Sunday, May 19, 2024

St. Mary Health Center staff say Basilica of St. Mary gave them notice to vacate by July 1

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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A health center that’s been open for more than 30 years will likely have to close its doors soon in Wilmington.

St. Mary Health Center is the only health center in Wilmington that provides surgical dental services to low-income patients. Volunteers say they received a notice to vacate the property in 60 days around a month ago from the Basilica of St. Mary without an explanation.

Tremayne Tyson, who was able to have their wisdom tooth removed for only fifty dollars, said that they wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise.

“It was amazing, they did a good job for me,” Tyson said. “I am independent, so money only comes from me and my money has to go so many different ways.”

After his initial visit, Tyson learned he would need to have three more wisdom teeth removed, but now St. Mary’s will likely not be an option for him anymore.

“It’s just very heartbreaking and it’s bad news,” Tyson said. “We have enough going on in our community. We don’t need to keep adding on to the bad news.”

Dr. Coleman Burgess, a volunteer since the center opened in 1988 and a member of the board of directors, said the notice that instructed the center to vacate came from the Basilica of St. Mary.

“We have people that have fallen on hard times for one reason or another and cannot afford traditional care costs,” Burgess said. “As an outreach ministry, we are obligated to do that. In the name of Christ.”

Despite repeated requests for a meeting with church leadership, they haven’t received any answers as to why they are being asked to leave.

“If we have to close these doors, it’s going to be devastating for the 1500 patients that we see annually,” Burgess said.“

Some of the volunteers say they’re shocked and confused about what the church wants to use the space for instead.

“We take care of the poor and uninsured who are having acute and chronic dental issues and there’s nowhere else for them to go,” said volunteer and retired oral surgeon Dr. Doug DeGroote. “I can’t imagine a better use of this space.”

One of the reasons Burgess speculates caused the notice was leadership having misconceptions about the type of patients treated at the center.

“We are not just necessarily for the homeless, we are not working with drug dealers here. That’s not our clientele,” Burgess said.

Dr. Burgess says many of their patients are actually referrals from Novant or other health care centers. He said getting dental work is essential for dealing with other conditions.

“For example, the cancer patients,” Dr. Burgess said. “They can’t go through radiation therapy if it’s head and neck radiation until their diseased and infected teeth are removed.”

WECT reached out to the church about why they decided to send the letter, and they told us we would have to reach out to the Diocese of Raleigh to comment. After several calls and emails, over the past week, we have not heard back.

The health center staff says they would like at least 24 months so they can apply for grants and fundraise to move to a new location.

“This clinic operates on a shoestring,” Dr. Burgess said. “Our budget is very minimal, we really don’t have the funds to pick up and move somewhere else.”

As it stands, St. Mary Health Center will close its doors on July 1.

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