WESTFIELD — The Westfield Medical Center staff and board were joined by patients and community members Saturday afternoon for its annual business meeting and to help celebrate 40 years of service in the community.
The mood was festive as those in attendance prepared to enjoy hot dogs, snacks and drinks along with the music of the Tommy and Ellie Corns and Hersie McMillian. But the opening business meeting also highlighted a serious note to the day.
In his financial report, board Chairman Ken Shelton provided income and expenses for the previous 11 months. He noted that this included a two-week period last October when the center was forced to close due to the loss of a family nurse practitioner, followed by a four month period when the center was open on a part-time basis. The center has been open full time since March.
Shelton reported total income for the period as $222,829, including a specific grant of more than $54,000. Expenses for the same period totaled $229,409, leading to a loss of $6,580. He also noted the required implementation of an Electronic Medical Records program at a cost of some $17,000.
“Our staff squeezes every penny,” he said, while also noting the volunteer efforts of board members. “Medical care is a tough business. We’re operating on borrowed money. Unless we have the patients, we can’t survive.”
He estimated the required number of patients to “break even” at 18 to 20 per day. According to staff member Ashley Inman, the center sees about 10 patients daily.
“We knew there was a tremendous need when we came here,” Adult Nurse Practitioner Robin Gibson said. “But once we were in here, that’s when we realized just how needed this is for this community. We’re slowly growing, and we thank the community for their support, but we need time to dig out of this hole.”
“We’ve added 67 new patients since March,” noted Director of Clinic Operations Pam Hicks. “We’ve seen tremendous growth and we’ve seen this community come together. We just need a couple of years to get back where we were.”
Earlier in the meeting, charter WMC board member and first president Jack George had presented a brief history of the center. He began his review in the spring of 1973, with the creation of the NC Rural Health Services division of Facility Services in the Department of Human Resources.
According to George, the department had been designed to assist small towns and rural areas where low population densities, low incomes and a declining rural physician population had created a problem of inadequate medical care.
In September of 1973, Family Nurse Practitioner Dee Everhart, working with her husband, Dr. Carlton Everhart, began seeing patients on a part-time basis from a GMC camper parked at the old Westfield Volunteer Fire Station.
After receiving a request from the fire department for support in building and equipping a medical center, the state named Westfield as one of 10 sites where a rural health center would be established.
A 10-person board was named for the center and more than $17,000 was raised from surrounding communities. The Office of Rural Health provided an additional $50,000 for the purchase of land and the building and equipping of a facility. Adjoining lots were purchased from Lolene Hurchens and Glen Payne.
Gov. James Holshouser visited Westfield in August of 1974 to announce the building at the site of the sixth rural health center in North Carolina. Work was quickly completed and a formal dedication and opening was held on July 19, 1975.
“Here we are today,” George noted, “celebrating 40 years of service to the surrounding community of Westfield. If this facility and staff has saved one life, it has been worth all the hard work and dedication.”
“I can remember my parents bringing me here,” WMC board member Caroline Overby recalled, “and I brought my boys here. This is a way for me to support the community I call home.”
“I would ask that we spread the word about this awesome place,” board member B.J. Love added. “And I pray that it will continue on for many, many years to come.”