PRINCEVILLE — Monday was repeatedly referred to as a good day with the grand opening of Freedom Hill Community Health Center.
"This is very exciting for the town of Princeville," said Princeville Mayor Delia Perkins. "I am elated to have this caliber facility come to our town. This is a plus for our community to make sure they get the quality care for the people here. We're really excited."
More than 75 people came out Monday afternoon for the grand opening of the Freedom Hill Community Health Center.
"We hope that you will use it and it will be a blessing to the entire county," Perkins said.
The new center, at 162 N.C. 33 East, is housed on 9,250 square feet of what was once farmland and contains 10 medical treatment rooms with lab and pharmacy services, four dental operatories, a dental lab and two consultation rooms.
The center was made possible by several financial backers including a $2.1 million USDA Rural Development low interest loan, a $75,000 grant from the N.C. Office of Rural Health, a $50,000 state Rural Center grant and a $25,000 contribution by Carolina Family Health Centers Inc. of Wilson.
The center will use a sliding scale fee schedule to ensure that low and very low income residents have access to affordable services.
Dee Johnson, the executive director of Carolina Family Health Centers Inc., spearheaded the establishment of the Freedom Hill Community Health Center.
"This is truly our field of dreams," she said. "The realization of a dream doesn't happen in a vacuum. It takes desire, commitment and a lot of hard work by people who believed in the mission of the community health center."
Carolina Family Health Centers Inc. President A.P. Coleman gave opening remarks that ventured back to the day the ground was broken for the center a little over a year ago.
"It's a good day in Princeville," he said. "When I was here for the groundbreaking, it was cold and I was shivering, but today is a good day."
On behalf of Sen. Richard Burr, district representative Betty Jo Shepheard of Tarboro spoke to the crowd saying that the weather was an indication of the center's future success.
"This is a good sign of what's to come with the Freedom Hill Community Health Center," Shepheard said. "I'm glad to be here today to congratulate everyone and offer any assistance I can."
The director for the North Carolina Community Health Centers Sonya Bruton said that the building and staff are proof positive that better healthcare is now more accessible than ever for residents of the Princeville community.
"This center will be all that you need it to be," Bruton said. "You have the beginning. You're on the path to greater progress. When you look at the building and you look at the staff, you see that you don't have any greater than what you have coming to you. This center will result in a healthier community that is more prosperous and fruitful."
State Rep. Joe Tolson, D-Edgecombe, was also on hand for the opening and said that strong leadership made this event possible.
"I was here a year ago when we did the groundbreaking," he began. "I want to thank you for all the leadership that made this happen."
Among the center's financial backers is the U.S. Department of Agriculture. State USDA Rural Development Director John Cooper was also on hand to give support.
"I am proud to say that in Princeville we've done a lot since the (1999) flood (from Hurricane Floyd) and that this is a real special day," he said.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, delivered the keynote address and with it conveyed the importance of the center to the community.
"There is no question that we live in a district that is very challenged," he said. "Thirty percent of children under five live in poverty. Twenty-five percent of our senior citizens live in poverty. More than one in five Edgecombe County residents lack healthcare coverage.
"There is one dentist for every 6,629 Edgecombe County residents," continued Butterfield, "and one nurse for every 173 Edgecombe County residents. As a nation, we must work harder to develop a primary care safety net at the local level for poor and uninsured Americans.
"We need more clinics like this in rural areas as well as better coordination of services so that patients who get screened for chronic conditions don't fall through the cracks when it comes to treating them," he added. "Centers like these also provide the preventative care needed to bring down the death rates and increased need for hospital care. This center will provide a direct and immediate impact for the nearly 15,000 people living in the area.
The center is the newest neighbor of Willoughby Funeral Home and owner James T. Willoughby III said that he welcomes them with open arms.
"I think this will be great for the community," he said. "It is much needed in the community and it shows the growth in the area. I think this will have a big impact on healthcare in the area.
"In my line of work, we see a lot of folks die from lack of proper health care," Willoughby said. "This center will improve the quality of life for citizens in Edgecombe County."
One of those citizens is Emma Wilkins. A lifelong resident of Princeville, Wilkins, 61, said that the center could mean that she won't have to travel as far for appointments.
"Yes, I will be using the center," she said. "I am so glad that they have it over here. It's going to mean everything to the people of Princeville. It's a nice area, its closer for citizens. It's going to mean everything for the citizens of Princeville.
"Right now most of my doctors are in Greenville but if they have it here, I'll have them transferred here.”