A hospital remembered

The front cover of the R.J. Reynolds Patrick County Memorial Hospital Inc. Book of Memory, which includes the names of those who contributed to the fundraising campaign to build the hospital. (By Debbie Hall)

A grassroots community effort pushed a fundraising effort to build the local hospital, and that community involvement is needed to save it, according to some Patrick officials.

The most recent version of the facility, known as the Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick, shuttered in September, after company officials filed bankruptcy in 2016.

“History has repeated itself,” said Crystal Harris, who represents the Smith River District on the Patrick County Board of Supervisors.

She said she hopes residents realize the hospital’s importance and support efforts to ensure it remains viable to potential owners, as proposed emergency legislation to extend a license for the Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick works its way through the General Assembly.

Harris recalled the facility’s humble beginnings.

“I hope people understand that the people of Patrick County built this hospital. Our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors paid for it with their money, however much they could afford,” Harris said.

She recalled that in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Board of Directors of Patrick Memorial Hospital launched a $600,000 campaign to build a new hospital.

At inception, the hospital was intended to replace the Stuart Hospital, a two-story building that once occupied the present day property of SunTrust Bank. That hospital was owned and operated by Dr. W.C. Akers, according to previous accounts. Akers provided room and board for his staff in the upstairs portion of the building. Akers’ son, a dentist, also practiced in the building.

The fate of that hospital following Akers death in the late 1950s is unknown, however according to undated brochures and other materials signaling the start of a fundraising campaign for what would later become the R.J. Reynolds Patrick County Memorial Hospital, the county was facing “the critical situation of not having a hospital.”

Plans at the time called for the hospital to provide 30 beds, with services that included radiology and maternity, with room in all departments for future expansions.

“Because of the complex nature of hospital construction, building costs are high,” the material stated. Federal funds administered by Virginia were available to help provide needed facilities, according to the literature, which noted the locality was asked to “raise a minimum of $300,000 through public subscription and the Federal Government will more than  match  it  with  55” percent of the total cost.

Donors were encouraged to “Consider this as a once in a lifetime investment … for you, your family and your neighbors,” the material stated, and noted that “generous and sacrificial giving” would be required to raise the minimum needed.

Literature suggested pledges could be fulfilled over 36 months, with monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annual contributions.

Also included were plans to help residents determine their fair share. Those who chose the first plan gave $1 per week for 150 weeks; those who selected the second donated 70-cents per week for 150 weeks; and under a third plan, contributors set the amount and length of time they wished to give, literature showed.

Harris recalled that in addition to contributing, many businesses and companies also agreed to withhold the weekly amount pledged by employees. After the money was deducted from their paycheck, it was placed in a special fund earmarked for the hospital.

The campaign also attracted donations from outside the county, with many from Martinsville and Henry County included in the list of contributors to fulfill their pledged obligations.

The new hospital opened in December 1962, according to a Dec. 20, 1962 edition of “The Enterprise.” At the time, six patients were transferred by ambulance from the old hospital to the new one. Patients listed in the new hospital were Dallas Pilson, Mrs. Mandy Hooker, Mrs. Lurah Cockram, Claude Edgar Booth, Mrs. Lelia Handy, Mrs. Sarah Pendleton, Earnest Scott, Mrs. James F. Gilbert and son – John Galen Gilbert, who was the first baby born in the new facility. Cephus Rorrer was discharged, according to the report.

Names of donors who contributed to the fundraising campaign are inscribed in the R.J. Reynolds Patrick County Memorial Hospital Inc. Book of Memory, a heavy volume with pages made of bronze.

Initially, the book was displayed in the hospital lobby, but through the years and various owners, it was relegated to a shelf in a little used room, Harris said. It now is in a secure location.

”I call this the hospital’s ‘Book of Life,’” she said while perusing the nearly 11 pages inscribed with donor names.

“We’re in a terrible situation again. I hope we can save the hospital,” Harris said while running her hand over the last page of names. “We owe it to the people.”


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