Memorial Hospital turns 54 — leaders, employees reflect back

Published 1:41 am Saturday, April 5, 2014

It has been 54 years since Memorial Hospital first opened its doors to its first patient on Monday, April 4, 1960.

The 80-bed hospital was built under the Hill-Burton Hospital Survey & Construction Act of 1946. It employed approximately 60 people when it first opened.
Through the years it has expanded facilities and services to meet the needs of the growing community, and now lists 512 full-time equivalent employees, making it one of the largest employers in the county, second only to the Decatur County Schools.
In 1972, Memorial Manor, a 67-bed long-term care facility was built adjacent to the hospital. In 1979, Manor II was completed, adding another 40 beds to the nursing home. An intensive care unit was added in 1986. Addition of a Level II emergency department came about in 1993, and three new building projects were completed in 1998, including the wing containing the Kirbo Women’s Center. The latest expansion was the building of Amelia Medical Plaza, a primary care facility, which opened in April 2013.
Several long-time associates of the hospital have given their views on the hospital over the years, what changes they have seen and what they hope for in the future.
Dr. Sidney Cochran has been associated with Memorial Hospital for nearly 35 years. He arrived there in Aug. of 1979.
He says the hospital staff provides great services for his patients.
“All of the staff is very dedicated and supportive, supplying everything I need,” Cochran said.
When he first began there was no CT scanner, nor an ICU. He cites all sorts of improvements in the radiology department, as well as the ER. When he first came to Memorial Hospital there was no ER physician. The local doctors had to take turns.
Asked what the future holds for the hospital, he replied, “The Lord knows.” He believes the future is very uncertain, due to the many changes in delivery of medical care. However, he concludes, “If it wasn’t here, we would all be in trouble.”
He admits to being a strong advocate of the cafeteria’s sweet potato pie, topped with whipped cream.
Johnny Grimsley has been a member of the Memorial Hospital and Manor Board of Directors for at least 15 years, most of which he has served as secretary.
Having grown up in Bainbridge, he recalls when the hospital opened.
He believes maintaining the hospital means everything to the community.
“A viable, good hospital, besides looking after its citizens, means jobs. In addition to the hospital being the second largest employer in the county, it is necessary in order to attract new jobs,” he explained.
One of the more pressing needs he sees now is how the finances has changed, especially in the last few years. “Money was not a problem when I first came on the board,” he says. “Now, with the fees paid being dictated by the government in Medicare and Medicaid, the cuts have made it a challenge to remain solvent.”
Grimsley said he hopes for a bright future for the hospital; “But we have to stay pro-active in everything we do.”
Grimsley believes the hospital kitchen does a great job on grilled chicken. That is his favorite meal there.
Billy Walker, CEO of Memorial Hospital and Manor said his favorite part about the hospital is interacting with all of the people who come in and out. Walker has worked at the hospital for the last 13 years and said the facility provides more than just the basic healthcare needs of the area, but also provides jobs for people in the community.
Walker said he attributes the hospitals success for staying in operation for the last 54 years comes from the community.
“Our community is very fortunate to have a hospital and manor here to take care of residents of the area,” Walker said. “I think the support that we get from the community and people using their local hospital has enabled us to thrive over the last 54 years and that will be the key to us going forward, is them supporting us .”
Walker’s favorite meal at Memorial is the fish on Fridays.
Shirley Story, who works as the Health Information Management Director, has been working at Memorial Hospital and Manor longer than any employee there. Her start date was Dec. 1, 1963.
Story said her favorite thing about Memorial is the family atmosphere, where all the employees are a family.
“We have progressed and kept up with current technology and we are continuing to offer services to the community,” Story said about how the hospital has stayed alive over the last 54 years. “We are now going into an electronic phase of medical records and this is a huge project and change.”
Her favorite meal at Memorial is chicken tenders, okra and tomatoes.
With all the talk about favorite foods, it would be remiss not to talk to Suzan Yates, director of dining services for the hospital and manor, who has been in that position for 19 years.
The changes she has seen are many. As the hospital satellite medical offices have grown, the dining services have provided catering to them as well.
The Manor has been changed from a tray service to a buffet, giving residents more choices in their diets.
When she began in 1995, she had a staff of 40 employees. Now, a staff of 29 is doing more and doing it much more efficiently, according to Yates. The cafeteria has expanded its hours, thus making it more convenient to provide for those in the community who come in just to eat a meal, or get a takeout.
For years, the dining service provided the food for the Gala and other festivities is Fried chicken.