Joe Rockenstein is the new CEO of the Ocracoke and Engelhard health centers.

By Connie Leinbach

Someone who knew Ocracoke Health Center was looking for a new CEO took a photo of Joe Rockenstein with an Ocracoke Coffee Company mug and sent it to the recruiter.

And suddenly, Rockenstein, formerly of Pittsburgh, Pa., found himself in a new part of the country and in a new job this summer.

Rockenstein has been in the position of new CEO of the Ocracoke Health and Engelhard Medical centers since June 21 at the retirement of longtime CEO Cheryl Ballance.

Even though he wasn’t looking for a new job, the idea sounded interesting.

“I didn’t know anything about this job,” he said during a Nov. 20 retirement fete for Ballance. He wasn’t looking for a new job, but during their vacations on the Outer Banks over the years, he and his wife, Carol, had mused about moving to a place like this.

And, maybe, a good opportunity just dropped into his lap.

Ocracoke Health Center Board President Sue Pentz said the center needed someone who could take on the finances and that the board clicked with Rockenstein when they met him.

“The whole (recruitment) committee instantly knew we had our guy,” Pentz said about “CEO Joe,” as she calls him. “He has the vision to help us grow in small steps before taking giant leaps, and his commitment, like, Cheryl, is so true. We’re very fortunate we found someone who thinks like us.”

At the retirement party, Ballance was surprised to receive the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, reserved by North Carolina governors as their highest honor and bestowed on persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.

Ballance, who has worked for the health center for 30 years, is not fully retired but is still working as needed as the grant writer.

She and Rockenstein also hit it off, Pentz said. “She left it in good hands.”

Under Ballance’s administration, the Ocracoke Health Center and Engelhard Medical Center joined forces in 2013 to become a federally qualified health center (FQHC) making the organization eligible to receive federal grants.

Rockenstein has worked as the chief financial officer in nonprofit healthcare for about 12 years at an FQHC that is three times the size of the Ocracoke-Engelhard concern.

So, he brings needed experience centers and is anxious to make a difference.

Pentz said Rockenstein is looking into getting a pharmacy on Ocracoke.

“I love it,” he said about the job so far. “It’s great because it services the community, which is really important to me. Whether you’re insured or uninsured, regardless of what walk of life you come from or your orientation, what’s important is you’re getting health care.”

He and his wife, Carol, moved to Belhaven so that Joe can travel to both Ocracoke and Engelhard.

Pentz noted that Rockenstein met every staff member in both locations.

“The best thing about the job are the people,” he said. “Everybody who I’ve met and talked to so far are just some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life.”