N.C. Co-op Helps Rural Hospital Buy 3D Breast Cancer Screening Equipment

Ashe Memorial Hospital CEO Brian Yates and Tasha Rountree, Blue Ridge Energy director of community relations, outside the hospital’s Mammography Suite, which will receive new 3D mammography equipment. (Photo By: Blue Ridge Energy)

Women in some of North Carolina’s most remote mountain communities will now have access to advanced breast cancer exams thanks to a $460,000 zero-interest loan from the local electric cooperative and a grant from its members.

Blue Ridge Energy, based in Lenoir, is helping Ashe Memorial Hospital in the state’s western High Country purchase 3D digital mammography equipment using its Revolving Loan Fund.

These funds were awarded to the co-op through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, which enables electric co-ops to support economic and community development projects in their service areas by providing zero-interest loans to qualified groups.

The Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation also donated $75,000 with approval by the co-op’s board to help make the project possible.

“The cooperative has a long history of helping make life better in our communities,” said co-op CEO Doug Johnson. “We are excited to be able to leverage the USDA loan funds through additional donations to provide much-needed medical services and equipment to enhance the local quality of life.”

With breast cancer affecting nearly one in eight women in the United States, AMH CEO Brian Yates said access to state-of-the-art testing equipment will save lives.

“Decades of research tells us unequivocally that the key to breast cancer survival is early detection through mammograms,” he said. “And the best screening technology is tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography.”

The high resolution of the images will also help reduce the stress and expense of false positives, which can result in rural patients traveling many miles unnecessarily for further testing, Yates said.

Ashe Memorial is accredited by the American College of Radiation, which is the gold standard for providing the safest, high-quality care, and the addition of 3D mammography will help attract new medical talent to the area, he said. The hospital expects to have it installed by November.

“Blue Ridge Energy stands as a pillar in the community that embodies the neighborly spirit of Ashe County through service, support and partnership,” said Yates.

“We sincerely appreciate Blue Ridge Energy’s support. Their commitment is key to helping us with breast cancer early detection and our community’s local access to the most state-of-the-art diagnostic technology.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.