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By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
Forty years ago, Twin County Regional Hospital opened its doors for the first time to begin a new effort of community-oriented healthcare.
Today, through its many changes, the staff hopes to continue serving the community through a growing affiliation with Duke LifePoint.
On Saturday, the staff at TCRH held a 40-year community anniversary celebration in front of the hospital’s main entrance at 200 Hospital Drive in Galax. The two-hour event gave the public an opportunity to join hospital staff for an afternoon of food, games and entertainment.
As the celebrations went on, current and former staff members who were there since the beginning shared their memories of the hospital when it first opened to the public.
Before TCRH, there were two different hospitals operating in the Twin Counties: Galax General Hospital and Waddell Hospital. In April of 1968, the founders of what was then called Twin County Community Hospital — T. George Vaughan, Rev. Robert S. Dendy and Kenneth Waddell — signed articles of incorporation for a new facility.
For the next five years, the board members and the community supported a fund-raising campaign so that they could build the new hospital. Thanks to the funds that were raised, and additional money from federal, state and regional grants, the hospital finally opened in 1973.
TCRH board of directors chairman Doug Vaught remembered a generous donation that his father had made to the effort during the campaign. “When they were getting ready to build the facility, they held a raffle, and my father donated his old Ford to the hospital,” he said. “Of course, everybody was like that then. The community did what was necessary to help.”
The combined efforts from both hospitals built a strong foundation for the facility that exists now. Today, the staff continues to add to that tradition of community-based service by listening to the public to find and provide for its needs and wants. “For a business to survive, you have to be able to adapt, and that is part of what we have done here,” said Vaught.
TCRH had operated for decades as a standalone, unaffiliated hospital, and for a while, the board of directors believed that it could continue to do so. However, factors like the declining economy and lack of insurance for patients led TCRH to become part of a larger system, according to Vaught.
In April 2012, TCRH announced a merger with Duke LifePoint, a move that would drastically improve the hospital’s ability to provide quality healthcare.
“We had to shift from being a standalone facility to part of a system — a move that we are happy to have made,” said Vaught.
He gestured towards the building as he spoke. “The future of this facility is vibrant. We’ve seen a lot of other facilities that were in the same situation that are now filing for bankruptcy. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be where we are now,” he said.
TCRH Chief Executive Officer Jon Applebaum has held his position for nearly seven years, and in that time he has seen some of the more dramatic changes that the facility has gone through, specifically with the merger.
“We’ve recruited several new physicians, we have added new services such as pain management services, and we’ve seen growth here with our employees,” he said, just to name off a few of the improvements that the hospital has seen over recent months.
Originally from the D.C. area, Applebaum was impressed by the warm welcome he received when he moved to the area. “I love the people here. It is the friendliest place on earth,” he said.
Applebaum was chosen from a pool of 100 other applicants. “During my time here, I’ve been most impressed with the caring staff. It is truly neighbors taking care of neighbors.”
According to Applebaum, TCRH has more than 600 employees, including the hospital staff, hospice, the Twin County Wellness Center, and other healthcare extensions and clinics.
Typically, the staff treats more than 100,000 patients a year. Of those, 24,000 are emergency visits, and 60,000 are outpatient visits.
More than 3,500 patients are hospitalized annually, and around 4,000 surgeries are performed each year.
Applebaum also noted that one of the greatest recent accomplishments was establishing TCRH as a primary stroke facility, something that staff has wanted for the community for many years.
Mayor C.M. Mitchell, a pharmacist at the hospital, was present the day the new facility opened. “They had moved the pharmacy over here from Waddell. All of the drugs were over here. Then all of the patients were transported here from both facilities. Everyone was very excited about the new building,” he said.
Infection Control Specialist Martha Easter has worked for the hospital since it opened, and worked at Waddell for one year prior to that. On Saturday, she described what the hospital looked like 40 years ago. “It was beautiful. Everything was up-to-date, it was clean and modern. It was a privilege to move into the new facility.”
Over the years, Easter has moved through several jobs within the hospital, beginning as a nursing supervisor and working her way up. To this day, one of her favorite things about her job is the ability to form positive relationships with her patients, which they tend to remember years after their treatment. “I still see patients when I’m out in the community, and they remember what I did for them — it is a wonderful feeling,” she said.
The next best thing, she added, is working alongside other staff members. “The staff at Twin County Hospital, I believe that their hearts are all in the right place. They are good people that do good work.”
Not only does the staff at TCRH remember their contributors, but the community also keeps the memory alive for many of the doctors that have passed through the hallways over the years. “I’ve seen many doctors come and go, and we truly have had some of the most brilliant physicians work here,” said Ruth Ann Lewis, former vice president of human resources, and a member of the Twin County Advisory Board for Home Health.
An example of local tributes to these doctors is The Doctor’s Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in downtown Galax with rooms named after some of the city’s most prominent physicians in local history, including Dr. Bolen, Dr. Bowie, Dr. Cox, Dr. Dannelly and Dr. Waddell.
Dr. Juan F. Rios, a member of the original staff, remembered when several of the hospital’s physicians were sent to Vietnam during the war. “During that time, I was in charge of the operating room, and I worked on patients with broken bones, things like that,” he said. “But many of the physicians were taken away, because they needed medical experts in Vietnam because of the war.”
Rios is now retired from his practice and is enjoying his free time. He spent 30 years working for the hospital and as a medical examiner on crime scenes. “There would be nights where I would get called out at 3 or 4 in the morning. You always had to be ready,” he said. “It was very different, but I enjoyed it,” he said.
Although further information about what will happen next for the facility will not be announced until January, Applebaum confirmed that the hospital will receive interior renovations, the CT scanner and MRI systems will be replaced and seven new physicians will be joining the team.
“Our future looks bright. We are celebrating 40 years today, and we are looking forward to many more decades to come,” he said.
TCRH thanked the Galax Volunteer Fire Department and the Arts Council of the Twin Counties for assisting in the celebration, along with The Church Sisters for providing music.
• For more information about TCRH, visit www.tcrh.org.