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Dental school receives federal grant for telemedicine

ECU News Services

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Dental students at the ECU School of Dental Medicine practiced their skills in a dental simulation lab Sept. 30. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)
East Carolina University will share in more than $1.5 million North Carolina is receiving from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve access to health care and educational services in rural communities.

The ECU School of Dental Medicine will use a grant of $392,748 to expand its rural residency program by implementing a telemedicine system. The system will allow dental residents to receive academic lessons via teledentistry equipment while working at three rural clinics in underserved areas of North Carolina. They also will allow consultation about complex cases with specialists in Greenville.

The sites will be dental school community service learning centers in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City and Sylva, and the telemedicine capabilities should be operational by the end of next year. The school plans to apply for another grant to fund telemedicine at sites in Lillington and Spruce Pine.

The funds will also pay for a central telemedicine site at the school’s new Ross Hall, under construction on the ECU health sciences campus.

The grants were announced Thursday at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville.

"The ECU School of Dental Medicine requires a higher level of connectivity, distance education and telemedicine to fulfill our mission to serve areas of need in rural North Carolina,” said Dr. Todd Watkins, assistant dean for dental education and informatics at the dental school. “The USDA grant will be instrumental in allowing us to achieve our unique clinical, educational and research missions."


The USDA funding will support a total of six distance learning and telemedicine projects across the state. In addition to ECU, the grant recipients are James Sprunt Community College, $192,870; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, $81,324; Mission Healthcare Foundation, $419,351; Easter Seals UCP North Carolina & Virginia, $251,235; and Sampson Regional Medical Center, $169,852.

Funding is provided through the USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program.

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From left, Billy Barker, field representative for Rep. Mike McIntyre; Randall Gore, state director of USDA Rural Development; Phillip Allen, director of informatics operations at the dental school; Dr. Todd Watkins, assistant dean for dental education and informatics at the dental school; Dallas Tonsager, undersecretary for USDA Rural Development; Donnarie Hales, grants coordinator at the school; and Dr. Greg Chadwick, interim dean of the dental school, show off the symbolic check representing the grant of nearly $373,000 ECU received for telemedicine programs. (Contributed photo)

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