Mocksville hospital served community well

Published 9:42 am Thursday, March 30, 2017

In early April, Wake Forest Baptist Health-Davie Medical Center’s new 50-bed inpatient wing will open in Bermuda Run.

Several former and current employees and Mocksville residents recently shared their memories of the original Davie County Hospital, which Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has operated since 2002.

Lee Coble was scared when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1973.

But Coble, former director of medical records for Davie County Hospital, said she felt reassured knowing her care was in the hands of Dr. Francis Slate. Coble began working at Davie County Hospital shortly after it opened in 1956, and she knew Slate since he arrived in 1958.

Coble’s surgery was a success, and she was back at work in just four weeks. Days later, Slate approached her with a request. Would she be willing to provide support to a woman facing the same diagnosis?

Even today, Coble’s eyes glisten when recalling that first breast cancer patient she spoke with, a woman who was as scared as Coble had been weeks earlier. Over the years, Coble continued her voluntary role as a breast cancer “patient navigator” in an era long before that role became popular.

As Slate recalls, he knew Coble had the right personality to help others in the same predicament. In fact, it was second nature to many Davie County Hospital employees to do what needed to be done to serve the community.

For example, in the era before hospitals had their own blood bank, Slate had to think quickly when a patient needed a transfusion after losing a lot of blood during a hysterectomy. Realizing he and his patient had the same blood type, Slate had a pint of his own blood drawn to help in her recovery.

Such memories reflect Davie County Hospital’s unique place in a small community—and the important role its employees played from the start. Even today, more than 60 years after it opened, people are intensely loyal to the hospital in Mocksville.

Michael Crumby, R.N., began working at Davie Medical Center in Mocksville in 2012, just after graduating from nursing school in Mississippi.

“Over the years, this place has been a really great resource for the community,” Crumby said. “It provided a lot of people with jobs and with health care close to home. We involved the patient and family in their care decisions, and when you do that, you really see patient health improve.”

Crumby said he feels fortunate to work alongside so many longtime employees because he can see the passion they have for Mocksville and the hospital.

“It has been interesting to hear their stories. A lot of them were born in this hospital,” he said.

As early as 1947, trust money from the estate of George T. Brown, president of Brown-Williamson Tobacco Co., was earmarked for Davie County to have its own hospital. It was a bold move, as the county population at the time was about 15,000, and Mocksville, the county seat, had fewer than 2,000 residents.

Planning for a 30-bed hospital began in earnest in 1953, five years before construction of I-40. The hospital admitted its first patient on March 1, 1956. At the time, it cost a mere $12 a day for a private hospital room and $9 for a semi-private room.

An expansion in 1965 added 29 beds and a new operating suite. A second expansion in 1974 increased the licensed bed total to 81, added an obstetrics department, and expanded radiology and laboratory space.

Sharon Ann Dyson joined Davie County Hospital in 1986 as a certified nursing assistant, the same role her mother once held with the hospital. Such connections at the hospital were common over the years.

“My mother worked here for 25 years or more. My sister worked here. It was a family-oriented hospital where everybody had family who worked here,” she said. “And everybody’s babies were born here.”

Perhaps no one exemplifies Davie County Hospital more than Dr. Slate, who arrived in Mocksville one snowy evening in December 1958. Slate’s father had been born in Stokes County, but had been sent to manage a mission printing press in Cape Town, South Africa, which is where Slate was born, raised and attended medical school.

When townspeople learned that a physician had been hired from South Africa, some made jokes about having a “witch doctor” as the new surgeon.

Slate still chuckles about the story because, as with any tall tale, there is a bit of truth involved. Slate formerly worked in a mission hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he once had a witch doctor arrive for treatment of congestive heart failure. Unfortunately, Slate says, the witch doctor died before he could share any “secrets.”

Slate worked at the hospital for more than 35 years, performing thousands of operations, everything from broken limbs to cancer surgeries. He said he welcomed everything that came his way—be it surgery or, as it turned out, small town politics.

Slate hadn’t been in Mocksville long before a state senator asked him to run for county coroner. His two terms as coroner were followed by multiple terms as a county commissioner, town board member and, finally, 18 years as mayor of Mocksville.

Slate stepped down as mayor in November 2015 having never lost an election.

Slate, 95, lives in the same ranch home on Main Street in Mocksville that he built in 1960 with his wife of 69 years, Daphne.

A gentle, soft-spoken man who still speaks with a South African accent, Slate said the opportunity to serve his community went hand in hand with the opportunity to serve area residents as a surgeon. Davie County Hospital thrived, he said, because of the quality of care given by all who worked there—doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers.

“Even people from outside of Davie County would come to Mocksville because they heard we had good results,” Slate said. “The hospital has been a vital part of the town of Mocksville.”

In the 1990s, a changing health care landscape and focus on outpatient services led to a severe decline in admissions. Davie County officials needed partners to continue operating the hospital.

In 2002, Wake Forest Baptist signed a management agreement to operate the hospital and vowed to always maintain a hospital presence in Davie County, a pledge that townspeople and officials appreciated. Even as plans advanced for the modern new hospital in Bermuda Run, Wake Forest Baptist opened family medicine and pediatrics practices and an urgent care center in Mocksville.

Wake Forest Baptist also helped with the conversion of some of the old Mocksville hospital space into a medical training center for Davidson County Community College.

In August 2015, the Davie Hospital Foundation gave $146,000 to the community college to support surgical technology and central sterile processing training programs. Since that time, students have been trained in the old hospital, and some could eventually be employed at the new Davie Medical Center inpatient wing.

Although the future of the rest of the old hospital building is still being determined, nearly all of the Mocksville employees still working there will be shifting to the new building.

Crumby, for example, will be a nurse in the new joint replacement surgery unit.

“The community should be proud to transition from one fully functioning hospital to a new state-of-the-art facility where people can receive the continuing care they need,” he said.