Evidence of the Campbellton-Graceville Hospital’s recent financial problems was nowhere in sight last Sunday, August 24. With one of the founding medical doctors in attendance, Dr. William W. Richardson, 90, the hospital celebrated its 50th year of service to the residents of northwestern Jackson County at the same location at which it was established, 5429 College Drive in Graceville. The crowd of hospital staff and administrators together with many retired medical personnel and area residents was sizable but it wasn’t as large as the first crowd that turned out for the Sunday, Aug. 2, 1964, dedication and opening. The late Circuit Judge Robert L. McCrary was the master of ceremonies at that event in which more than 500 guests attended, according to hospital records. The non-profit publicly-owned (like Jackson Hospital) 24-bed facility had been created by a recent act of the state Legislature, including the area’s state Senator Robert Williams, who was present at the 1964 event along with then-US Rep. Don Fuqua.
Dr. and Mrs. W. W. Richardson were at the 1964 event, with Mrs. Richardson cutting the ribbon. Dr. Richardson, now somewhat more alone and in a wheelchair, was at last week’s 50th Anniversary as well. He received a standing ovation from the crowd as Dr. Steve Davis presented him with a plaque honoring his years in Graceville and lifelong work. “He taught so many new doctors and nurses,” Davis said, “and changed so many patients’ lives. And Dr. Richardson wasn’t the only original employee of the hospital to attend the 50th; also present were Loma Hodges, Penny Williams, Johnny Thomas and Bonnie Myrick. Loma Hodges was the first director of nursing. It was reported last week in the Graceville News that the “original cost of a private room with a shower and bath was $18 per day, with the cost of a semi-private room being $12 per day.” The 29,527 sq.ft. facility was constructed at an estimated cost of just $500,000, the newspaper said.
It was feared earlier this year that Campbellton-Graceville Hospital might have to close its doors, ending up with what has been estimated at from $500,000 to $1 million in debt, mostly to Medicare. Longtime Administrator Jimmy Rigsby abruptly resigned on March 6. Reportedly under Rigsby, the hospital ran up unpaid payroll taxes to the IRS and a half-million in overpayments from Medicare. Since former C-G Hospital Administrator H. D. Cannington was rehired at a moderate salary by the board of trustees during the March 26 board meeting at the behest of member Pat Pelham and others, he has tried to arrange bank loans to pay off the debt, as Medicare officials reportedly are demanding more immediate recompense. Cannington was administrator for years during the 1990s. Pelham has offered to do anything, including “cutting the grass, if necessary” to save costs and save the hospital.
And clearly, the community appears determined to keep Campbellton-Graceville Hospital as alive as its patients. So far, the institution has not had to lay off a large number of its 90 employees, but pay surgery is still on the table. Interim Administrator Vanessa McCroan appealed to the state Legislature earlier this year in a still-continuing process. Board member Linda Wheatley began a meeting last March with a prayer to God; she was quoted as saying, “With your guidance, I as well as others, know that some way will be found to keep our hospital open. “
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