Paulette Edwards, who has worked at UCMH for more than 50 years, was the first to sign the beam, which will be the last put in place during construction of the new UCMH. (Erwin Record Staff Photos by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

On Thursday, Nov. 2, some of the most senior employees at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital (UCMH) took time out of their day to sign the final construction beam that will be placed on the new hospital that has been under construction since the groundbreaking ceremony on July 26 of this year.

Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) acquired UCMH in 2013, and has since worked diligently with local officials and stakeholders to ensure the completion of the new 40,000-square-foot facility, located at 2030 Temple Hill Road, which is expected to be completed in fall of 2018. 

“This is a very exciting thing. This will be the final beam that will be placed on the new hospital next week. You guys are kicking this off, and this is a big deal,” Corey Paulson, director of Marketing and Communications, Southeast Market for MSHA, told the UCMH employees. “You all have spent a lot of years at this hospital and have loved it and taken great care of it. We thank you so much for your loyalty and your commitment.”

A total of 11 hospital staff members, all of whom have been employees at the hospital for at least a decade, participated in signing the beam before the rest of the staff was given the chance to later on in the week.

The beam was signed by the following employees: Christine Lloyd who has worked at UCMH for 27 years and works with long-term care; Debra Randolph who has worked there for 17.5 years and works with food service; Gail Buchanan who has worked there for 32.5 years and is with environmental services; Diane Miller who has worked there for 21 years and is with environmental services; Lesa Buchanan who has worked there for 26 years and is with patient access; Elaine Frazier who has worked there for 36 years and is with patient access; Michelle Buchanan who has worked there for 36 years and is with materials management; Gary Peterson who has been there for 32 years and is with engineering; Susan Hensley who has worked there for 26 years and works in the emergency room; Jerome Jackson who has worked there for 29 years and is the manager for respiratory services; and Paulette Edwards who has worked there for over 50 years and works in materials management.

“More than anything we’re just excited,” Paulson said. “In about a year from now we will be moving into the new facility, and I truly hope you all are excited for it. It may be a bit of a bittersweet moment, but just know that you all had a hand in this.”

Paulette Edwards has been an employee of UCMH since 1964, and her position with materials management requires her to take care of all of the department supply needs by stocking anything the doctors may need in order to ensure everything runs smoothly when they meet with patients.

She works closely with long-term care and ensures the efficiency of the hospital by carefully managing inventory, refilling crash carts, and procuring items such as blood pressure cuffs and medications.

“I loved it from the beginning,” said Edwards. “I feel like we have done something special, and when I say ‘we’ I mean I have really worked with a lot of special people in the past.

“This is just the number one place for me to be, and I felt like we were doing something good. You have people’s lives in your hands with this job.”

Some of her fondest memories involve working with different staff members as she has seen the hospital grow and change over the years. She says she has worked under some wonderful administrators and talented surgeons in her time at the hospital.

“I’ve seen it grow and change so much,” she said. “You kind of have to change as the world changes with medicare and insurance. We have a lot of really good people here at the hospital and in the community.”

Edwards expressed her excitement for getting everything set up once the new facility is completed. Once finished, the new facility will offer patients the same services offered by the current UCMH, which includes diagnostic imaging and laboratory services.

There will be updated equipment along with 20 beds – 10 for the hospital’s emergency room and 10 for inpatient services – as well as a 24-hour emergency department and inpatient acute-care services.

“I just never wanted to go anywhere else,” Edwards said. “I felt like this was the right place for me. I’ve never doubted what I’ve done. We work as a team to do the best that we can.”

As someone who has grown up in Erwin, Edwards sees the dedication of the UCMH staff as a reflection of the cohesiveness of the community as a whole.

“I love our little town,” she said. “It really is special here to me. It’s a great place to raise a family. We have a good school system, hospital, fire department … everything just runs so well. Everyone really works together, and that’s what it takes to manage a town.”