From left, ECU trustees Bruce Austin, Robert Hill and David Brody talk during the groundbreaking for the Eastern Carolina Family Medicine Center. Photo by Cliff Hollis
(Sept. 26, 2008)
A new East Carolina University Family Medicine Center will triple the space available to see patients and train the next generation of family doctors to serve North Carolina.
That was the message as university officials, legislators and others broke ground for the new facility on the campus of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University on a sunny fall Friday.
A growing need for primary care in the region has made it necessary to upgrade the current facility, which serves more than twice the number of patients it was built for.
David Brody, vice chair of the ECU board of trustees, said five committees have planned a new center over the years, but funding never appeared.
"This project has been needed for 15 years," Brody said. "The facility we have was built at the beginning of the medical school when we were seeing a quarter of the patients we see now, and we outgrew it 15 years ago."
The new center, to be built beside the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU, will have more than 60 exam rooms, a pharmacy, laboratory, a geriatric center, better parking and other amenities. It's projected to open in late 2010.
This summer, the North Carolina legislature approved $36.8 million in bonds for the project. The Golden LEAF Foundation awarded $1 million last year. Other donations include a $2.5 million gift from the estate of Frances Joyner Monk of Farmville to fund the geriatric portion.
Rep. Marian McLawhorn of Grifton said getting funding approved was not easy, especially after the university received money to build its new dental school. But ECU worked hard to convince legislators of the need and the benefit.
"This facility will benefit all of eastern North Carolina," McLawhorn said. "And the doctors training here go all throughout the state and nation. It might be physically situated here in Greenville, but the impact is felt throughout the state."
The Family Medicine Center is a critical component of the medical school's mission to address the shortage of primary care doctors throughout North Carolina.
"If we are to continue to encourage, recruit and retain the best medical school students to family medicine careers, they must have access to a first-class facility," said Dr. Kenneth Steinweg, interim chairman of the Department of Family Medicine. "The center also will increase access to cost-effective care for some of our region's neediest citizens."
The current Family Medicine Center opened in the 1970s. It is approximately 29,400 square feet and has 32 exam rooms. Health care professionals see approximately 46,000 patients there each year. When Pitt County Memorial Hospital began building its new cardiovascular bed tower, that project took away the Family Medicine Center parking lot. Since then, patients have had to be either dropped off or park in a remote lot and ride a shuttle to their appointments.
The new center is projected to have 117,000 square feet, and officials expect patient visits to climb by 8 percent when it opens.
The new Family Medicine Center will serve 29 counties in eastern North Carolina, where residents have some of the worst health indicators in the nation.