For years, 49-bed McDowell Hospital in Marion, N.C., was a facility that people would go out their way to avoid. Residents of the town and surrounding rural area in the far western part of the state would more likely drive 35 miles to 744-bed Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C.
The reasons McDowell was spurned included long lines for treatment, a shabby facility, outdated equipment, and a well-deserved reputation for subpar quality of care and dismal customer service, says McDowell's new CEO Lynn Boggs. The hospital had been operating in the red for years and was on the brink of closure in the mid-2000s. It was saved only through an acquisition in 2004 by Mission Health, the owner of its main rival, Mission Hospital. The health system invested $22 million over seven years to cover operating and capital costs, including new technology.
Even Harold Walker, 60, a member of the not-for-profit hospital's board from 1998 to 2002 who returned to the board in 2010 and served as chairman until the end of 2013, said he avoided using McDowell when his sons were born in the late 1970s. Walker, a lifelong resident of the community, said he couldn't trust that the staff would be able to provide the care his wife would need if something went wrong.
Walker's background is in banking, having held several senior positions during his 28-year tenure at First Citizens Bank in Marion, including his current role as market executive. Before First Citizens, he worked for 10 years at another bank in Marion. Between his banking background and the fact that he had been in the community all of his life, Walker said he believed he knew how to help transform McDowell Hospital into a better healthcare provider.