Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


June 6, 2013

Tobacco funding

Welcomed boost for dental school

— — We welcome the recent award of a $150,000 grant by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission for the development of the new Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine. It is another key piece of the funding puzzle for this regional higher-education-based economic development initiative.

The grant will be used specifically for the development of the dental school’s curriculum, currently being designed by the inaugural dean of the college, Dr. Francis Serio. The grant funds will also assist the college with the process of obtaining national accreditation for the program and developing critical partnerships with dental safety net centers, community clinics, and private practices in Southwest and Southside Virginia.

The dental school project was launched last September by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority and Bluefield College. It is proposed to be constructed at the new Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park.

The county and Bluefield College are hoping to open the new dental school with its first class of students in the fall of 2015. College officials say the tobacco commission grant is timely in that it will allow the dental school a little more than a year to develop the curriculum to submit to the Commission on Dental Accreditation in order to recruit and accept applications from the first students in the fall of 2014.

 According to the Southwest Virginia Health Authority’s “Blueprint for Health Improvement and Health Enable Prosperity,” establishing a new dental school in Southwest Virginia would simultaneously improve oral health and economic development. The proposed patient service area of the dental school is the 41 counties of Southwest and Southside Virginia. Currently, 13 of the 41 counties are completely without access to nearby oral care, and a total of 30 of the 41 counties in the footprint area are said to have shortages in general dental care.

In addition to increasing access to dental care and improving oral health in the region, the dental school will also create good, high-paying jobs for the region. That’s why the tobacco commission funds are welcomed, and come at a critical time. One has to look no further than neighboring Buchanan County for evidence of how successful the higher education job-creation model can be. Buchanan County is home to a law school, pharmaceutical school and a planned optometry school.

The dental school is a great example of what can be done when officials are working together toward a common goal of creating new economic development and growth.

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