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Dr. Tom Irons hugs Susan Bernstein, widow of James Bernstein, as the Bernsteins’ son and daughter, Donna and Eric, look on during the dedication of the James D. Bernstein Community Health Center on March 2. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Officials Dedicate Community Health Center

By Doug Boyd

Fitting the festive occasion, clouds parted and the sun shone brightly long enough on Friday, March 2 to dedicate the new James D. Bernstein Community Health Center.

After Bernstein’s widow, Susan, and children, Donna and Eric, cut the ribbon on the new center, Dr. Tom Irons raised his hands in celebration of a project he’s guided since its inception.

“Things like this happen because people work together,” Irons, associate vice chancellor for regional health services at East Carolina University, told the crowd of approximately 200 people gathered for the event.

The 15,000-square-foot, $2.8 million center opened in December near the intersection of N.C. 33 and N.C. 11 north of Greenville. Since then, Irons said, the facility has been busy as physicians, nurses, dentists, social workers and others have seen patients.

More than 400 new patients have been seen and enrolled for ongoing care at the Bernstein Center.

“These people have found a medical home thanks to this community partnership,” said Carmen Hooker Odom, N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Resources.

The partnership consists of Access East, an independent, charitable, non-profit organization that built and owns the center; the ECU Division of Health Sciences; which operates the pharmacy; and Eastern Carolina Community Health Centers, a division of Greene County Health Care, which operates the medical and dental components of the center. Another major partner is Pitt Community College, which teaches classes from their health and life-skills curriculum and will coordinate all educational programs.

Irons and Harvey Lewis of E.R. Lewis Construction came up with the idea of a health center north of the Tar River during an informal conversation. Lewis offered Irons three and a half acres on N.C. 33 and provided site preparation work, together valued at $538,500. Numerous other contractors and subcontractors worked with Irons to build the facility. Some even returned construction money, Irons said.

“Everywhere I went, people said ‘yes’ to me,” Irons said of his efforts to raise money and get help to build the center.

Donations to help build the center included $350,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation; $300,000 each from the charitable foundation of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust; $225,000 from the Pitt Memorial Hospital Foundation; $200,000 each from The Duke Endowment and the N.C. Office of Rural Health; $75,000 from the N.C. Rural Center; and numerous private gifts. A grant of $800,000 from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration funds center operations.

Construction began early last year.

The center honors the memory of Bernstein, who founded and directed the N.C. Office of Rural Health for more than 30 years. Bernstein died of cancer in June 2005.

“Jim placed community health centers all over the state, many of them still in operation,” Irons said when the center was being planned. “Over the years, he became one of the most respected and loved rural health leaders in America. He was an especially strong advocate for us in the east. He was very much involved in the planning of this project, and we are thankful to be able to give it his name.

When fully equipped and staffed later this year, the center will have 16 medical exam rooms, eight dental operatories and areas for audiology, X-ray, social work and other services, many of which aren’t available at local health departments. Pitt County public health, social services and mental health departments will provide services as well. Patients are seen primarily by appointment.

The center is at 261 Belvoir Highway. For more information or to schedule a medical appointment, call (252) 695-6352. For dental services, call (252) 695-6355.

This page originally appeared in the March 23, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at