Roland Gardner Lives with Purpose


By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

Apr. 1, 2010

Roland Gardner

A St. Helena Island native, born and bred, Roland Gardner exemplifies living life with purpose and a good perspective.

“I always knew I wanted to do something rewarding; I wanted to help people,” says Gardner, CEO of Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services.

Since April of 1980, Gardner has been the Executive Director, which consists of the overall operation of the health care provider serving the tri-county area including patient care, financial management, personnel management, facilities, long range planning and public relations.

Comprehensive Health Services is federally funded under Public Health Services Section 330. Since its inception in 1970, the philosophy of the organization has been, “Health is a right, not a privilege.” In following this philosophy, BJHCHS operates a culturally sensitive, sound clinical care system to residents of the socially and economically deprived areas of Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton Counties.

Under Gardner’s leadership, BJHCHS has grown to service over 17, 000 patients.  And he’s basically been there since the beginning.

While getting his Masters at Howard University, Tom Arnold approached Gardner about writing a proposal to initiate a Psychiatric and Psychology plan at BJHCHS. While in Washington D.C., Gardner wrote the proposal and went before Congress to argue its validity for the Lowcountry.

During Graduate School, the program was funded and Gardner was offered a job as Director of the program for which he’d written the proposal. From 1972-1978, Roland Gardner was the Director of Mental Health and Social Services.

He then left for three years to direct Beaufort County’s Department of Social Services. His mom, Janie Henderson Gardner was the first African-American to work at the Department of Social Services in 1968.  Originally designed as a USDA initiative to help farmers, the food stamp program in Beaufort County was the first of its kind in the country.

In 1980 Gardner came back to BJHCHS as Executive Director of the organization that now administers laboratory and radiology services, clinical and home health nursing, nutrition services, pharmacy and dental care.

One of the most exciting things happening at Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services is its partnership with A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona.

A.T. Still provides degrees in Osteopathic medicine, which embraces a holistic philosophy, considering the person as a unit of interrelated systems of mind, body, and spirit that must work together to ensure good health. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.s) are physicians who are fully trained and licensed to prescribe medication, perform surgery, deliver babies, etc. Osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) and allopathic physicians (M.D.s) are the only two types of physicians licensed in all 50 states.

Currently, there are 16 medical students at BJHCHS, one of 10 Comp Health Centers in the country hosting these medical students. By 2011, there will be 24-30 students in the area training with BJHCHS.

And most of these doctors will stay in the area after they finish residency. The demand for primary care is up, and many of these students will opt to stay in the Lowcountry to serve as family care, OB, pediatrics or internal medicine physicians.

Out of the 97 students participating in the program, 5 of the top students are right here in Beaufort.

Needless to say, Roland Gardner has seen BJHCHS grow to exceed his expectations.  Two of the programs for which he is most proud are the Ryan White Early Intervention Services project and the school-based health programs offered at 8 public schools in Beaufort and Jasper Counties.

So Gardner has stayed true to his aspiration of helping people. That’s his job, quite frankly. But sit down with Roland Gardner, and you’ll understand his fascination with people.

A recreational historian, Gardner knows things about this area that most don’t. His knowledge of “life on the island” is extensive, especially about the African-American community.  He grew up listening to stories from older family members about bootleggers during Prohibition and such. At some point, one of those family members passed the torch to Roland to be the designated story-teller. And, boy can he can tell a good story!

And he also knows how everyone is connected. That’s one of his many talents. If he knows how so-and-so is related to so-and-so, he can ease into conversation that’s real and substantial from the get-go.

Maybe that’s how he turned on the charm to his wife of 36 years, Constance Smith Gardner. He was the Student Body President at St. Helena High while she the Student Body President at Robert Smalls High School. They met at a Lionel Hampton concert in 1963, dated a bit, parted ways, then met up again and got married in 1974. And what a duo!

Roland Gardner works hard. But, in the evening, he’ll relax with a glass of wine, watch a game on the tube at Breakwater and chat with other Beaufortonians about everyday matters.  He appreciates life, and passes that energy on to those who meet him. He is the American Dream.

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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