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Another political fight brewing?

Analysis By Henry Hinton

East Carolina University was successful a year ago in convincing the state legislature to fund the new cardiovascular center recently dubbed The East Carolina Heart Institute.

After many years of bottling up funding requests, the General Assembly finally appropriated the $60 million necessary to get the project started. Pitt County Memorial Hospital’s share of the project makes the total price tag over $200 million.

The appropriation for ECU stimulated requests from around the state and the final price tag of all requests was in excess of $500 million for taxpayers.

Now, the fight begins for the next ECU request. For years the idea of a dental school in Greenville has been whispered. As of Friday it is a whisper no more.

The ECU Board of Trustees is now officially on record after a unanimous resolution to request the funding for a new ECU School of Dentistry.

The university has hired Dr. Greg Chadwick, former president of the American Dental Association. A Charlotte dentist, Chadwick has been appointed by Chancellor Steve Ballard as the new associate vice chancellor for oral health.

Now the request will go to the UNC Board of Governors for approval. Only 3 of the 32 members of that board have ECU ties.

UNC-Chapel Hill has the only other state-funded school of dentistry in North Carolina. On the surface, administration officials at Chapel Hill have pledged their support. However, there are rumblings that certain officials in that school are concerned about how a new ECU school will affect their funding.

Expect another political battle for ECU. New UNC System President Erskine Bowles is on record that he wants East Carolina to play a huge role in the health and economic well being of the region east of I-95.

This will be a good litmus test for Bowles to make good on that promise.

Once the statistics are revealed, the ECU School of Dentistry seems like a no-brainer.

The North Carolina Dental Society recently released a shocking document that contends there are 600,000 underserved children in the state, most in rural areas.

North Carolina ranks 47th in the nation in the ratio of dentists to population. The need for dentistry for some eastern N.C. children has reached crisis proportions.

Twenty-three percent of kindergarten children have untreated tooth decay; thirty-three per cent of kids ages 2-9 have untreated decay.

UNC-Chapel Hill cannot educate enough dentists to handle this increasing problem in a state that is projected to be the 7th largest in the nation by the year 2030.

Starting a School of Dentistry at ECU makes sense right now. Hopefully, the smoke from the looming new battle over state funds will not obscure a perfectly reasonable idea.

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This page updated 02/23/07 10:18 AM.

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