GREENVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 12, 2021) – Today, East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health took the first step in the final approval process in creating ECU Health with a goal of becoming a national academic model for providing rural health care.

ECU’s Board of Trustees approved a joint operating agreement between the Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health that will enable the two organizations to more effectively and efficiently address current issues facing the region ­­­­— such as health disparities and care delivery obstacles ­­­­— while also better anticipating future health care and educational needs.

Dr. Michael Waldrum stands with ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers and Dr. Jason Higginson.

Under the joint operating agreement, the Brody School of Medicine and Vidant Health will retain their separate legal entities, but will function collaboratively under a new, shared brand launching in 2022, known as ECU Health. Most Vidant entities and ECU Physicians will operate under the new brand while the Brody School of Medicine’s name will not change.

“This agreement represents an important milestone in the long-standing affiliation between two entities bound by the same mission as we work toward the creation of ECU Health,” Chancellor Philip Rogers said. “It signals the point where we can begin to move forward together on our journey to launch a clinically integrated academic health system and deliver on the commitment to provide quality health care for all eastern North Carolinians.”

The agreement also requires approvals from the Vidant Health Board of Directors, Vidant Medical Center Board of Trustees, the Pitt County Board of Commissioners, and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. The UNC Board of Governors is expected to consider the agreement for final approval during its Nov. 17-18 meeting.

The majority of Vidant Health’s locations, Vidant Medical Group and ECU Physicians will rebrand to ECU Health. However, there are no changes to the employment status or benefits of current employees – and no assets are exchanged – as a result of the approval of the joint operating agreement.

ECU and Vidant Health announced their intentions to clinically integrate in June when Dr. Michael Waldrum, chief executive officer of Vidant Health and distinguished professor at the Brody School of Medicine, was appointed dean of the Brody School of Medicine. Waldrum continues to serve as CEO of Vidant Health in a dual role that is further outlined by the joint operating agreement.

“Today’s announcement is about the residents of eastern North Carolina and brings into reality the collective vision our two institutions have shared for nearly 50 years,” Waldrum said. “Rebranding Vidant to ECU Health in 2022 further signals and strengthens our commitment to bring the best research, doctors and care to the East. We have proven in recent years, and particularly during the pandemic, what can be accomplished when we focus our energies on the mission to improve the health of eastern North Carolina.”

The joint operating agreement is a legal framework that will allow the work of clinical integration and rebranding to begin in earnest with the purpose of:

  • Improving the value of and the access to quality care and providing patients with a more streamlined health care experience.
  • More efficiently using clinical staff across the combined operations, regardless of which organization employs them.
  • Helping to facilitate new strategies and interventions for the most prevalent health needs of eastern North Carolina.
  • Creating operational efficiencies and reducing costs.
  • Establishing a shared leadership and governance structure for ECU Health.

Under the terms of the agreement, which will be effective Jan. 1, 2022, the two organizations will work together to:

  • Evaluate and modify existing practices to improve quality and coordination of care.
  • Integrate certain management structures and strategic planning efforts.
  • Develop a plan for shared services to support the integrated entity.
  • Leverage the capabilities of each organization to advance the collective research and education infrastructure.
  • Coordinate philanthropic initiatives.

“Our mission has not and will not change. How we execute the mission is what is at issue,” said Dr. Jason Higginson, executive dean of the Brody School of Medicine. “We are going to be looking at areas where efficiencies can be built into our process and where value can be added to what we’re doing to improve the final outcome. So rest assured, what Brody is here for and what it stands for is not changing.”

Waldrum noted that the Brody School of Medicine has a rich history of training physicians for North Carolina and that mission will continue as ECU Health serves the 1.4 million residents of eastern North Carolina.

“Through harmonizing our operations wherever possible and building on our unique expertise in caring for rural and underserved communities, ECU Health will set the standard and be a national model for rural health care delivery,” Waldrum said.

About Vidant Health

Vidant Health is a mission-driven, 1,708-bed academic health system serving a region of more than 1.4 million people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. The not-for-profit system is made up of more than 13,000 team members, nine hospitals including an academic medical center, home health, hospice, wellness centers, and Vidant Medical Group, a multi-specialty physician and provider group with more than 500 providers in more than 100 practice sites in eastern North Carolina. Vidant is affiliated with The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. As the largest employer in the East and a major resource for health services and education, Vidant’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina. For more information, visit

About East Carolina University

East Carolina University, or ECU as it’s best known, offers 87 bachelor’s, 68 master’s and 18 doctoral degrees to 28,000 students on its Greenville, North Carolina, campus and through an acclaimed online learning program. ECU also boasts the largest business school enrollment and largest number of new nurses and education professionals produced by a four-year North Carolina university, in addition to the largest studio art program in the state. Located near Atlantic coast harbors where pirates once roamed, ECU adopted the “Pirates” mascot in 1934 for its athletics program and competes in NCAA Division 1. Visit:

The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University was founded more than 40 years ago to increase the supply of primary care physicians serving North Carolina, improve the health status of eastern North Carolina and enhance access of minority and disadvantaged students to a medical education. Each year, the school graduates close to 86 medical students and welcomes about 125 residents and fellows. Brody consistently ranks No. 1 in North Carolina – and in the top 10% nationally – for graduating physicians who practice in-state, practice primary care and practice in rural and underserved areas. It also ranks in the top 10% nationally for graduating Black and Native American physicians.

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Over the last seven years, Vidant Medical Center (VMC) has partnered with organizations across eastern North Carolina to host Project SEARCH for exceptional Pitt County students.

Project SEARCH is an international transition program that provides real life work experiences to high school graduates with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The one-year program helps students learn various marketable skills that can help them gain employment after graduation from the program.

Lisa Lassiter, director of workforce development at Vidant Health, said Pitt County Schools approached Vidant about the possibility of partnering in the program. She took the lead on the Vidant side and attended meetings, worked with community partners and, with support and approval from senior leaders at the hospital, had a classroom for these students created at VMC.

Lassiter said she is grateful for the program, the students, community partners and everyone involved.

“I think this program and these kids have taught me more than I have ever been able to expose to each of them,” Lassiter said. “I was very limited in what I knew about exceptional children when the program began and they have opened my eyes and amazed me many times.”

Seven years in, the 2021-22 Project SEARCH class is the largest to date with nine students. These students spend time in the classroom learning employable skills and go out to internship sites throughout different departments at VMC to practice and refine these skills.

A Shining Example

For students that have an internship experience at the VMC cafeteria, they get a chance to work with a program graduate.

David Jenkins is a utility worker and is a direct supervisor for the Project SEARCH interns placed in the main cafeteria. Jenkins graduated from the program in 2019 and said he loves helping those going through their internships.

“I enjoy that a lot. I get to teach them about stuff that I know and I can sit back and watch them grow because of things that they learn from me,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully that will help them be a better citizen in this community.”

Jenkins had opportunities to intern in different areas throughout VMC during his year with Project SEARCH but enjoyed working in the cafeteria most. He said he felt a breakthrough when he asked to join team meetings during his internship and learned a lot about team goals.

He said it was important for him to go through the program and learn the important skills that have set him up for success today.

“My favorite part of going through the program was pretty much experiencing stuff that would be like the real world, such as advocating for myself, learning how to manage money, working with other people and how to interact with other people,” Jenkins said.

Katie Nagler Houmard, Project SEARCH instructor, said she was proud to see Jenkins’ growth from his time as a shy student to the leader he is today. She also said it’s important for current students to see what they can accomplish with Jenkins setting the example.

“We’ve seen that when they hear it from someone who has been where they are, they’re much more likely to really grasp it and take the advice,” Houmard said. “Sometimes when we tell them something, they could think, ‘What do you know? You’ve never been in my shoes.’ I think it’s inspiring for our current students to see him now in his role and working as part of the team at Vidant. It definitely gives them a good goal to work toward.”

Quintequa Weaver, Project SEARCH job coach, agrees. “I think just seeing him be a role model to the kids now is such a great thing to see,” she said.

It Takes a Village

Lassiter said community partnerships are an important part of what makes the program so special. While VMC hosts the classroom and offers the locations for internships, other community organizations contribute so much.

Pitt County Schools provide a teacher and identify students who make great candidates. RHA Health Services offers up a job coach to help students learn skills and work with them to find positions after graduation. On a state level, the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities and North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation provide support as well.

Internally to Vidant, team members who support the program are invaluable. Bernard Dixon, assistant manager for Central Services at VMC, is one of many team members who supports Project SEARCH and students going through the program. He said he appreciates the opportunity to work with these exceptional students and help them grow as team members.

When a student is preparing for an internship, they go through the typical steps that any team member would take before joining a department.

“They come down and they interview for the position as a typical employee would and we sit down and talk with them,” Dixon said. “Once we sit down and talk, we find out what exactly they can do and what their skill level is. Once we determine what their skill level is, we treat them just like we would any other employee.”

He has found that as he works with the students in Project SEARCH, once they are comfortable in their role, they often exceed expectations. He said supporting the students—and not putting labels or limitations on them while also helping them learn employable skills—is the most important thing his team can do.

“We don’t want them to be labeled or anything like that,” Dixon said. “It’s not about saying they can’t do this or they can’t do that – no. Let them do what they do. We find out that a lot of them can do more than we think they can.”

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Burnout in health care providers is not a new concept but ideas and theories of how to avoid it are developing in unique ways.

Dr. Stephen Trzeciak served as the featured lecturer for the 13th annual José G. Albernaz Golden Apple Distinguished Lecture presented by ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation and Vidant Health. Dr. Trzeciak, chief of medicine at Cooper University Health Care and professor and chair of medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, New Jersey, discussed compassion and the importance of meaningful connections in health care and everyday life.

A few years ago, Dr. Trzeciak was facing burnout as a health care provider and knew something needed to change.

As a person who loves research, he began to dig into related literature and studies that focused on combating burnout in providers. In medical school, he said, he was taught that caring too much and having too much compassion could cause a provider burnout more quickly. What he found in studies, however, painted a different picture.

“What the literature shows is that there is an association with compassion and burnout – but it’s inverse. If there’s high compassion, there’s low burnout. Why? Well, we don’t know for sure but I have my hypothesis,” Dr. Trzeciak said. “Because when you connect with people through compassion, and have a relationship that flows from that, you get the fulfilling part. If you don’t have that then all you have is a really stressful job.”

Key to Resilience is Relationships

He tested his hypothesis on himself, as a study subject of one and found that when he leaned into caring more rather than detaching, his feelings of burnout began to lift. It wasn’t just about connecting with and showing compassion to patients and families, but to everyone he worked with and interacted with—professionally and personally. He believes this method can work not only within health care but in every walk of life.

He challenged everyone who is feeling the effects of burnout to give his method a chance, not just because it has worked for him and helped change his life, but because it is backed by science.

He highlighted a Harvard University study that tracked students at the university and Boston-area teenagers throughout their lives and found the best predictor of good health and well-being into your 80’s is your midlife quality of relationships. Dr. Trzeciak said this and many other studies show that the key to resilience is relationships.

“That’s why it is vitally important in our health systems, in our medical schools, everywhere – at the shopping mall, at the grocery store – that we take good care of each other,” Dr. Trzeciak said. “You don’t have to be a health care provider to feel burnout, especially in 2021.”

Compassion in Health Care

Compassionate and caring environments not only help team members face less burnout, but also help patients see better outcomes.

During his lecture, Dr. Trzeciak discussed many studies pointing to positive results for patients whose health care providers show compassion in various ways. He said that he does not have any magical thinking about compassion and that the top determinant of clinical outcome is still clinical excellence.

However, he said no patient and no provider should have to choose between clinical excellence and compassionate care. It’s not an either-or choice, but a both-and.

In eastern North Carolina

Dr. Michael Waldrum, chief executive officer of Vidant and dean of the Brody School of Medicine, said it was no mistake that Vidant chose compassion as one of its core values six years ago—a thoughtful selection rooted in understanding what behaviors help patients, the communities Vidant serves and team members.

“As I think about that time and the now the world we live in today, with the most profound social and health care disruptions, with more Americans that died in any event in over 102 years… at no time is compassion more important than right now,” Dr. Waldrum said. “That is a really hard thing to deal with, those realities. The great thing is that we know we have solutions to the challenges we face and compassion is one of those solutions.”

Typically, the José G. Albernaz Golden Apple Distinguished Lecture is set for the first day of class for first-year Brody School of Medicine students. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held for a smaller audience with a few representatives from the first-year Brody class.

Dr. Waldrum said during the event that he recently had dinner with a group of first-year Brody students who discussed the need to bring greater compassion to health care.

“It was so impactful to me because I left that meeting last night and I’m just so proud to be in eastern North Carolina and having that dialogue and making compassion cool,” Dr. Waldrum said. “Because I think that’s what it takes. It takes intention in talking about it, understanding it and knowing we’ll never be perfect, but we’re all on this journey.”

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A community member receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID-19 continues to evolve and expand its grip across the country and here in eastern North Carolina.

“This is one of the most diabolical viruses I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Paul Bolin, chief of Adult Medical Services at Vidant Medical Center, and the chair of the Department of Medicine at Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

“We were in a good place. Transmission had slowed down, more and more people were getting vaccinated and protected, hospitalization days started to really come down, number of cases started to come down – and many of us thought we were in the last leg of this marathon,” said Dr. Niti Armistead, chief medical officer for Vidant Health. “What changed was the vaccination rates just hit a wall.”

“In North Carolina, in the past three to four weeks, we have seen a tripling in the number of cases, and in the number of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Bolin. “We’re seeing the same things as we did last fall and winter, but it’s in a much younger and much healthier population.”

Another difference now – we have a vaccine.

“It’s like wearing your seatbelt – your chances of being in an automobile accident are very low, but your chances of surviving that with a seatbelt are much greater,” said Dr. Bolin. “Your chance of surviving COVID are 25 fold better with the vaccine than without it.”

Even still – roughly half of the country remains unvaccinated, enabling the virus to mutate and variants to cause an increase in infections and complications.

“The virus didn’t slow down just because our vaccination rates dropped,” said Dr. Armistead.

Experts say most concerns about the vaccine don’t outweigh the risk of being unprotected.

“I think the most important thing to understand is this: there have been some very small number of complications from the vaccine. And that is a one-time event that occurs after the vaccination,” said Dr. Bolin. “Your risk of dying from COVID if you’re not vaccinated continues day after day after day after day, until this pandemic is over with.”

Vidant Health has appointments available for anyone eligible to receive the vaccine. Visit and schedule yours today.

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A COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for distribution.

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines brought great hope in the battle against the deadly pandemic that has affected our way of life for nearly a year and a half. Now, more than 7 months into the largest vaccination effort in history, the data and science is clear: the vaccines are effective, but only if people get their “dose of hope”.

The continued spread of the virus and the arrival of new variants is an urgent reminder that this pandemic is not over yet, and that we still have to assure vaccination for everyone to protect our communities. Right now, the Delta variant is quickly becoming the dominant virus variant. We know that this variant is easily spread and has many of the same devastating health impacts as previous variants. We also know that the vaccines are highly effective at both preventing the spread of the virus and drastically reducing the impact on those it infects.

It was not long ago that some hospitals around the country celebrated having zero COVID-19 patients in their Intensive Care Units. Doctors, nurses and other staff rejoiced at this welcomed respite. Here at Vidant, we never quite got to zero, but our numbers hit a new low in the spring. Now, hospitalizations are back on the rise and nearly all hospitalized COVID-19 patients – many of whom are battling for their lives – are unvaccinated.

As we have continued to learn more and more about this virus over the past year and a half, we can confidently say that ending up hospitalized with serious complications from COVID-19 is mostly avoidable now. The vaccines are safe, effective and widely available at local hospitals, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and more.

We can still see the light at the end of the tunnel but the Delta variant is dimming our view. Help us end this pandemic by receiving your COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible by visiting or by calling 252-847-8000.

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Dr. Michael Waldrum shakes hands with an incoming Brody School of Medicine student during the 2021 White Coat Ceremony

The ceremony signified each student’s entrance into the medical profession and the beginning of their commitment to serve others. While they will take classes at the Brody School of Medicine, each student will gain crucial experience at Vidant Medical Center and throughout the Vidant Health system.

Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of Vidant Health and dean of the Brody School of Medicine, served as keynote speaker for the event.

“A white coat is a symbol of being a physician, part of a unique and special profession,” Dr. Waldrum said. “It’s unique in its caring and helping when people and communities need it most. It’s about human relationship and understanding each other. It’s about constant learning and striving. We’ll never stop dealing with the issues – that’s what this profession is about.”

This incoming class is the first that Dr. Waldrum will oversee as dean of the Brody School of Medicine after taking on the position at the beginning of July. The Class of 2025 will experience ECU and Vidant’s clinical integration as both aim to better serve eastern North Carolina.

Dr. Waldrum said this is a critical step to address the challenges we face here in the East.

“This is a special time for me as a young dean – young in my tenure – because of the profound responsibility that I have as we integrate the Vidant Health system and the Brody School of Medicine and build on the foundation that has been created,” Dr. Waldrum said. “I’m excited to strengthen our communities and deal with the disparities and the issues we are faced with as rural North Carolina and rural America.”

Dr. Michael Waldrum high-fives an incoming Brody School of Medicine student during the 2021 White Coat Ceremony

Photos Courtesy of ECU News Services

The class is set up for success with varied experiences, the hunger to learn and a health system a school of medicine ready to support each student.

The 89 students include 45 students that graduated with honors, five collegiate athletes, two veterans and five who had parents that graduated from Brody. Dr. Cedric Bright, associate dean for admissions at Brody School of Medicine, said 14 percent of the class are first-generation college graduates and 44 percent of the class are re-applicants to the program – a testament to the resiliency of the class.

“You all have incredible stories, about caring, about bringing what North Carolina has in diversity, experience, pursuit of knowledge – all of these to make North Carolina better,” Dr. Waldrum said. “Those are the stories I’ve heard and that’s the story of the Brody School of Medicine. Those diverse perspectives in life coming together to learn and grow is how we collaborate to solve systemic issues that plague our communities and it’s our responsibility to do so.”

There were more than 1,200 applicants for the Class of 2025 – a record number for the Brody School of Medicine. Dr. Waldrum said it was not surprising as he believes young people were energized during the COVID-19 pandemic to help people in need of health care.

Dr. Waldrum said the Brody School of Medicine is crucial in producing what North Carolina needs from physicians.

“Brody School of Medicine has been so important in moving eastern North Carolina forward and serving the state and rural populations,” Dr. Waldrum said. “I’ve said it a million times – Brody is the highest value medical school in the country because, if you look at the investment by the state to have a physician stay in the state and practice in rural and underserved communities, there’s nobody in the nation that does it better than Brody.”

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Vidant Health’s Eastern Carolina Injury Prevention Program (ECIPP) partnered with Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children, the Pitt County Health Department and Greenville Fire-Rescue to educate community members about the dangers children, senior adults and pets can face in a hot car.

ECIPP Coordinator Ellen Walston said five children have already died in the United States this year from being left in a vehicle on warm days. Since 1998, when tracking began for these deaths, there have been 888 deaths across the country.

“Temperatures rise so quickly in a car and when a car is enclosed,” Walston said. “There is a myth that if you crack a window, the temperature will be reduced and that really does not happen. They heat up so quickly and we actually have a way to measure that today, just to show you how quickly cars can heat.”

Temperatures rise very quickly in vehicles. Ensure safety for children, pets and senior adults.This exercise took place on a 90-degree day. The temperature inside a parked car rose to 110 degrees within 10 minutes and over 120 degrees within 15 minutes.

Walston said while the risk is still high for seniors and pets, the majority of deaths that occur are in children under 2 years old. Children have less body surface area, so they are not able to cool themselves as quickly as adults and most of these children cannot verbalize if they are too hot.

In 53 percent of cases, a child is forgotten in the car by a parent or caregiver – often because that person is out of their daily routine. Walston said leaving a reminder for yourself can save a life.

“We always want to make sure that you have some type of reminder for yourself that the child is in the car because we do want the child to be in the rear seat,” Walston said. “If you can put your purse, a briefcase, your wallet, something in the backseat to remind you. We also have plenty of alarms on our phones and other devices that we use – just set an alarm. Particularly if it’s out of your normal routine.”

This reminder came at an important time as more people are out and traveling and running errands away from the house this year as COVID-19 restrictions are loosened and routines have changed.

Walston said now is the time to be vigilant if you are traveling with children, a senior adult or pets — or if you see one in a hot car.

“We always want a bystander to act and that means you need to take action right away,” Walston said. “So many times people are concerned about breaking a window, if they would be responsible. We ask you to take action, we ask that you immediately call 911. Please don’t wait to see if someone else will take action. We never want them left alone in a car – even for one minute.”

Learn more about the varied support ECIPP offers by visiting

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Gerri Ashe speaks during the Pause to Give Life event at Vidant Medical Center.

On April 7, Vidant Medical Center (VMC) hosted its Donate Life event, Pause to Give Life, to recognize organ donors and their families. Vidant team members, including the donor resource team and transplant team, were among those in attendance.

During the ceremony, the Donate Life flag was raised on the VMC flagpole at 10:08 a.m., a time symbolic of the ratio of one donor being able to save up to eight lives. Following the raising of the flag, a 30-second moment of silence was observed to honor donors and their families and recognize the more than 3,000 patients waiting for a life-saving transplant in North Carolina.

“It was a record year for organ donors at Vidant. We had 55 donors in 2020 that resulted in saving or enhancing 179 lives by those donations,” said Van Smith, VMC executive vice president of operations. “This is a celebration of the work of Vidant and Carolina Donor Services in partnership to support the community and improve the quality of life across eastern North Carolina.”

Carolina Donor Services President and CEO Danielle Niedfeldt recognized VMC for the record year of organ donations with an Outstanding Service Award during the event. Niedfeldt said in addition to a record year for transplantations at VMC, the hospital performed at a remarkable level in its own right and as compared to others within the Carolina Donor Services area.

Gerri Ashe speaks during the Pause to Give Life event at Vidant Medical Center.Among the speakers at the event was Gerri Ashe, a community health worker at Vidant Health. She shared her story as a family donor – or someone whose loved ones have donated organs after they have passed.

Ashe began working at Vidant in February of 2008. In November of that same year, her oldest brother passed away from a stroke at just 43 years old. She recalled that when she was getting her license her dad told her to sign up as an organ donor and her siblings did the same. After his passing, they learned he would be able to donate three organs – his heart and his corneas.

“At that time, I decided to turn what seemed to be a really difficult situation into a positive moment of being able to share my story,” Ashe said. “It also made me want to get more involved and become more educated so I could help families understand the process.”

Ashe said she completed her studies in health education and promotion this past February.

As a community health worker, Ashe has many responsibilities in educating eastern North Carolina and connecting people to services or resources that they need to be healthy.

She said she also tries to raise awareness for the need of organ donation and stresses the importance of healthy living for anyone who may be interested in being an organ donor.

“No matter what decision a family makes, if I can just help them during that time – even as difficult as it is – I know I’ve done my job as a family donor,” Ashe said. “That’s how I honor my brother’s memory is by spreading the word and helping others realize how important it is to donate.”

If you’d like to learn more about being an organ donor or register as an organ donor, visit the Carolina Donor Services website. Learn more about Vidant’s transplant services.

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Media gathers during Governor Roy Cooper's visit to Greenville

The Vidant / Pitt County Large-Scale Vaccine Clinic at the Greenville Convention Center has helped thousands of people get their dose of hope in eastern North Carolina and beyond.

On March 19, the site served as a backdrop for a visit from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and other state and local officials.

“We see the data of where these vaccinations are going,” said Cooper. “Therefore, we know what we need to do and we know who is being left out.”

“We’re not done,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of Vidant Health. “The game is still being played and we have to play all 60 minutes of this football game, and keep our communities safe.”

The site itself has been a monumental undertaking in support of the communities Vidant serves.

With support from team members and volunteers – to date, more than 70,000 vaccinations have been administered here and at other vaccination sites across the region.

“It’s been a tragic and a trying time,” said Dr. John Silvernail, director of the Pitt County Health Department. “It’s also been a time of great cooperation and a chance to learn from one another.”

While much great work has been done, state and local leaders remain focused on the path ahead.

“As Dr. Waldrum and Dr. Silvernail also said, we cannot spike the football too early,” said Cooper. “We know these variants are out there. We’ve seen them flare up in other countries, in other states. We don’t want that to happen in North Carolina.”

For the latest information on vaccine availability and eligibility, please visit

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Volunteers Vivie and Ron Baseford sit together at Vidant Medical CenterRonald and Vivie Baseford’s hearts of service led them to each other.

Ron began volunteering at Vidant Medical Center (VMC) around January of 2019 and has worked as a patient escort since. Vivie stopped working about two years ago and began volunteering at VMC in October of 2019. It didn’t take long for Vivie to catch Ron’s eye.

“About a week or two after I started, we passed each other in the hall,” Vivie said.

“We were wheeling patients,” Ron said. “Vivie and I passed each other in the corridors a couple of times and smiled and I said ‘Oh boy. I wish everyone had a smile like yours.’ And we just took it from there.”

There were lunches in the cafeteria at VMC before things became a little more formal. Dinners at Vivie’s house and date nights around town became the norm for them. They travel together, love watching movies and both find a piece of joy in spending time serving others.

When the pandemic began to intensify, the volunteering at VMC was halted but Ron and Vivie grew closer together. They decided to move in together and were married on July 7, 2020.

“We’ve been happy ever since,” Ron said. “We have the same interests. We love to travel, we love to go places in the car and visit places around here. We like to go up in the mountains and hike and see some of the waterfalls in that area.”

The time away from volunteering left some quality honeymoon time for the two, and they kept busy while away from helping patients, families and team members at VMC. They returned to volunteering about eight weeks ago, both on Monday mornings but in different areas of the hospital.

Vivie volunteers in the Eddie & Allison Jo Smith Tower and is happy to be back helping serve her community. Her love for the medical field goes back to her schooling days. While her first husband attended medical school, she sat in on classes with him and later worked with the Red Cross for a number of years.

“I always had an interest in that type of thing,” Vivie said. “When my first husband was stationed in Germany, I worked for the Red Cross and I volunteered. When he went into Rocky Mount to start his practice, I worked at the Red Cross also. I’ve been doing stuff like this practically all my life.”

She said she has enjoys interacting with patients and Vidant team members and the opportunity to be involved in health care again.

“When I was working, I worked as a teller at a bank, so I love people,” she said. “Just to be with people and help them, it makes me feel so good. Anything I can do for them, anywhere I can take them is just great. It’s very fulfilling to me.”

Ron, known as Mr. Ron around VMC, said he loves to meet new people and his role as a patient escort gives him the chance to talk to many different people each Monday.

“I like to talk to people,” he said. “While we’re walking, most of them are tense because they don’t know what they’re going to do and I certainly can’t help them with that but I talk to them about the weather and where they’re from and so forth and so on. We both very much look forward to going in on Mondays.”

Another benefit, Ron said, is the exercise he gets while escorting patients during his four-hour volunteering shifts. He said the exercise app he uses says he averages between five and six miles most Mondays while walking with patients and families through the hospital.

“It always pleases me because, all the people there, not only the patients but relatives that go with them sometimes, are all so very appreciative,” he said. “That’s always what makes it worth walking that six miles.”

“The people that work at the hospital are so appreciative of us, too, which really makes a difference,” Vivie added. “They make us feel like part of the team and they’re such nice people.”

If you would like to join Ron, Vivie and the other amazing volunteers at Vidant Health, visit

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