Blue Cross NC invests $1M across RCC and 4 other community collegesMar 23, 2019
WENTWORTH – From the campus of Rockingham Community College on Friday, March 22, Blue Cross Blue and Shield of North Carolina President and CEO Dr. Patrick Conway announced a $1 million investment shared among five community colleges, to help fund associate degree programs in emergency medical science (EMS).
The investment will address health care needs across North Carolina, including the opioid epidemic.
“This is a very momentous day, as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina unite with the North Carolina Community College System by initially investing in five community colleges to support our health care programs,” said Dr. Mark Kinlaw, president of Rockingham Community College.
“Thank you for believing in us,” he said, turning to Conway.
“We face significant health care problems in our state, and Rockingham County is certainly not immune to any of that. And with the investment of Blue Cross … we will be able address the problems more proactively,” Kinlaw said.
“One of the biggest challenges educators have is providing a hands-on training environment for our students,” he said. But RCC’s simulated hospital, which was organized through an extensive 2016 renovation of the N. Jerry Owens Jr. Health Sciences Building now offers students from all disciplines to “come together like a real hospital to provide medical care.”
The facility includes examination rooms, a trauma and emergency room skills lab, patient care areas, ICU, birthing center, and surgery/trauma department.
The Owens Health Building houses RCC’s Registered Nursing, Practical Nursing, Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse, Certified Nursing Assistant, Respiratory Therapy, Emergency Services, Surgical Technology, and Phlebotomy programs.
“We are proud of our health sciences programs and look forward to expanding them in the near future,” Kinlaw said.
Conway said Blue Cross’ mission is to improve health care in communities, and said the large donation benefits Rockingham, Lenoir, Brunswick, Wilkes, and South Piedmont community colleges.
“By addressing primary care and the opioid epidemic, we can have a major positive impact on health of the people we serve across North Carolina,” said the physician, who continues to volunteer on weekends in pediatrics at UNC Children’s Hospital.
“I used to be a pediatric emergency room physician, and often parents would thank me for saving their child. But … it was usually EMS and nurses that actually saved their child,” Conway said.
To the health sciences students, he said, “You are going into a field that’s a calling. It’s more than a job. Your patients and their families will need you. So I’ll thank you in advance for that.”
Peter Hans, president of the N.C. Community College System, said he’s thrilled at the recognition of the role community colleges play in health care delivery, and grateful for the generosity of Blue Cross NC.
“As a North Carolinian, alarmed at the plague that is the opioid epidemic ravaging our country, I’m comforted by the fact that there are peers taking action, trying to help our families, our friends, our neighbors,” Hans said.
He said Conway, Sen. Phil Berger and Reps. Jerry Carter and Kyle Hall all recognize that rural areas need help, and their support is appreciated.
“Sen. Berger is the strongest champion of community colleges in the General Assembly, and we are so thankful to him. His vision on workforce development and public education is moving us forward,” Hans said.
“Dr. Kinlaw and (his) very talented team at RCC are a great reminder that North Carolina’s workforce and our health care workforce in particular in large part depends on the strength of our community colleges. You’re meeting this community’s needs through innovation and a lot of hard work,” Hans said. “Imagine what we could do with the resources to match it.”
RCC Board of Trustees Chair Libby Maddrey explained that after the board voted to renovate the Owens Building, citizens donated $3.8 million and a local foundation gave more than $1 million.
“Several have spoken about the opioid crisis, of which we are all keenly aware,” she said, before quoting columnist George Will: Cocaine users around the world reported that their most recent cocaine order was delivered in less time, on average, than their most recent pizza order.
“Now that gets your attention,” Maddrey said. “Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we appreciate that you understand this situation far better than we do, and we thank you for your generous donation to us.”
Rockingham County Commissioner Mark Richardson stressed the importance of collaboration and teamwork to solve problems. Working with counter drugs when he was in the military, he wondered in the early 1990s what could possibly be worse than the proliferation of cocaine and crack.
“Well, it has gotten worse. It’s a slightly different problem. The substances have changed somewhat, but the issues are just as valid,” Richardson said.
“All of your politicians, all of your citizens should be involved in this effort (to fight opioids),” he said. “We appreciate Blue Cross and Blue Shield stepping up to the plate and hitting a home run for us. I assure you, you can count on this community college to use that money effectively.”
Sen. Phil Berger said the state relies on community colleges to prepare students for careers and college pathways, to train the workforce and to help grow the economy.
“I’m particularly proud of the job done here at Rockingham Community College,” he said, and thanked Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina for continued investment in rural North Carolina.
“As (the opioid) epidemic rolls across our country and our state, we have not been spared from the effects, and it continues to have devastating effects in rural communities including Rockingham County,” Berger said, citing drug overdose as the number one cause of deaths in North Carolina.
“There is no single remedy to the opioid crisis, so every effective resource at our disposal must be deployed against this lethal epidemic,” he said.
“EMS workers and nurses obviously play a vital role in this crisis. They are often the first point of contact for victims of opioid overdoses or those seeking treatment for addiction of opioids. But too many of our communities face a shortage of qualified individuals to serve those important roles,” Berger said. “By putting this money at
Rockingham Community College toward nursing and emergency services, our college is putting a down payment on the future of our county – to ensure our community
has the tools we need to combat this vicious epidemic.”
Speaking directly to the health sciences students in attendance, Berger thanked them for choosing to attend RCC and to enter a health career.
Jason Collins was one such student. A volunteer firefighter at the Bethany Fire Department, where he is now an assistant chief, he obtained his emergency medical technician certificate from RCC, and later went through the paramedic program, and worked for both Rockingham and Guilford EMS.
“But I still wanted more. I’m always trying to push myself,” said Collins. He returned to RCC as EMS program director in 2016.
“Paramedics are not just working on ambulances anymore. They’re working in hospitals, specialty clinics, doctors’ offices, on helicopters, as community paramedics, and for insurance companies. The EMS program here at RCC has recognized the need for education in non-traditional settings. We’re always looking for new courses and keeping our current courses up to date,” he said.
“I really enjoy giving back to the community I was born and raised in. I’m here at RCC and always strive for excellence and always improving the education for our students,” he said.
Gerri Hunt is director of public information at Rockingham Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-342-4261 ext. 2170.