Patient Care Fund Bridges the Gap

Greenville, North Carolina, businessman, Eddie Smith, Jr., wanted to honor his father’s memory in a special way. The Grady-White Boats manufacturing CEO saw such an opportunity by making a gift of $500,000 to endow a fund for one of the ECU School of Dental Medicine community service learning centers, this one in his father’s home county of Davidson, North Carolina.

The Edward C. Smith, Sr. Patient Care Fund will provide assistance to help “bridge the gap” between the cost of dental procedures and what the patients can pay out-of-pocket.
The Community Service Learning Center-Davidson County is located between Lexington and Thomasville, N.C., and sits on state donated land at Davidson County Community College. The Davidson County site, opening this fall, is among the eight dental education centers designed by ECU to provide hands-on experience for students and primary care for residents in rural and underserved areas of the state. Other centers are located in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Sylva, Lillington, Spruce Pine, Robeson County, and Brunswick County.

North Carolina ranks 47th in dentists per 10,000 residents. Three counties, all in eastern North Carolina, have no dentists. Twenty-nine counties have fewer than two dentists. Seventy-nine counties in the state are recognized as federally designated dental shortage areas. At least one-third of the dentists practicing today are 55 years or older.
The very first groundbreaking occurred in preparation for the Ahoskie center in August 2011. The Davidson County center is slated to open in the fall of 2014. “All the dental centers follow the same 7,700 square foot floor plan, with 16 operatory stations,” said Kristen Ward, director of development for the ECU Dental School. “Full-time and part-time faculty dentists and residents will be working on-site. Plans call for fourth-year dental students to complete three rotations of approximately eight weeks each at three different centers.”

“Mr. Smith’s endowment is the first such Patient Care Fund to be established to benefit patients at just one of the dental centers,” states Marcy Romary, interim president of the ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation. “We hope this will be an outstanding example for others to follow, and we are certainly grateful to Mr. Smith for his generosity.”
In addition to the Smith Fund, which is only to be used for patients at the Davidson County center, a separate Patient Care Fund was established by the Medical and Health Sciences Foundation to help assist patients across the centers. The Patient Care Fund primarily offers monetary assistance between the cost of dental procedures and the patients’ ability to pay. The result is two-fold – financial assistance is provided to patients who are often in need of extensive dental work (and can’t afford it), while offering dental students the educational opportunities of serving patients’ specific needs. The centers offer services at reduced costs and accept insurances including Medicaid.

“At this point, the four community service learning centers in operation, Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Sylva, and Lillington, have seen patients from 52 North Carolina counties,” says Ward. “This exceptional arm of our gift-giving program directly fulfills our mission of serving the underserved and truly captures the heart of our program.”

Funds may also be allocated to support outreach initiatives, such as free dental screenings/instruction in local schools. Donors can set eligibility criteria, such as restricting use to residents from a certain geographic area or limiting funds to only pediatric patients. For further information, please contact Kristen Ward, director of development for the School of Dental Medicine at 252-744-2239, or email

By Bridgette Williamson, InTandem, Greenville, NC