Wilkes Regional Medical Center officials, staff members and supporters gathered Thursday at the hospital to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the facility, the expansion of the emergency department, and the official opening of the new Heart Center, which is located adjacent to the emergency department.
The hospital opened in early May 1952, but the celebration was delayed until most of the construction work had been completed.
Work is nearing completion on the $9.97 million emergency room expansion. When completed, the department will grow from 18 to 28 exam/treatment rooms. The expansion added 9,500 square feet of floor space to the hospital.
“We are gathering together to celebrate not only our rich 60-year history but to celebrate the building of a bright, growth-filled future in the delivery of emergency medicine and cardiology services to the people of our region.” said Gene Faile, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer.
“I want to thank all of those who worked so hard to make this a reality. That includes The Health Foundation, which headed up the fund-raising campaign, and all of those who donated.”
The fund-raising campaign is still under way. Much of the money to finance the project was borrowed by the hospital through an arrangement with Wake Forest Baptist Health.
“We are proud to be a part of this project and to stand behind the hospital,” said Heather Murphy, the executive director of the foundation. “We are fortunate to have generous supporters who believe in the hospital and its future.”
Faile also thanked “our hospital board, administrative staff, our doctors and nurses, our support associates and our hospital auxiliary for a team effort that will improve our effort to meet the area’s health care needs.”
Golden LEAF Presentation
As part of the ribbon cutting ceremony, Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, presented Wilkes Regional with a symbolic check for $184,000. The money was used to purchase equipment and telemetry for the hospital expansion.
The Golden LEAF grant was awarded in April.
“This is all about economic expansion,” he said. “A good hospital makes a community look better for companies that are considering new locations. This will help to attract new jobs to the community.”
Golden LEAF awards grants based on three priorities: agriculture, job creation and retention, and workforce preparedness.
Dr. William Scarpa Jr., board certified in cardiology and nuclear cardiology, and Dr. Julian Thomas, board certified in cardiology, have staffed the Heart Center of WRMC since it opened in June. The center is adjacent to the emergency department expansion.
“We wanted to be located at the hospital rather than at West Park so we could be close enough to the emergency room to be readily available to patients and provide care in a timely manner,” Dr. Scarpa told visitors to the center during tours Thursday. “This space was built with efficiency in mind.”
He noted that 70 percent of the care provided by the two specialists is on an outpatient basis.
The original emergency department at the hospital had only two beds and was located on the north side of the building. The department was moved to the ground floor and expanded to 12 beds in 1989. With minor renovation, five beds were added in 2004.
The construction in the department as part of the renovation and expansion project is now nearing completion. The work in the department should be completed by late this year.
All of the doctors on the emergency room staff are trained in emergency medicine.
The department now sees an average of 94 patients a day, and the “turn-around time” for either seeing or admitting a patient is 160 minutes.
The new emergency department is also equipped with a “telestroke robot,” which can put physicians and patients here in direct visual contact with stroke specialists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. This allows the physicians in Winston-Salem to better analyze and treat symptoms and decide on the next level of care that is needed.
Along with the expansion project, the hospital has converted to electronic medical records. Patient histories are kept and updated on computers which can be accessed from patient rooms, nurses’ stations, physicians’ offices and other remote locations.
Visitors were invited to write down their memories of the hospital during the tour. The notes will be placed in a time capsule that will be built on the hospital grounds.
The hospital staff and invited guests were served a barbecue lunch catered by Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery.
Serving since 1954
One person who has seen the growth of the hospital is Ruth Graham who began working as a private duty and relief nurse at Wilkes General in 1954. Later, she became assistant director of nursing and ultimately moved into the role of director of nursing. Since her retirement from the position in 1996, she has worked as a volunteer with the WRMC Auxiliary.
“I have seen many, many changes...and wonderful changes,” she said Thursday. “In addition to the new coronary care center, we have the telemetry unit, the birthing center and so many other improvements. We had a great hospital when I started here, but it’s no comparison to what we have here today.”