Health Team

WakeMed celebrates half century of service

Posted April 21, 2011 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2011 7:47 p.m. EDT

— WakeMed Hospital is celebrating half a century of medical care. The county opened the Wake Memorial Hospital in 1961 on New Bern Avenue.

Two years after the hospital opened, Betty McGee, fresh out of nursing school, started working in maternal care.

“The floor was so shiny,” McGee said.

Before the county established Wake Memorial, St. Agnes Hospital at St. Augustine's College was the only institution in the area to accept black patients.

“I remember when we put our first black and white patient together in labor and delivery and that was really an interesting situation and I welcomed it,” McGee said.

McGee remembers, at first, Wake Memorial had trouble getting more doctors to come to work there, and speculated that the integration of patients may have been a reason.

She remembers seeing opposition to the practice, but said everyone who worked at Wake Memorial was committed to making it work and serving the patients well.

The hospital also was a leader in establishing satellite ambulatory care centers around the county. The centers were later transformed for other uses.

“It’s interesting. Fifty years later, those are the same sites we're going back to for building free-standing emergency departments today,” WakeMed President and CEO Bill Atkinson said.

Now a private, not-for-profit health system, WakeMed opened the first open-heart center in Wake County, the first neonatal intensive care center and the first and only trauma center. It has also opened one of only a handful of mothers' milk banks in the country.

It all began with a mission to serve people in the immediate area.
“In things like cardiac care, about 60 percent of patients seen here in the state’s busiest heart hospital … come from outside Wake County,” Atkinson said.

While many things have changed, McGee said her style of care hasn’t.

“In caring for a patient, you never lose sight of human touch, to let them know they're more important than any of the machinery you're dealing with,” she said.

WakeMed is planning celebrations of its 50th anniversary on May 12 and 13.