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Effingham Health System kicks off 50th anniversary celebration
During an Oct. 16 celebration, Mose Mock, a member of the Effingham Health System Board of Directors, discusses the hospital's role in his son's recovery. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD — Health care has made rapid strides in the last 50 years and Effingham Health System (EHS) has kept the pace.

EHS kicked off a string of jubilee year celebrations in its atrium Oct. 16 by having supporters recount tales from the past.

"This event is one of many over the next year that will celebrate the history of this hospital, the vision of people in this community and Effingham Health System's ongoing transformational journey," said Fran Baker-Wit, EHS CEO.

The hospital opened Aug. 25, 1969, when Georgia House District 161 Rep. Bill Hitchens was a trooper with the Georgia State Patrol.

"I thank my lucky stars for Effingham Hospital and the people who had the vision years ago to build this facility and watch it grow," he said. 

Hitchens is amazed at how far the hospital and health care have advanced during the last five decades.

"Many times I came into this emergency room when people had been involved in accidents," Hitchens said. "It's hard for people to imagine today but we had no ambulances in the county back then. The funeral homes came to pick up accident victims."

Hitchens, a Vietnam War veteran, transported injured people, too.

"I had a pretty good sense of when people were in dire straits," he said, "so many times I wrapped them in blankets and threw into the backseat of the car and brought them to the hospital myself."

Hitchens said the hospital had only two doctors. The county's population at the time was approximately 13,000.

Hitchens had a need for the hospital five years after it opened when his three-year-old son became dangerously ill. He started convulsing and his temperature reached 107 degrees.

The doctor reduced the boy's fever by placing him in a tub of ice and rubbing him down with alcohol.

"(The doctor) probably saved his life," Hitchens said.

Eventually, his son underwent a tonsillectomy despite his young age.

"Effingham County Hospital did him well," Hitchens said. 

Hitchens added that the hospital's impact extends beyond the medical realm.

"I've always been impressed with the fact that it has been such an impact on the community — economically," he said. "People don't move to an area anymore unless they have health care."

Hitchens also mentioned that the hospital is one of the county's top employees. It has more than 400 workers.

"This has been a great community asset and it's been great to my family," he said. "I tore up a knee a couple of years ago and the orthopedic surgeon sent me up here. I was the first person to go on the MRI.

"When I took it back to my orthopedic surgeon, he said, 'That is the clearest MRI."

"So that is just a testament to our state-of-the-art equipment ...," Baker-Witt said while thanking Hitchens for his remarks.

Baker-Witt turned the floor over to Patricia Ann Yarbrough, chairman of the EHS Board of Directors and a freshman in high school when the hospital opened. She gave the audience a taste of what the nation was like in 1969.

"Richard Nixon was president, America's favorite car was the Chevy Camaro, the top song was 'Sugar, Sugar' by The Archies and the movie 'Oliver' won best picture," she said. 

Yarbrough then recognized the founding members of the Effingham Hospital Authority — B. Frank Arnsdorff, L.W. Bonds, Frank Brinson, J. Durelle, Hagin, C. Edward Helmey, Lacey Hinely, Lou Dean Hinely and C. Murray Knight.

"They were businessmen, they were farmers, veterans, teachers and civic leaders," Yarbrough said. "They were united in their vision that this community needed to build a hospital to provide health care for its residents."

Yarbrough expounded on the hospital's growth, explaining it started with 75 employees. Its original building was only one-third the size of the space it uses today, she said.

"The hospital was so proud that it had a telephone and a TV in every room. Today, it is Wi-Fi. You must have Wi-Fi," she said.

Yarbrough said the hospital's emergency rooms treats more than 18,000 people per year. She also touted its cancer center, on-staff pediatrician, robotic surgery, telemedicine and partnerships that make a wide variety of specialty care available.

Yarbrough said the hospital's vision hasn't changed even though technology has.

Mose Mock, a current hospital board member, has personal knowledge that EHS is on the cutting edge. It helped cure his son of a deadly form of cancer.

"This hospital is such a godsend to this community," he said.

Mock's family has used the facility since its inception. When he was 13, he rode a horse to it to see his sick grandfather.

"I tied him up out back," Mock joked.

Mock spent more time talking about hospital's future than it's past. He thanks the hospital's staff for its work, especially Baker-Witt.

"We have a real visionary here that is going to carry us into the future," he said.

Baker-Witt thank the staff and more for their support.

"There are many of you in this room who have helped us keep the vision alive — doctors, nurses, staff, volunteers and community leaders," she said. "And, more importantly, you are the people that we serve."