Dari Caldwell: Seigel, Brooks among county’s heath care heroes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 11, 2021

Editor’s note: The following are excerpts from a blog post first published at yourrowan.com. This is the second part. The first ran in the lifestyles section and online on June 27 with the headline “Rowan originals helped county get through the pandemic.”

By Dari Caldwell

Dr. Mitch Seigel  is a dentist who stepped up early during the COVID pandemic and helped the Community Care Clinic of Rowan keep the dental services going.

Initially, dental services were shut down during the early months of the pandemic. During that time, Dr. Susan Muth, who had been serving as the primary dentist at the clinic, had a baby and went on maternity leave. When dental clinics were allowed to resume, she found herself with a newborn and another small child and unable to risk returning to a clinical setting. In stepped Dr. Seigel, who had been working part time to help fill in. Dr. Seigel, in spite of being 73 and having diabetes, both of which put him in a high risk category, showed tremendous courage by showing up every dental clinic morning at 7:30 and addressing the backlog of dental patients and those calling with urgent needs.

Dr. Seigel came to Salisbury in 1994 via a position with the Salisbury VA Medical Center doing geriatric dentistry. He joined the CCC of Rowan part time in January of 2016, initially in a volunteer capacity. Dr. Seigel has a fascinating career, beginning his undergraduate training at California State College and completing dental school in 1970 at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He attained a fellowship in geriatric dentistry as well as a two-year hospital residency.

He began practicing in a small Iowa town, and in 1990 returned to academia at the University of Nebraska, where he taught. He then moved to the Bronx, New York, to serve as chief of dentistry at Jacobi Hospital. Eventually, he returned to Omaha and took a position with the VA hospital there as a geriatric dentist. Through, the VA system, he found his way to Salisbury. Dr. Seigel is also retired military, having served as a Dentist in the Army Reserves from 1995-2011. He married in 1976 and has two grown children, Noah and Mahalia, and three grandchildren.

When asked what it is like to provide dental care for the Community Care Clinic, Dr. Seigel said he is blessed to have an opportunity to care for people that no one else will care for due to their inability to pay.

He stated, “The patients are so tremendously grateful and thankful to be able to access dental care. Many come to us from the emergency department and we see a wide range of dental neglect, abscesses, growths in the mouth or lost teeth due to injury. Our goal is to provide them a chewing platform, and to be able to restore a patient’s sense of personal self-worth, and ability to eat and smile.”

Thanks to grants and donations, the Community Care Clinic of Rowan can provide this service. Dr. Seigel was quick to brag on the terrific team of the Community Care Clinic, including hygienist Lori Graber and an associate dentist Dr. Brad Leslie. But yes, Dr. Seigel, you are a hero!

Ashley Brooks, RN, BSN

Born and raised in Anson County, Brooks moved to Rowan County in 2017 when she took a position with the Rowan Public Health Department.

She graduated from Wingate University with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2015 and initially took a job in labor and delivery before moving to Rowan. Before COVID, Ashley worked in the Family Health Clinic at the Health Department, focusing on preventive health, immunizations, sexually transmitted diseases and other facets of community health. When COVID hit, her world turned upside down, and she was assigned to the newly created COVID Center at the Rowan Health Department.

As a part of the COVID Center, she was tasked with reviewing daily COVID cases and outbreaks and reporting to the State of North Carolina, serving as the Rowan Health Department liaison to congregant living facilities such as long-term care, skilled living, group homes and senior living communities — the very places that the pandemic hit the hardest. She was also tasked with serving as a liaison to the public schools and helping with community vaccine clinics. Transitioning roles suddenly was hard and involved an enormous amount of working hours, including weekends and holidays. It even included working after hours at home after putting her then-11-month-old, Jackson, to bed, inputting data in the COVID computer tracking system.

When asked about the hardest part of the pandemic, Ashley tearily said, “Reviewing the deaths and reading the medical record — the notes leading up to death — it was very emotional reading what the patient and their families went through. That was the worst.”

Part of Ashley’s job was to review the records of every Rowan County death and input the required data fields – a sobering responsibility for a young nurse. Ashley’s work has been lauded in the community by senior living center teams. According to Bill Johnson of Trinity Oaks, “Ashley was a God-send during the pandemic. She helped us so much to understand and interpret the rules and to help upset families also understand why they couldn’t visit their loved ones. She is an angel.”

The most rewarding part of Ashley’s career is happening now. She feels we are “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. All our hard work is paying off.”

The number of positive COVID tests continues to decline. Thinking back, however, Ashely says she will never forget those days when we were seeing 100-200 positives a day and everyone was overwhelmed.

“I thought it was never going to end. At one point it kept getting worse and worse, with no end in sight,” she said.

Now, she spends a lot of time trying to educate the community about the importance of the COVID vaccine and dispelling the ridiculous myths she sees in social media. Thanks for hanging in there, Ashley, and for all you have done for Rowan County during the pandemic.

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