75 years & counting

Published 6:01 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023

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AHOSKIE – On Oct. 24, 1948, an open house was held for the community to see the newly-constructed Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, located in Ahoskie.

On Oct. 24, 2023, a celebration event was held at the same site to recognize 75 years of the hospital’s service to the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Things have changed over the past three-quarters of a century – the original 40-bed hospital has expanded to a more modern 114-bed facility – but the dedication to care remains the same.

Ernie Evans, a member of the ECU Health Board of Directors, has been associated with the hospital for the last 50 years since he was first asked to serve on the hospital board. Speaking during Tuesday’s event, he expressed a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported the hospital, both in the past and in the present.

“This place came about because of the vision of community citizens, people who wanted this community to have healthcare. They knew we needed it,” he said.

Efforts to raise funds to build a local hospital first began in 1914 and again in 1933, but both attempts were unsuccessful. In 1944, however, a group of business, spiritual, and civic leaders got together and started fundraising again.

This time, they were able to raise a substantial amount of local money. And it was with additional funds from the Duke Endowment, the Medical Care Commission, and the Hill-Burton Act that made Roanoke-Chowan Hospital a reality at last.

In fact, Roanoke-Chowan Hospital was the first recipient of funds from Congress’ 1946 Hill-Burton Act, and the first licensed by the Medical Care Commission.

While the original facility had only 40 beds, the hospital made additional expansions over the years to address the growing needs of the community. In 1992, the original building was replaced with the current facility as it still stands today.

Evans recalled when the hospital decided to join with Pitt County Memorial Hospital in 1996. That healthcare system later became what is ECU Health today, and now includes several other nearby hospital facilities too.

He said they had the opportunity to join with other healthcare systems located in other parts of North Carolina and Virginia, but “the leadership of Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in 1996 made the determination that we needed to join people like us, in eastern North Carolina.”

“This is Roanoke-Chowan Hospital,” Evans emphasized. “It is not Hertford County Hospital, not Ahoskie Hospital. It is Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, and we need to remember that.”

Since the beginning, the hospital has served people from all four counties of the Roanoke-Chowan area: Hertford, Bertie, Northampton, and Gates.

Today, they offer a variety of comprehensive healthcare services, including specialty services in behavioral health, cancer care, pain management, wound healing, sleep services, pediatric asthma management, and a wellness center.

ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum spoke about the importance of investing in rural healthcare, and he said the hospital will continue to be a model of that in the future.

“Thank you for coming together as a community to celebrate the important work this organization does for this region, and we look forward to being here for a long time in the future. I am optimistic about healthcare in rural American in the future,” he said.

Hertford County Board of Commissioners Chair Andre Lassiter and Ahoskie Mayor Weyling White also participated in the event, both sharing brief remarks and proclamations from their respective boards.

“This milestone is a testament to your unwavering commitment to providing exceptional healthcare services to our community,” Lassiter stated. “We sincerely appreciate you for the outstanding service you continue to provide to our community.”

Mayor White praised the commitment of the doctors, nurses, administrators, and staff who have worked for so long to provide care to those in need. He also expressed his heartfelt appreciation to everyone who played a pivotal role in making the hospital what it is today.

Brian Harvill, President of ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, recognized several people in the audience, including the hospital director’s counsel, hospital staff and volunteers, the first person who was born in the hospital (Robert Belch), and members of the family who donated the land for the hospital site (the Early family).

The event concluded with a donation to the hospital from Clyde Everette and Steve Lassiter in memory of their friend Dexter Davis, who passed away last year from colon cancer. The funds will help provide practical support (access to transportation, meals, accommodations, etc) to cancer patients during the course of their treatments.

After the anniversary event, attendees were then treated to refreshments as they shared memories of the hospital over the past 75 years and visions of the future to come.