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award winners were recognized by the Pitt County Board of Commissioners during a recent meeting. The award winners are shown in a Pitt County government meeting room, posing for a photo.
Shantell McLaggan, second from left, and Gaddamanugu Uma, fourth from left, pose for a photo during a Pitt County Board of Commissioners meeting where 2023 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award winners were recognized.

Although the program had some initial growing pains, patient feedback about the program has remained appreciative and positive.

“Patients are always recommending our services to others who will give birth at ECU Health,” McLaggan said. “An unfortunate number of people go through the birthing process with little to no support, and our doulas have stepped up to alleviate that issue.”

Word of the program has spread, and they are receiving an increasing number of requests for doula support from mothers across eastern North Carolina.

“Our first cohorts of volunteers have grown into incredible role models for our newer doulas,” Uma said. “Now Shantell and I are focusing on securing the long-term sustainability of our program. We’re actively brainstorming innovative methods to enhance and optimize our services, aiming to amplify our impact and facilitate safe, empowering birth experiences for families in our community.”

Both McLaggan and Uma were surprised to be recognized with this award.

“Receiving this award was unexpected and humbling. It was nice to be recognized for our hard work and dedication to this community. Uma and I have always been passionate about women’s health and racial and social equity, and creating this program has meant a lot to us,” McLaggan said.

Uma cited the vast impact the program has made in a short time.

“When we began, our goal was to support 50 patients in a year, and we’ve far surpassed that expectation; in just 12 months, we trained 67 volunteers who supported 262 birthing patients!” This is an important achievement, Uma said, because of ECU Health’s wide reach to patients across the region. “ECU Health Medical Center is the sole provider of high-risk prenatal care across our 29 county region, so many of our patients have to navigate countless barriers to even make it to our hospital.”

Both McLaggan and Uma emphasized that their efforts would not have been fruitful if not for the support of administrators, classmates and fellow volunteers.

Ed Chambers

Ed Chambers, an ECU Health Medical Center volunteer, was recognized with the 2023 North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteer Services. He poses for a photo with a hospital wheel chair at ECU Health Medical Center's cancer center.

Ed Chambers is a patient escort volunteer at the Medical Center, where he has garnered over 5,000 hours of service in the 23 years he’s volunteered for the system. The Pennsylvania native grew up on a dairy farm before being sent overseas to Okinawa, Japan for service in the Air Force. He eventually moved to Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he met his first wife. She passed away in 1997, but he remarried in 1998.

Chambers worked for 30 years at DuPont in Kinston and Charleston, South Carolina before retiring, and in 2000, his wife came home and told him she applied to volunteer at the Medical Center.

“I asked her if she got me an application, and she said, ‘get yourself one.’ So I did and we worked together for about seven years until she had a knee replacement,” Chambers said. “I’ve just enjoyed it ever since and keep right on getting into it.”

Chambers has been recognized as the Volunteer of the Year for the hospital, and he enjoys training new volunteers. He primarily works in the North tower and in the Cancer Center, and while he can only work one day a week, he hopes to continue volunteering for as long as he’s able.

“I’m hoping I can get 30 years in at the hospital,” he said.

Chambers’ favorite part of volunteering is the people.

“Over the years, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the other great volunteers and the patients,” he said. “I enjoy meeting people and helping them out. It’s been a pleasure.”

Winning the award was a “great honor” for Chambers, and it was special that his daughters, one of whom has also volunteered at the Medical Center, attended the award ceremony.

“I know there are a lot of people deserving of this honor, and I hope their time comes,” Chambers said.

Chad Tucker

Chad Tucker is the director of the Volunteer Services Department at the Medical Center, where he oversees the recruitment, training and quality assurance for all volunteers in the Medical Center. He’s worked at ECU Health for nine years, and in addition to his work at the Medical Center, Tucker serves as the vice president for the NC Hospital Volunteer Professionals and volunteers with his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, where he’s serving as the Area Director.

Tucker attended East Carolina University where he got two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in public health with a health care administration concentration.

“I thought I wanted to be an attorney,” he said. “I took the LSAT and realized it wasn’t my passion.” Tucker said he “fell into” his role and he’s loved it ever since. “This isn’t a position; it’s my passion.”

Chad Tucker, director of the Volunteer Services Department at the Medical Center, shakes hands with Jennifer Congleton, administrator of pastoral care and volunteer services, while they hold the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service: Paid Volunteer Director.

The best part of his job, he said, is seeing the volunteers interact with the patients, team members and guests.

“I enjoy seeing the impact they make, whether it’s a teenager, a college student who wants to go into health care or someone who is retired wanting to give back.” For Tucker, he doesn’t do the work for recognition. “I just love seeing the organization flourish,” he said. “It’s amazing to see our volunteers’ work and hear team members or patients who are grateful for their service.”

During his tenure, the number of volunteer programs has grown.

“We’ve grown our pet therapy program and our doula program,” he detailed. “We’ve added some people for art therapy, and we’ve had some people do music therapy, as well. Our teen program is one of the largest in the state for VolunTeens, ages 15-17. We’ve added our family medicine clinic and volunteers at the Wellness Center, as well.”

Those experiences have made his time with ECU Health rewarding.

“I’ve loved the opportunity to interact with so many different team members, volunteers, patients and staff, but I’ve also loved the professional development to grow,” Tucker said. “I like to volunteer in the community, so it’s a great marriage of me volunteering and professionally managing volunteers.”

When Tucker attended the Pitt County Commissioner’s meeting to recognize McLaggan, Uma and Chambers, he was surprised to learn he’d won the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service: Paid Volunteer Director.

“I was in complete shock,” he said. “I’m honored to be of service as a paid volunteer, but I also love engaging with volunteers who want to serve in the hospital and community.”

Jennifer Congleton, the administrator of pastoral care and volunteer services, hired Tucker and has enjoyed watching him grow into his role.

“To see him recruit and retain volunteers and become a director – it’s been a tremendous feat,” she said. “It’s been a privilege to work with him, mentor him and see him develop into a leader.”

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to all of the volunteers and team members who serve eastern North Carolina at ECU Health. To learn more about the NC Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service, to nominate a volunteer or to see the full list of the 2023 winners, click here.

Awards

ECU and ECU Health leaders ask questions of presenters during the Quality Improvement Symposium.

Each year, the ECU Health Quality Improvement Symposium brings together a diverse group of academic and community physicians, health professionals, health care teams, residents, fellows and students from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University to present their work to an audience of peers and health system leaders.

On Wednesday, Jan. 31, ECU Health and ECU’s Brody School of Medicine hosted the eighth annual event at Eastern AHEC. This year’s event was held in-person and virtually, and showcased more than 40 projects related to quality improvement, patient safety, population health and interprofessional practice.​​

The day kicked off with opening remarks from Dr. Mike Waldrum, CEO of ECU Health and Dean of Brody School of Medicine. After welcoming attendees to the event, Dr. Waldrum expressed his pride in the symposium’s contributions, highlighting the collaborative efforts of teams in addressing regional challenges.

ECU and ECU Health leaders ask questions of presenters during the Quality Improvement Symposium.

“When I look at these posters and our presenters, I see multidisciplinary, diverse teams coming together to educate, engage in dialogue and drive quality improvement for ECU Health and the patients we serve. I am incredibly proud of our team members and students for their commitment to addressing the immense challenges we face as a region,” Dr. Waldrum said.

Following the opening remarks, selected presenters who were chosen from an application process that took place in late-2023, shared their work with the audience of 178 in-person and virtual attendees.

Presentations were categorized into podium presentations, poster presentations, and works-in-progress poster presentations. Awards for the top three podium and poster presentations were announced in the early afternoon.

PODIUM PRESENTATION:

  • Outstanding podium presentation: Erin Atwood, MD, MEd, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology, Brody School of Medicine, “Increasing Counseling about the Risk of Hypoglycemia Associated with Alcohol Consumption and Insulin use for Adolescent Patients with Diabetes at the ECU Health Pediatric Diabetes Clinic”
  • Honorable mention: Jennifer Stahl, MD, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Brody School of Medicine, “Right Care at the Right Location: Tele ICU Project”
  • Honorable mention: Benjamin Copeland, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Brody School of Medicine, “Improving Mental Health Access for Children in Foster Care in Eastern North Carolina”

QUICK SHOT PODIUM PRESENTATION:

  • Outstanding quick shot podium presentation: Juan Guillen-Hernandez, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Brody School of Medicine, “Reducing Unplanned Extubations in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit”
  • Honorable mention: Juli Forbes, MSN, RN, ECU Health Beaufort Hospital, a Campus of ECU Health Medical Center, “Improving Efficiency and Staff Satisfaction in the Operating Room Through a Revised Block Scheduling Framework at a Rural Community Hospital”
  • Honorable mention: Titilola Babatunde, BS, MS4, LINC Scholar, Brody School of Medicine, “Improving Documentation of a Pediatric Early Warning Score in the Electronic Health Record”
  • Honorable mention: Kate Knowles, MSN, RN, CNL, Management, ECU Health Duplin, “Back to the Basics: Hand Hygiene”

POSTER PRESENTATION:

  • First place: John “JC” Rowe IV, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Brody School of Medicine, “Optimizing Outcomes for Patients with First Trimester Bleeding”
  • Second place: Gabriella Boccia, MHA, Administrative Fellow, ECU Health, “Improving Sick Visit Clinic Access at ECU Health Physicians Adult and Pediatric Health Care”
  • Third place: Stephanie Smith, MSN, RN, ACM-RN, Maynard Children’s Hospital, ECU Health Medical Center, “Improving Fall Risk Identification in Pediatric Patients”

With a total of 15 podium presentations and 29 poster presentations, symposium attendees gained insights into a variety of Quality-related projects. Dr. Waldrum emphasized the importance of what these presentations can offer.

“These presentations cover complex health care problems and this symposium enables us to think deeply about how we can tackle important issues facing our region,” Dr. Waldrum said. “It is always gratifying to see our team members and students come together to demonstrate their expertise and showcase the passion they have for the work they do.”

​The symposium closed with two concurrent education sessions led by ECU Health team members:

  • Patient Safety, Reliability Science and Root Cause Analysis Application presented by Susan Ingram, MSN, RN CPHQ, Director of Patient Safety
An attendee looks over poster boards of research during the eighth annual Quality Improvement Symposium in 2024.
  • Fostering Psychological Safety for Team and Quality Outcomes presented by Randy Cobb, DSL, ACC, CPCC, Director of Organizational and Leadership Development

To learn more about the symposium and view a list of presentations, click here.

Awards | Community | Featured

Dr. Niti Armistead, chief quality officer and chief clinical officer at ECU Health, speaks with an ECU Health team member at ECU Health Medical Center.

By Business North Carolina

Dr. Niti Singh Armistead, the chief quality officer and chief clinical officer at ECU Health in Greenville, keeps making the right career choices.

In college at George Mason University, she switched her major from engineering to physics and pre-medicine after she discovered that there were loans available to pay for medical school. “I appreciate what programmers do every day, but I realized that my own joy was working in the medical field,” she says.

After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, she specialized in anesthesiology, thinking her physics background would be helpful. She switched to internal medicine because she found the long-term relationships with patients more enduring and satisfying.

Dr. Niti Armistead, chief quality officer and chief clinical officer at ECU Health, speaks with an ECU Health team member at ECU Health Medical Center.

Now, at ECU Health, she’s focused on acute care and still sees patients on a regular basis. She took on administrative roles in 2018 and 2019 before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, successfully helping steer the healthcare system during a challenging time.

“None of us knew what we were in for,” says Armistead. “For me, it all just kind of came together. How do you support an already underserved population? How do you rise to the occasion as the only healthcare system east of I-95 with an academic arm to do it all, to build the infrastructure for the testing and to educate the community? Those were the kind of interventions I got to lead.”

Read the full story in Business North Carolina.

Community | Featured | Health News

Sharon and Steve McNally pose for a photo.

Sharon and Steve McNally of New Bern have been married for more than 40 years. Now, Steve carries a little piece of his wife Sharon with him everywhere he goes.

Steve is diabetic and in 2015, he went through his first round of transplants at a hospital in their then-home state of Pennsylvania.

“It was supposed to have been a kidney and pancreas at the same time,” Steve said. “When they got me on the operating table, the pancreas wasn’t viable. So they said, ‘We’re going to do the kidney alone and we’ll get you a pancreas.’ What happened then was the hospital eventually became decertified and couldn’t do pancreas transplants anymore.”

Then, they joined the transplant list with a health system in Maryland and Steve received a pancreas transplant 30 days later. In the meantime, the new kidney had been damaged due to the lack of a functioning pancreas, but Steve said it was largely working fine until mid-2023. By that time, the McNallys had moved from Pennsylvania down to New Bern.

Sharon and Steve McNally pose for a photo.
Photo contributed by the McNally Family

With Steve’s kidney function worsening, there was little time to spare. He could join another transplant list that may take eight to 10 years to find a donor, start dialysis or personally find a match to donate a kidney.

Sharon said she knew she had to step up for her husband and get tested to see if she could be a match.

“It wasn’t really hard for me because a lot of people say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so amazing’ or so this and that but I don’t really feel that way,” Sharon said. “I feel like we’ve been married 40 plus years. We have grandkids and kids together and how could you watch someone get more and more ill and not do something if you can? So I didn’t really think about it.”

Testing started for the two in June and preparation began right away. They found out in October they were a match and an ECU Health team performed the transplant on Nov. 7.

“I’m glad that this was something I could do,” Sharon said. “There’s a lot of people that probably couldn’t have, even if they wanted to.”

For Sharon’s part, she went home the next day while Steve stayed a couple extra days for monitoring before heading home. While they each needed some help early on after coming home, they were both happy to support each other, as they’ve been doing for more than four decades.

Dr. Margaret Romine, transplant surgeon at ECU Health, and Dr. David Leeser performed the transplant along with other members of the ECU Health transplant team. She said she was most proud that the team could take on a case like the McNallys, especially given Steve had been through a kidney and pancreas transplant previously.

“They had already been through a lot before even coming to us but they had such great attitudes and were great patients to care for,” Dr. Romine said. “We have such a great team and that really sets us apart from other programs. It’s not just about what the surgeon thinks – the nephrologists play a huge role. Our coordinators, nurses, pharmacists, social workers all play a huge role. We can’t do what we do without the entire team. Whenever we make a big decision to take on a patient like him, it’s done as a team.”

Steve and Sharon both said they were happy with their experience at ECU Health and shared appreciation for the care team that helped guide them through the process and into recovery.

Now, they are looking forward to a spring working outdoors, something they both love but missed out on last year.

Sharon said if she could share one message, it would be on the importance of organ donation.

“Organ donation is just such a wonderful thing. I mean, three different times it saved my husband,” Sharon said. “You know, a lot of people don’t want to do something like that even after they’re gone because it just it seems weird to them. But honestly, I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

Featured | Health News | Transplant

The Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center is shown from across the street in Nags Head.

NAGS HEAD, N.C. — Jan. 30, 2024 — Outer Banks Health is proud to announce the opening of the Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center, a 15,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility made possible through the collaboration of Outer Banks Health, ECU Health, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare and the generous support of the Outer Banks community. The center opened its doors to patients on January 29, 2024.

This momentous occasion marks the culmination of years of dedication, perseverance, and community support. Outer Banks Health initiated the endeavor in 2015 with a vision to create a cutting-edge facility that would serve as a beacon of hope and healing for cancer patients on the Outer Banks and the surrounding region.

“The completion of the Cowell Cancer Center was made possible through the unwavering determination of the Outer Banks Health Development Council,” said Ronnie Sloan, FACHE, president of Outer Banks Health. “The council is comprised of dedicated individuals who share a passion for enhancing healthcare in the region and it played a pivotal role in bringing this ambitious project to fruition.”

The Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center is shown from across the street in Nags Head.

Led by radiation oncologist, Charles Shelton, the new center boasts a dedicated team, including a director, radiation therapists, a radiation nurse, a genetics extender, a physicist, a dosimetrist, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, LPNs and RNs, lab technicians, navigators, a social worker, a practice manager, and patient access representatives. While the search for a permanent medical oncologist continues, Dr. Michael Spiritos, formerly of Duke Health, has agreed to serve in that capacity on an interim basis along with Dr. John Barton. Katie Caton, FNP is also on staff as a permanent provider.

Of the 1300 critical access hospitals nationwide, Outer Banks Health Hospital is one of only eight accredited by the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons and is also distinguished as the only one in the country with an accredited breast program. This notable achievement reflects the commitment of Outer Banks Health to maintaining the highest standards of cancer care.

Outer Banks Health remains focused on expanding its list of services and programs to meet the evolving healthcare needs of the community. The organization’s goals include delivering excellent care locally and collaborating with health organizations throughout North Carolina and Virginia to ensure residents and visitors can access the best possible care.

For more information about the Cowell Cancer Center or to inquire about services, visit OuterBanksHealth.org/services/cancer-care or call (252) 449-7272.

Cancer | Community | Featured | Press Releases

Dr. Yaolin Zhou makes notes during an examination of a sample.

Greenville, NC — Yaolin Zhou, MD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, director of Quality and Test Utilization, and head of Molecular Pathology at ECU Health, was named to the 2023 Becker’s Hospital Review “Emerging Leaders: Provider Organization Leaders Under 40” list.

The Becker’s Hospital Review list recognizes up-and-coming leaders who are quickly rising through the ranks at their organizations, focusing on development, innovation, and improved outcomes.

The “Emerging Leaders: Provider Organization Leaders Under 40” list honors leaders who are 40 years old or younger for their commitment to optimizing health care. The Becker’s Hospital Review editorial team accepted nominations for this list and curated it to highlight the accomplishments of these rising stars.

Dr. Yaolin Zhou makes notes during an examination of a sample.

Dr. Zhou trained at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world and chose to come to ECU Health to help address some of the most challenging problems in health care delivery. As the only molecular pathologist in ECU Health’s 29-county service area, she provides expertise that benefits more than 1.4 million individuals in the region.

“ECU Health is proud to have Dr. Zhou, a nationally recognized molecular test utilization expert, whose work exemplifies the vital connection between research, education and effective health care delivery,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, ECU Health CEO and dean of the Brody School of Medicine. “Dr. Zhou’s expertise shapes innovative clinical solutions, addressing unique barriers in rural populations. I am grateful for leaders like Dr. Zhou who are helping to create a healthier present and future for eastern North Carolina.”

Since her arrival in 2020, Dr. Zhou established an innovative molecular consultation service, focused primarily on pre- and post-testing review, to ensure cancer patients receive appropriate molecular tests and treatment. In 2023, she secured a $250,000 industry-funded quality improvement grant to expand her molecular consultation services across practices in eastern North Carolina’s rural 29-county region. This grant aims to identify and address health care disparities in cancer care, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

In addition to her molecular expertise, Dr. Zhou is an internationally recognized quality improvement and test utilization expert. In 2020, she partnered with clinical colleagues to establish a health system-wide initiative to reduce daily repeat lab tests, achieving a 15 to 25 percent reduction in unnecessary repeat daily testing throughout the system. For this multi-specialty and multi-disciplinary collaboration, Dr. Zhou and her team were honored with the prestigious American Society for Clinical Pathology Choosing Wisely Champion Award.

Dr. Zhou is active as a teaching and clinical faculty member and a bioethics and quality improvement instructor at Brody and for ECU Health. She also represents eastern North Carolina on the board of directors for the Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP), the world’s largest association for molecular professionals. Dr. Zhou recently authored an invited guest editorial in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, the official AMP journal. This editorial, based on her grant work, presents a national solution to reduce barriers in precision oncology.

“As a cancer survivor myself, I strive to bring quality and equitable cancer care to those I am honored to serve,” said Dr. Zhou. “All patients deserve high-quality and guideline-recommended cancer treatment. Through this recognition, I hope we can bring greater visibility to how we are addressing disparities in cancer care in our patients. Through collaborative efforts, we can develop solutions for providing equitable cancer care on a broader scale – and it starts here in eastern North Carolina.”

Awards | Featured | Press Releases

Members of Outer Banks Health leadership and Cancer Services team look on as lead donor Carol Cowell cuts the ribbon for the opening of the Outer Banks Health Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center.

By The Virginia Pilot

NAGS HEAD — About a decade ago, the Outer Banks community suffered higher cancer mortality rates than the state and nation. Not only has that trend reversed, but now for the first time, local cancer patients can receive all their services under one roof.

Over 275 people attended the ribbon-cutting and open house on Jan. 24 for the Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center. Located at 4927 S. Croatan Highway in Nags Head, it opens its doors to patients on Jan. 29.

“In 2012, Outer Banks Health didn’t have a cancer services program at all, and we were trailing the state and we were trailing the nation when it came to cancer mortality for all cancers…and we wanted to change that dynamic,” Ronnie Sloan, president of Outer Banks Health, said during brief event remarks.

Members of Outer Banks Health leadership and Cancer Services team look on as lead donor Carol Cowell cuts the ribbon for the opening of the Outer Banks Health Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center.
Members of Outer Banks Health leadership and Cancer Services team look on as lead donor Carol Cowell cuts the ribbon for the opening of the Outer Banks Health Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center.

The Outer Banks’ cancer mortality rate was about 6% and 7% higher than the nation and the state, respectively, Sloan said in an interview at the event.

Now, local cancer mortality rates are 6-7% lower than the state and country. The 5-year mortality for breast cancer rate dropped 50% in recent years. Even as cancer mortality rates have steadily declined across the country, “we’ve outpaced that,” Sloan said.

Carol Cowell cut the ribbon at Wednesday’s event. She made the namesake donation to the Carol S. and Edward D. Cowell, Jr. Cancer Center in Nags Head in honor of her late husband and in appreciation of the local community.

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Cowell said in an interview that she is a cancer survivor who received treatment in Elizabeth City in 2005. The Outer Banks didn’t offer cancer services then, but she was greatly impressed by “the community sense that you got” from local health care professionals and from the community at large.

Fundraising for the center was similarly a community effort.

“This has been just an amazing journey,” Tess Judge said during her event remarks. Judge is chair of the board of directors for Outer Banks Health and co-chaired the fundraising team with Cindy Thornsvard.

Judge said she lost her mother and a son-in-law to cancer, and her daughter-in-law is struggling with it now, “so cancer services and the wonderful team we have here is just so special not only to me but to many.”

Fundraising for the center began during COVID, and their original goal of $4 million was bumped up to $6 million as the costs of building supplies soared.

According to Sloan, nearly $6.5 million has been raised for the center.

“We did that because of all of you, and the tremendous support this community has given to this cancer center,” Judge said.

Stephanie Anderson, a community member who had lost people to cancer, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail last year and raised about $10,000 for the center in the process, said Jennifer Schwartzenberg, director of community outreach and development for Outer Banks Health.

The journey to the center

Outer Banks Health hired its first director of cancer services in 2012, said Sloan, who came aboard in mid-2011.

“In 2013, the board of trustees made a fantastic decision,” Sloan said during his public remarks. They chose to purchase the radiation therapy center that was closing about two miles north of the hospital.

“We didn’t want our community to have to drive two hours each way” for treatment, he said.

Dr. Charles Shelton, a radiation oncologist, began working at Outer Banks Health — then called The Outer Banks Hospital — in 2014, and he leads the cancer services team, Wendy Kelly, marketing director for Outer Banks Health, said in an email.

Shelton set a goal of creating and maintaining an accredited cancer program to reduce the high cancer mortality rate among residents of Dare and Currituck counties, Kelly said.

“It’s been a dream of this organization since 2015 to build a facility that would allow patients to receive the highest-quality, compassionate cancer care all under one roof right here on the Outer Banks,” Kelly said.

Supported by its two partners, ECU Health and Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, along with the generosity of the local community, “that dream is now a reality,” she said.

In 2016, the Commission on Cancer of The American College of Surgeons granted a “Three-Year Accreditation with a Commendation” to The Outer Banks Hospital, which the facility has “proudly maintained” since that time, according to Kelly.

“Additionally, we are one of only eight critical access hospitals in the nation with this accreditation, and the only one nationally to have an accredited breast care program,” she added.

Outer Banks Health is one of 20 critical access hospitals in North Carolina, which have 25 beds or fewer and receive cost-based reimbursement, according to the North Carolina Division of Health and Human Services website.

“Outer Banks Health is an approved Medicare and Medicaid provider and participates with most commercial insurance companies,” Kelly said.

Sloan said that the new “comprehensive center” allows them to offer the “best care possible.”

The entire cancer team can quickly make decisions about patients in consult with one another as “concerns pop up,” and having the dedicated center eliminates the need for patients to go from the first to second floor of the hospital for care, then across the busy bypass for radiation treatment, he said.

Kelly expressed gratitude for all the community support of the center, which included the over 275 people who attended the event on Wednesday.

In addition to Shelton, the cancer services team also includes a director, three radiation therapists, a radiation nurse, a genetics extender, a physicist, a dosimetrist, a licensed practical nurse, 11 registered nurses, a nurse navigator, a financial navigator, a lay navigator, a social worker, a practice manager and three front desk monitors, according to Kelly.

“Our search continues for a permanent medical oncologist, and in the interim Dr. Michael Spiritos, formerly of Duke Health, has agreed to serve in that capacity,” Kelly said in her email. “Additionally, Dr. John Barton serves as a medical oncologist at the center.”

“Congratulations Outer Banks Health on this much-needed and impressive expansion,” Robert DeFazio, chairman of the board of directors for the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, said during his event remarks.

Cancer | Community | Health News

Greenville, N.C. – Four ECU Health Physicians clinics have been recognized by the American Heart Association and American Medical Association for its commitment to improving blood pressure (BP) control rates, earning Gold-level recognition as part of Target: BP. The Gold award recognizes practices in which high blood pressure is controlled in 70% or more of the adult patients affected.

“Managing and controlling your blood pressure is essential for preventing the development of heart disease and stroke, which continue to be leading causes of death for adults in our country,” said Dr. Jason Foltz, chief medical officer, ECU Health Physicians. “High blood pressure is a leading risk factor of heart disease and stroke that can often be prevented or managed if diagnosed and treated properly. Our region experiences high rates of diabetes, stroke and heart disease, and the Target: BP program allows ECU Health to better help patients lower their blood pressure by putting proven knowledge and guidelines to work on a daily basis.”

ECU Health Physicians clinics achieving Gold Status in Target: BP for 2023 include:

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and preventable death in the U.S. There are 121.5 million adults in the country living with hypertension – that is nearly half of all adults in the U.S. Unfortunately, less than half of them have their blood pressure under control, making both diagnosis and effective management critical. Heart disease is the leading cause of death both nationally and in the state. Meanwhile, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., yet is the fourth leading cause of death in North Carolina.

Target: BP is a national initiative formed by the American Heart Association and American Medical Association in response to the high prevalence of uncontrolled blood pressure. The initiative aims to help health care organizations and care teams, at no cost, improve blood pressure control rates through an evidence-based quality improvement program and recognizes organizations that are committed to improving blood pressure control.

“By committing to helping more people in eastern North Carolina control their blood pressure and reduce their risks for future heart disease and stroke, ECU Health is taking a key step to helping more people live longer, healthier lives,” said Yvonne Commodore-Mensah, PhD, MHS, RN, FAHA, Target: BP advisory group volunteer and associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. “ECU Health’s participation in the Target: BP initiative shows its dedication to turning clinical guidelines into lifelines for patients and their families.”

Awards | Heart and Vascular

ECU Health chief operations officer speaks during the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce Community Unity Breakfast.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, community leaders, elected officials and eastern North Carolina residents came together for the 27th annual Community Unity Breakfast, hosted by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

The event brings together the community to reflect upon the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while celebrating and expanding diversity initiatives in Greenville and Pitt County.

As a sponsor of the event, ECU Health had an opportunity to present a speaker during the event. Brian Floyd, chief operating officer of ECU Health and president of ECU Health Medical Center, represented the system and shared a few words.

Floyd said that events like this are closely aligned with ECU Health’s mission to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina because it focuses on bringing everyone together and supporting those around you.

ECU Health chief operations officer speaks during the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce Community Unity Breakfast.
Brian Floyd, chief operations officer at ECU Health and president at ECU Health Medical Center, speaks during the 27th annual Community Unity Breakfast hosted by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce. (Photos courtesy of Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce)

“Your well-being is attached to much more than your clinical and scientific makeup,” Floyd said. “You can’t be well if you’re socially isolated. You can’t be well if you don’t have the means to support yourself and your family. You really can’t be well if you have no way to help those around you. So our mission, as complicated as it is, is to make people and communities better. This community comes alongside us and helps us do that as well. We all can participate in what others are doing to improve our society, to improve how people come together, and work together to love and support each other.”

Floyd also highlighted his appreciation for ECU Health’s close collaboration with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, and the relationships with other colleges, universities and high schools. He said the opportunity to develop and grow talent within the system is something he is proud of as well.

All of this leads to a great financial impact on the region, Floyd said, and that can go a long way to effect positive change in the lives of residents in the East.

“We know that education is important to the fabric of society and the wellness of people and the socioeconomic conditions of eastern North Carolina require us to do something about that,” Floyd said. “We’re fortunate that we can stimulate the economy of eastern North Carolina by more than $4 billion per year. That’s not just money – it’s hope, it’s a way to get started, it’s a way to support your family. When you put all of that together, the pillars of what we’re doing for eastern North Carolina, that’s the difference we can make.”

Pastor Eve C. Rogers, senior pastor at New Dimensions Community Church, gave the keynote address for the event. Chad Tucker, director of Volunteer Services at ECU Health Medical Center, serves as co-chair of the Community Unity Planning Committee and introduced Pastor Rogers during the event.

Pastor Rogers spoke on the importance of standing up to injustices in our communities to help create a future everyone can be proud of. She said showing up for the marginalized members of our communities is a responsibility we all carry.

“As we run and purse this race of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I provoke you to show up with soul-force,” Pastor Rogers said. “Exercise and put into plan the opportunity that God gives you, day after day, season after season, time after time again, to show up and do what is right, fair and equitable.”

Pastor Eve C. Rogers, senior pastor at New Dimensions Community Church, gives a keynote address during the Community Unity Breakfast 2024.
Pastor Eve C. Rogers, senior pastor at New Dimensions Community Church, gave the keynote address at the event.

Community | Featured

Greenville, N.C. – East Carolina University and ECU Health are launching an initiative to increase the number of adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioners serving as advanced practice health care professionals in ECU Health’s critical care settings. This effort builds on the collective commitment of both organization to solve the rural health challenges in the region as well as the state.

The effort – conceived by nursing and education leaders from ECU’s College of Nursing and ECU Health – will benefit both the university and the health system, said Dr. Bim Akintade, the dean of ECU’s College of Nursing. An investment of nearly $1.5 million over five years from ECU Health will increase the College of Nursing’s capacity to graduate trained and qualified nurses who can meet the growing need for acute care practitioners to treat the hospital’s sickest patients.

“ECU Health is proud of its close relationship with ECU and the College of Nursing, particularly as it pertains to our efforts to adapt to the national health care workforce shortage,” said Dr. Daphne Brewington, ECU Health’s vice president of nursing. “Our success as an academic health system is predicated on our ability to leverage clinical and academic excellence in order to ensure we can provide high quality health care for the residents of eastern North Carolina.”

Nationally, the aging population is growing, accompanied by the shortage of health care workers. This collaboration not only strengthens the health care workforce in eastern North Carolina but also contributes to improved health outcomes and increased accessibility to specialized care for older adults in the communities of eastern North Carolina.

Through this effort, ECU Health is helping fund the development of a new Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Post Graduate Certificate, which will train current nurse practitioners to treat acute care adult patients. The investment also provides funding for a program director who teaches and an additional part-time faculty member as well as administrative support and operational costs.

The program will reserve six enrollments per enrollment cycle for current ECU Health employees, highlighting the importance of providing specialized training that benefits the region.

“Our plan is to take the next few months to work with our partners at ECU Health and find clinical placement sites in critical care environments for ECU Health employees who enroll in the program,” Akintade said. “They need nurses, and training nurses is our business and passion. This collaboration is a win-win and makes complete sense for the University, the Heath System, the region, and the state.

Clinical placements for students employed by ECU Health will take place at ECU Health facilities, which will help to alleviate a major sticking point for training advance practice nurses – finding clinical placements for students in training. It also has the potential to create pathways for those in the program to experience acute care at both ECU Health Medical Center and in ECU Health’s regional community hospitals.

The initiative isn’t limited to the current arrangement and both ECU and ECU Health continue to explore ways to leverage this effort to design innovative solutions that benefit the people of eastern North Carolina.

“Eastern North Carolina depends on institutions like ECU Health and ECU to collaborate on innovative solutions that drive us towards our mission of improving the health and well-being of the region,” said Dr. Trish Baise, ECU Health’s chief nursing executive. “As a health system serving 1.4 million people, we need more nurses at every level in order to meet the region’s immense needs. The College of Nursing is one of the premiere nursing education schools in the nation and our health system is great training ground for developing a health care workforce with a focus on rural health challenges. I am excited to see the benefit this program will have on our patients and team members.”

Health News | Nursing | Press Releases