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Roland Gardner, CEO of Beaufort/ Jasper/Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, says farewell via Zoom conference call to all the employees in all three counties. Gardner, who is retiring, has been with Comprehensive Health Services for more than 40 years. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

Spring brings change 

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Longtime Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health CEO Gardner retires 

 By Lolita Huckaby 

Forty-one years is enough and it’s time for some new blood. 

That’s what Roland Gardner, the popular Chief Executive Officer of Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, Inc., has to say about his decision to retire. 

In his place, the BJHCHS Board has appointed Dr. Faith L. Polkey as Chief Executive Office. 

“I think we’ve been fortunate to have someone like Gardner in the leadership role for these past years,” Board Chairman Ed Allen said. “We’re also extremely fortunate to have someone with Dr. Polkey’s caliber and experience as we continue our stellar history of providing healthcare to the citizens of the Lowcountry.” 

Gardner, whose official last day was April 1, has seen the medical health services grow from its initial offices in Chelsea to a multi-county agency with facilities in 10 locations and a staff of more than 300. The program includes three mobile health vans and a third through a partnership with the Ronald McDonald House, an agricultural migrant medical program and an in-school program at 24 schools where more than 2,000 students are seen. 

When Gardner took the reins of the agency from former director Thomas Barnwell, the operating budget was $2.1 million, largely federal funding. It’s grown to $26 million, largely supported by patient fees and non-profit contributions.

BJHCHS’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading community health services has also grown and Gardner’s recent years have included trips to Washington, testifying before Congressional committees as to the effectiveness of rural programs as board chairman of the National Association of Community Health Centers and president of the South Carolina Primary Healthcare Association.

“It’s been an interesting time especially during the height of COVID, but I believe the need and effectiveness of programs like ours has been established from those early days when the agency was started almost as a pilot project for rural health care,” Gardner said in a recent interview.

Under his leadership, BJHCHS became one of 11 community health centers to partner with A.T. Still University providing training experience for students specializing in osteopathic medicine.

There’s still work to be done. The agency has undertaken a major building program at the Chelsea clinic with a new administrative building.

“But we have an excellent team in place including the board of directors and I’m confident BJHCH will continue to move in the right direction,” he said.

For himself, the St. Helena Island native says he’s looking forward to managing his own schedule, along with his wife, Constance, who retired from years of service with the S.C. Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Dr. Faith Polkey

Dr. Polkey joined BJHCHS in 2002 and has served in multiple roles including Staff Pediatrician, Chief of Pediatrics, Chief Clinical Officer and Interim Chief Medical Officer. She has served on the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees and on the National Association of Community Health Centers.

Dr. Polkey received her BS in Biology from the University of South Carolina, her MD from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and her Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She completed Pediatric residency training at Duke University Medical Center and a second residency in Preventive Medicine at UNC, where she served as Chief Resident.

She is boarded in both Pediatrics and General Preventive Medicine and Public Health. In 2017 she achieved her Certified Physician Executive (CPE) credentials from the American Association for Physician Leadership.

Dr. Polkey has been awarded numerous honors including Phi Beta Kappa, Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award and the Visionary Award from the S.C. Primary Health Care Association.

Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.

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