Jackson General Hospital celebrates 50 years

RIPLEY - The letter said that a town meeting had been called for December 3, 1958. The meeting was to be held at the Gilmore High School Auditorium in Sandyville at 7 p.m. sharp. After all, the addition of a hospital to Jackson County was a tremendous undertaking, but one worth the effort.

The letter was distributed locally to area businesses and citizens within the county. The purpose of the meeting was to give Jackson Countians a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about a 40-bed medical facility being erected on area grounds.

The letter's sender was the Ripley Junior Women's Club. According to Jackson Herald archives, it was the Junior Women's Club that first brought the idea for a Jackson County Hospital to the public
Jeanne Hunter, the club's Committee Chairman, signed the charter with Attorney Burton Crow present that officially brought the dream to life in March of 1960.

Secretary of State Joe F. Burdette presented the charter to Hunter as recognition for her dedication to bring the project forward.

The charter included signatures from area physicians that included; Dr. E.D. Staats, Dr. R.C. Starcher, Dr. C.R. Kessel, Dr. James S. Kessel, Dr. D.G. Simmons, Dr. J. Howard Smith, Dr. C.W. Vineyard, Dr. Wendell E. Casto and R.C. Lester.

State, county and local officials had signed the charter along with citizens of Jackson County. The show of support for an area hospital was instrumental in the continued drive for the facility.

The next step was funding. The Hill-Burton Act of 1946 responded to the first of President Harry Truman's proposals and was designed to provide federal grants and guaranteed loans to improve the physical plan of the nation's hospital system.
Money was designated to the states to achieve 4.5 beds per 1,000 people. The states allocated the available money to their various municipalities.
Hill-Burton was to provide up to $400,000 for the project upon site approval for the facility.
State Health Commissioner, Dr. N.H. Dyer told the Jackson Herald in 1960 that Jackson County had been an area of interest for a new medical facility but that the interest had grown with a public plea from the Ripley Junior Women's club, led by Jeanne Hunter.
Gene Casto was recruited as the Director and responsible for raising a matching $400,000 to accompany the already secured Hill-Burton grant. Casto was known locally as a keen planner, organizer and fundraiser in the community.
"This is by far the most important task I have ever undertaken," he told the Jackson Herald in March 1960. He added, "I would be reluctant but I know the need for hospital service in the area."

Suddenly, a visit to the Glass Door or Ravenette restaurants in Ravenswood and a grocery shop at Big R in Ripley immediately led to conversations regarding the location of the new facility.
Mann Farm, located west of Ripley just 1,000 feet off of I-77 was the early favorite according to locals at the time. The seven-acre farm was one of the locations investigated by a firm of engineers hired to select the right spot for the facility.
Chatter became reality when it was announced publicly in April, 1960 that the Mann Farm was indeed the location recommended by engineers.

In the meantime, Casto's fund-raising efforts were applauded as local banks contributed as much as $5,000 and Kaiser aluminum of Ravenswood gave $50,000 to bring the fundraising close to the preset goal. Funds from Hill-Burton were confirmed in the amount of $492,000.
Payment plans were set up for individuals who wanted to contribute in three installments over a period of time. The program was successful and most of the commitments were honored.
The Ripley Junior Women's Club donated $500 and perhaps more importantly, 250 hours of service to the hospital from its members.
A loan was secured through the Housing and Home Financing agency to secure final funding after a total cost of $1.015 million dollars was estimated for the project.

A minor snag in the deed for the Mann Farm, which was now titled to the hospital association, was corrected when it was discovered that a previous owner, C.F. Myers still held part of the Mineral rights to the land. Myers had a deed written to effectively donate the entirety of his 50% share of the rights to the hospital.
By the conclusion of 1962, funding was secured and it was released that the new facility would employ over 60 people initially with volunteers assisting with the launching of Jackson General Hospital.
In January of 1963, Architect Harry Nay and Higginbotham Construction Company (Charleston) were given clearance to break ground on the facility. A 500-working day time frame was offered by Nay. Ripley's Wayatt Construction Company was also involved in the project.
By the end of the summer of 1963, the sub structure of the hospital had been completed and reports were stating that 25 percent of construction was complete.

Harold Carney of Ripley made history when he was admitted as the first patient of Jackson General Hospital on November 19, 1964.

On staff in 1964 were three distinguished physicians in Dr. Ali Morad, Dr. James Kessel and Dr. Ernesto Joseff. All three would still be actively on staff to see the hospital's expansion in 1988. (see expansion)
Perhaps no other physicians have left an impressionable stamp on Jackson General Hospital Like Dr. Morad and Dr. James Hughes. The Morad-Hughes Health Center bears their names today.
Morad, a skilled surgeon was at JGH from day one. He even served as a temporary administrator in 1966 until one could be named.

His compassion and dedication to the community is still unmatched, and he is beloved by those who know him.
With his impressive credentials including training in Iran and then at Ohio State University and Johns Hopkins, Morad had many offers including the one at a prestigious Chicago hospital. But in the end, he said he was led to Jackson County and Jackson General Hospital, near his wife Carolyn's family in the Charleston area.

It was a decision he has never regretted. The Morads raised their three children here, and Morad went on to practice medicine here for 37 years. He retired on July 1, 2001.
Dr. Morad chronicled his career and life in Jackson County in his book, A Surgeon's Incredible Life Journey: A Memoir.

By late summer of 1964 with construction deadlines in plain site, Hospital Director Robert Smith was pleased to announce the arrival of surgeon William McClung of Charleston.

McClung was widely respected in his field and began the process of moving his family to Ripley. McClung was a Marshall University graduate who was raised in Richwood. McClung's father, brother and uncle were physicians and his mother a nurse.

Around this time in 1966, the hospital qualified for Medicare, a major step in further development.
In July of 1967, Dr. Kessel successfully recruited a young doctor named James Hughes. Hughes was raised in nearby Spencer and attended medical school in Morgantown and at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia. He served two years in the military as a Navy flight surgeon.

Dr. Hughes was also being recruited in Charleston but never connected with the Capital City.
"At the time, there was no interstate and it was terribly hard to get from one facility to another. I really had no desire to practice in Charleston," said Hughes.

Hughes remembers the moment that he knew he had made the right decision to come to Jackson General.
"I recall sitting in the Jackson General cafeteria and realizing that it just felt like home to me." Home it was. Hughes remained until his retirement in 2002 at 69 years old.

Dr. Hughes looks to the development of the intensive cardiac care unit and full time emergency room personnel as major milestones for JGH.

Dr. Hughes is a pioneer for Jackson County. His fingerprints are all over the hospital and his youthful spirit and love of the community carry on today.

"Ripley is still a great place to raise children and I have many fond memories of those years," concluded Hughes.

THE 1970's
With Kaiser Aluminum providing its employees with 100 percent medical coverage and employer-provided healthcare at its peak, Jackson General Hospital grew exponentially. Industry-wide advances in medical technology and emergency care developing nationwide, JGH remained a respected medical facility that saw growth in the future.

The hospital struggled in the early 1980's as many did during that era. In 1988, after nearly three decades of continual growth, it was time for expansion. Jeanne Hunter, president of the Jackson General Hospital Board of Directors, announced in May of 1988 that an expansion program was in place to the tune of $2.9 million.
The project was set to break ground later that summer was to include one large surgical wing and an intensive care area. The space used for surgical purposes in the past would become an expansive radiology department.
Funds were acquired via a FMHA grant and monies gathered via the Jackson General Foundation, a new fundraising organization for the hospital.

By the late 1980's, the Jackson General Hospital pharmacy had become as cutting edge as any hospital pharmacy in West Virginia. The facility became a preceptor for the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy. This honor would allow students in their last year of pharmacy school to meet the academic requirement of logging real time in a hospital atmosphere.

In 1990, the hospital boasted 25 physicians on staff and 215 employees providing around the clock care 365 days per year. Today, JGH offers many services including:
emergency care
ear nose and throat
family practice
general surgery
internal medicine
physical therapy
respitory therapy
and more
In 2014, Jackson General Hospital continually strives to become the mid-Ohio Valley's "healthcare provider of choice" by becoming a Center of Excellence. Comprised of affiliated physician practice groups, JGH is a network of over 50 providers and more than 300 employees serving the healthcare needs of the residents of Jackson County and surrounding communities.

JGH remains a leader in the community for today and tomorrow.

The JGH Board of Directors are as follows:

 Chair:  Gareth Smith

Vice Chair:  Rob Fisher

Secretary:  Dr. James Gaal, Chief of Staff

Treasurer:  John Gorrell

Tom Weyer

Dr. James Hughes

Keith Rake

Becky Scarberry

Todd Ritchie

Senator Mitch Carmichael

Lee Corder

Naoma Fisher

Luke Hunter

Debbie Sisson

Dick Waybright

Ellen Goodwin (Emeritus Status)

William Schindler (Emeritus Status)

Jeanne Hunter (Emeritus Status)

NOTE: The Jackson General Hospital Foundation will celebrate 50 years of service and dedication to the community on Saturday as they invite you to participate in their Golden Jubilee Gala.
You will be able to travel back in time, as a display of items related to the history of JGH will be on display as well as items highlighted from the personal scrapbook of Jeanne Hunter.

The event will be held at the Jackson County Armed Forces Reserves Center and there are limited tickets still available. Social hour begins at 6 p.m. followed by the event at 7 p.m. There will be DJ services on hand and entertainment will be provided by the Santa Cruz Band. Special awards presentations are scheduled. Please call 304-372-2731 for more information on tickets and corporate sponsorships.

There are six levels of sponsorship available and your contribution is tax deductable. Please direct inquiries to Rhonda Davis.