Bladen County December 2022


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

Our visit to Bladen County was hosted on the campus of Bladen Community College (BCC). Community leaders and residents were gathered by BCC president Amanda Lee to walk us through the opportunities and challenges for improving the health and well-being of all residents of Bladen County.

Our conversation began with an exploration of the state of mental health and the opioid crisis in the county through the lens of county health director Dr. Terri Duncan. Dr. Duncan shared that she was particularly proud of the progress the county has made in recent years in statewide health rankings. The county has moved from what she dubbed a historic pattern of being 99th or 100th in the state (out of 100) to 85th in the most recent edition of the rankings.

Despite this improvement, Duncan went on to say the county’s self-reported data around mental health in the county worries her moving forward — particularly as both access to care and access to emergency bed placement is a significant issue.

“We have a cycle of challenges. We’ve had two years’ worth of significant displacement due to hurricanes,” shared Duncan. “And then we had two years of a pandemic.”

Duncan was making the point that a student could have gone through their entire high school experience without a “normal” year.

Our conversation on early childhood education included two BCC early childhood education faculty members sharing their experiences in the classroom. One challenge highlighted for the recruitment of students is the low rate of pay for employees in childcare and early childhood centers. Despite the lack of pay, both faculty members described enthusiastic prospective students with a desire to make a difference in the lives of children.

Amanda Lee praised the resilience of the entire community in the face of these common challenges.

“This is a very resilient community that can – and does – bounce back,” said Lee. “We can work hard to rebuild in the face of hurricanes because they are obvious, immediate problems.”

Systemic challenges around poverty, accessible and affordable childcare, access to mental health resources, and health care are persistent issues that require the entire community to work together to attempt to develop solutions, according to Lee.

One collaborative attempt to spark change is Bladen’s Bloomin’. Bladen’s Bloomin’ is a nonprofit organization focused on bolstering economic development in the county. They work closely with county government, the community college and other stakeholders to spark investments in needed assets.

The county’s broader strategy is to focus on its recreation and outdoor assets, the ability to provide lifelong learning from the community college and on-the-job training, and eventually to address the housing crisis in the county. One immediate focus for Bladen’s Bloomin’ is building a health care facility. One mid-term goal for the nonprofit is to potentially build a daycare facility for the county.

Blue Cross NC president and CEO Dr. Tunde Sotunde praised the community’s level of collaboration and the unique approaches outlined by the community leaders during our visit.

“In order for us to understand both your challenges and opportunities, we knew we had to spend time with all of you who are on the frontlines of improving the health and well-being of all of the residents of Bladen County,” said Sotunde. “We appreciate you walking us through your plan, your collaborations and the work you all are undertaking.”

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

All other trade names are the property of their respective owners.

U39702, 2/23