Henderson County August 2021

Population
117,425

County Seat
Hendersonville

Median Income
$55,945

Population Density Designation
Regional City/Suburban

During our visit to Henderson County, we visited the Health Sciences Center at Blue Ridge Community College – an innovative collaboration by Henderson County, the City of Hendersonville, Wingate University, and Pardee UNC Health Care. There, President Dr. Laura Leatherwood led a discussion on the college’s efforts to produce a healthcare workforce.

Each of the three floors of the Health Sciences Center provides specific services and training designed to meet the healthcare demands of Henderson County. Pardee UNC Health Cancer and Surgery Center is located on the first floor. The second floor houses two Wingate University graduate programs – Physician Assistant Studies and the School of Pharmacy. The third floor is the physical site for Blue Ridge Community College’s Allied Health programs. The uniqueness of the partnership extends far beyond the building.

“It’s never been more important that we are on this hospital’s campus than it is now,” Dr. Leatherwood said.

Starting in high school, students can begin taking allied health classes through Blue Ridge Community College. Once they graduate, students can transition into one of 15 programs offered by Blue Ridge. Students choosing to continue their studies may enter one of Wingate’s graduate programs. The result is a full educational journey completed entirely in the community.

“Our high school students can matriculate from high school into our allied health programs and immediately go into a doctorate of pharmacy, and never leave Hendersonville,” Dr. Leatherwood noted.

As our tour continued, we heard from Blue Ridge Community College students who had either just begun their program or were nearing the end. When asked if they planned to stay in the county, all but one student said yes, which is great news for Henderson County. The students will be entering the workforce at a critical time, providing many needed services.

“More and more people want to live, work, and play in western North Carolina,” said James Kirby, president and CEO of Pardee UNC Health Care. And more people means the demand for healthcare workers will be strong.

Before leaving the classroom, Blue Cross NC President and CEO Dr. Tunde Sotunde had advice for the students that would soon enter the healthcare field, saying, “Always have a whole-person approach.” He told them that health involves not just the physical signs and symptoms, but the mental and emotional too, adding that as healthcare workers, they would also need to think about many non-medical factors such as transportation and nutrition. As one student remarked, it’s about “mind, body, and spirit.”

With thanks to contributor Emily Thomas

The Community in Action

Meet Dr. Laura Leatherwood

Dr. Laura Leatherwood has been the president of Blue Ridge Community College since 2017. Before joining Blue Ridge, she served for 17 years in various roles at Haywood Community College. Dr. Leatherwood holds a doctorate in university and community college leadership, a master’s degree in human resource development, and a bachelor’s degree in business law, all from Western Carolina University. She currently serves on the board for Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, Mountain Area Workforce Development, American Red Cross Asheville-Mountain Area, Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, National Technical Honor Society, and Advent Health Hendersonville.

U39702, 10/21