April 4, 2012

Hamilton Health Care System

From small community hospital to innovative health delivery system

Submitted by Hamilton Health Care System

— Hamilton Health Care System’s history began in 1919 when a worldwide flu epidemic shattered local complacency about the need for a hospital. The trip to Chattanooga was long and difficult at best, and too much for some. Under the listing for “Hospitals,” the Dalton city directory stated three simple words: “We need one.”

In the type of cooperative partnership that would be repeated over and over in the decades to come, the area’s largest employers, local doctors and area citizens came together to fill a community need.

Crown Cotton Mills, Elk Mills and several physicians donated property and funds for the new $75,000 hospital. Individuals and organizations furnished rooms. Hamilton Memorial Hospital, named for Crown Cotton Mills founder George W. Hamilton Sr., was dedicated May 21, 1921 — on National Hospital Day. At the time, the hospital, with its Spanish-style stucco finish and tile roof, faced north on Waugh Street between Pentz and Selvidge.

Six-hundred-and-three signed the guest register for the dedication, but a larger number, estimated at 1,000, toured the building. Guests walked across polished hardwood floors to inspect the furnished ward, one of four, and to visit patient rooms, a small dining room and kitchen. A freight-sized elevator next to the nurses’ station carried them to the second floor where they could view the operating room overlooking Waugh Street.

The hospital made clinical strides in the 1920s, adding a fully equipped X-ray room and new gas and oxygen equipment. To ensure a well-trained staff, it established a school for registered nurses in affiliation with Cincinnati General Hospital.


Then came the collapse of the stock market. On Oct. 24, 1929, known as “Black Monday,” the value of shares on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted. Dalton and the hospital weathered the initial shock, but as the nation entered the third decade of the century amid a deepening Depression, hospital conditions were worsening created by an increase of free care. In April 1934, the hospital was forced to close its doors due to a lack of funds.

The hospital stayed closed for 10 months, until efforts were made by the Civitan Club and Junior Chamber of Commerce to mobilize community support to reopen. After an agreement by the county and city to each provide $1,000 per year to cover uncompensated care, Hamilton reopened on March 4, 1935, as a nonprofit organization.

During the 10-month closing of the hospital, health care for the growing community of 14,000 was a challenge. Without the hospital’s operating room at their disposal, physicians were forced to perform some operations in their offices while referring complicated surgeries out of town. Predating the general practice of outpatient surgery by 40 years, the patient arrived at the local doctor’s office in the morning, underwent surgery and was sent home in an ambulance, still under the anesthetic’s effect. Accompanying the patient was a private-duty nurse who stayed as many days as needed in the home. Those requiring major emergency surgery were the most vulnerable. They faced a high-speed, life-or-death trip to Chattanooga or Rome.

The hospital reopened with a medical staff of 11 physicians and a lean staff of nine, comprised of a superintendent, operating room nurse, one combination lab technician and dietitian, one night nurse, two registered nurses (who earned a dollar a day plus room and board), one orderly, one cook and one maid. Major and minor operating room case fees were set at $12.50 and $7.50 respectively, and weekly medicine and dressing charges were set at $2 each.

Impact of war

The outbreak of World War II strained the staff at Hamilton. Physicians and nurses were called to service. The physicians remaining in the community had to scramble to cover medical and surgical cases. Mothers bringing their children to the doctor for well-baby checkups could expect half a day’s wait in a crowded office. As local physicians returned from serving in military hospitals in the states and abroad, the patient load became more manageable.

Still, Dalton’s growth was placing a heavy demand on medical facilities. Servicemen had returned, the baby boom had begun and the hospital was bursting at the seams. It was also becoming outdated. Built in 1921, the building belonged to another medical era. Once the pride of Dalton, Hamilton was beginning to look more like a rooming house than a modern hospital. Patients entering the unattended emergency room tapped a bell for service, and a siren would draw curious onlookers who camped on the lawn to watch the doctors working inside.

The hospital’s only elevator, a lurching freight elevator, was frequently out of service. There was no air conditioning, and screened windows were opened to catch the breeze. Soot from the boiler would settle in the rooms, and the smell of ether permeated the building.

A new building and a new administrator

In April 1947, groundwork was being laid for a new hospital building. Since the hospital had nowhere to grow on its present site, a spot was chosen on a hill covered in pines just north of the city limits, where it is today.

Since opening in 1921, Hamilton had operated without a full-time administrator, and with a larger, million-dollar-plus hospital under construction, a person with the skill to manage a growing and increasingly complex organization was needed.

Norman Burkett’s name was suggested. A South Georgia native, Burkett was familiar to people in the Dalton area as a pharmaceutical representative. He had called on local physicians and earned a reputation as a knowledgeable, hardworking and friendly person. He had since gone to work as administrator of the 25-bed Rockmart-Aragon Hospital near Cedartown. After interviewing, he was hired and reported to work on Oct. 15, 1954.

From the moment he arrived, Burkett was immersed in the building project. At the same time, he was launching initiatives on Waugh Street. In his first months on the job, he laid plans for national hospital accreditation (which was granted to Hamilton for the first time in June 1958); strengthened professional standards, from hiring the hospital’s first dietitian to establishing medical staff committees; encouraged a flow of donations to help furnish the new building; and generated excitement in the community about Hamilton and its prospects for the future.

Only four people have served as Hamilton’s president and CEO. They are Burkett (1954-1991), Ned Wilford (1991-2000), John Bowling (2000-2009) and Jeff Myers (2009 to the present).

The new hospital, which opened on Aug. 5, 1956, offered either semi-private rooms at an $11 daily rate or private rooms at a $15 daily rate. Each room offered piped oxygen, direct communications to the nurse, a telephone and an outlet for television. Each floor had its own nursing station and waiting room. There were two operating rooms, three stretchers in the emergency room, four beds in the labor room and 19 bassinets in the nursery. There was a quiet room for meditation and a cafeteria.

Five thousand people attended the dedication where 7th District Congressman Henderson Lanham of Rome, the featured speaker, praised the community’s support.

The following Friday morning, 45 patients moved from the old hospital to the new. Four funeral homes furnished ambulances to transport the patients, and one child, confined in traction to a bed, was moved in a freight truck.

Continued growth,

continuum of care

By the end of the 1960s, Hamilton could boast a physical plant valued at $3.5 million and an annual budget of the same amount. There were 332 full-time employees, 200 Red Cross volunteers and 40 physicians and dentists on the medical staff. Hamilton and the Dalton area were growing.

As the 1980s arrived, to preserve the hospital’s future, Hamilton officials decided to move from being a local hospital confined to services within its walls to a regional health system (now, Hamilton Health Care System) that provided a broad continuum of care. The arrangement allowed Hamilton to grow vertically as a health care system, spawning entities from an ambulance service to long-term-care facilities. To strengthen Hamilton’s position in the market, a name that better reflected its role as a regional provider was adopted: Hamilton Medical Center.

Championing wellness

In the mid-1980s, a focus of Hamilton officials was the concept of wellness. The wellness philosophy was embraced by respected senior physician Paul Bradley. Long an advocate of early detection, he was fascinated by a study that correlated wellness at the workplace with lowered medical costs for employees. He shared the study with Burkett, who became equally enthused about the potential of a hospital-based health promotion program.

The Whitfield Healthcare Foundation had also become a champion of the wellness cause, and foundation trustees voted to make construction of a wellness center its major fundraising goal. With the promise of foundation support, the boards of trustees approved the 54,000-square-foot project nestled on a rolling nine-acre site half a block from the hospital.

The wellness center would not just be a fitness center. It would include a modern rehabilitation department, an assessment area for fitness screening and a wide array of educational programs led by a highly-trained staff. It would contain a physician-monitored cardiac rehabilitation program along with classrooms, a resource library and a teaching kitchen. The ambitious project, opened in 1986, was named Bradley Wellness Center in honor of Bradley.

Total provider

As Hamilton entered the last decade of the century, Hamilton’s changing campus was evidence that it had become a comprehensive health system. The hospital itself had jumped Broadrick Drive in 1989 to add new cancer, outpatient-surgery and maternal and infant care centers, and it would grow again soon with expansion of the emergency department. At the edge of the campus on Thornton Avenue, Hamilton’s new outpatient diagnostics facility was taking shape, and half a block from the Medical Center, across Broadrick Drive from Bradley Wellness Center, a 15-acre site was being prepared for a senior living community. Hamilton was becoming a total provider of health care for the region.

Today, Hamilton Health Care System includes nine affiliates, including:

• Hamilton Medical Center (282-bed hospital that also includes the Hamilton Regional Cancer Institute, Bradley Wellness Center, Hamilton Diabetes and Nutrition Center, Hamilton Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center, Hamilton Spine Center, Hamilton Diagnostics Center, Turner Maternal & Infant Care Center, Hamilton Home Health, Hamilton Hospice, Hamilton Weight Management, Hamilton University and Hamilton Convenient Care.

• Hamilton Ambulatory Surgery Center.

• Whitfield Healthcare Foundation.

• Royal Oaks (retirement community).

• Hamilton Emergency Medical Services.

• Hamilton Long-Term Care (including Regency Park, Ridgewood Manor, Quinton Memorial and Wood Dale facilities).

• Whitfield Commons (apartments for low-income seniors).

• Whitfield Place (apartments for low-income seniors).

• Hamilton Physician Group (including Hamilton Cardiology Associates and Hamilton Primary Care).

Constant improvements

Hamilton has kept pace with rapid advances in medical science and continues to upgrade diagnostic and procedural equipment. For instance, in 2009, Hamilton added the da Vinci surgical robot. With 3-D imaging, it is a sophisticated robotic platform designed to expand the surgeon’s capabilities to offer a minimally invasive option for major surgery. And in 2010, Hamilton Diagnostics Center added a new Biograph mCT PET/CT scanner, a highly advanced diagnostic imaging system that provides critical information to physicians.  

Hamilton has continued to upgrade its facilities as well. In February, Hamilton officially opened a remodeled service level, which included an updated cafeteria, break area and meeting rooms. And the Westcott Beckler Morrison Unit is in the process of an upgrade to each of its rooms. In the fall, Hamilton plans to renovate and expand its Medical Intensive Care Unit. The project will include expanding the unit from 10 beds to 12, adding two new critical care beds and two psychiatric holding areas. This expansion will improve staff workflow and give families adequate space for visitation.

Guided by deeply involved and knowledgeable trustees, Hamilton continues to meet the needs of the region by attracting board-certified physicians across a wide range of specialties, embracing the latest medical technology and service enhancements, and creating a model campus for medical, wellness and residential programs.

“Hamilton: Linking Vision with Tradition,” a Hamilton history book by Barry Parker, was a significant source of information for this story.

Hamilton firsts

• First fully air-conditioned hospital in the state. (1956)

• First hospital in the state to install a two-way radio system to communicate with physicians. (1958)

• First hospital in the state to be accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations. (1959)

• First hospital in the state to establish a fully developed Intensive Care Unit. (1964)

• First hospital in the state certified to accept Medicare patients. (1966)

• First hospital in the state to establish a hospital-based hospice program. (1984)

• First hospital in the state to perform a laser laparoscopic cholecystectomy, offering a far less invasive form of gallbladder removal. (1990)

• First Continuing Care Retirement Community in the region was opened on the Hamilton Medical Center campus. (1994)

• One of two hospitals in the five-state region to offer the gastric band procedure to treat morbid obesity. (2001)

• First hospital in the region to offer the latest generation of the surgical robot, da Vinci SI. (2009)

• First hospital in the nation to participate in a pilot study to test how an interactive media tool, called Mediavision, can help entertain and inform patients. (2011)

Source: Hamilton Health Care System

Historical highlights


Directors of Crown Cotton Mills discuss the establishment of a “modernly arranged and equipped Hospital House,” primarily for company employees.


Ground is broken for a 42-bed, incorporated community hospital.


One thousand citizens attend the dedication of Hamilton Memorial Hospital on Waugh Street.


Hamilton closes its doors and The Daily Citizen begins an editorial campaign to reopen the facility.


The hospital reopens under the management of a not-for-profit Civitan Hospital Board, the same year the discovery of sulfa drugs, the first effective treatment for bacterial infection, is announced.


The hospital opens a regional cancer radiation therapy center, the Judd Memorial Cancer Clinic.


The Civitan Board raises funds for and constructs a two-story annex, providing rooms for black patients for the first time.


The Dalton-Whitfield County Hospital Authority is established, converting ownership and management to a public authority.


Norman D. Burkett is hired as the hospital’s first full-time administrator.


A new modern, 73-bed Hamilton Memorial Hospital opens on Memorial Drive.


Groundbreaking is held for a 43-bed addition to the hospital.


The B.J. Bandy-Chrissie McCutchen Intensive Care Unit, one of the first fully developed ICUs in the state, opens its doors.


Hamilton becomes the first hospital in Georgia certified to accept Medicare patients.


The hospital receives the largest health construction grant ever awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The $5 million grant helps fund a $15 million expansion.


The Whitfield Healthcare Foundation is established to encourage charitable contributions.


The new Frederick R. Westcott Psychiatric Pavilion brings inpatient psychiatric care to the region.


Hamilton begins providing home health care services to three counties in North Georgia.


A $10 million expansion includes the Lauman Surgical Care Center.


The hospital is renamed Hamilton Medical Center to reflect its expanded role as a regional health care provider.


Hamilton Hospice is the first Medicare-certified program in Georgia.

Hamilton becomes one of the first hospitals in Georgia to undergo corporate restructuring with The Hospital Authority owning hospital assets and daily operations managed by Hamilton Medical Center Inc., an affiliate of the not-for-profit, tax-exempt Hamilton Health Care System Inc.


Bradley Wellness Center, the region’s premier health promotion and fitness facility, makes its debut.


Whitfield Commons, Dalton’s first senior housing facility, opens with 42 apartment homes.

The Norman D. Burkett Building opens with expanded services.


Hamilton receives a three-year “accreditation with commendation” from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, an honor given to only 7 percent of hospitals surveyed nationwide.


Royal Oaks, an affiliate of Hamilton Health Care System, opens the first continuing care retirement community in the area to residents in November.

Hamilton Medical Center is named Not-For-Profit Hospital of the Year by the Georgia Alliance of Not-For-Profit Hospitals.

Hamilton receives accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.


Hamilton Medical Center is named one of America’s Top 100 Hospitals by HCIA and Mercer Consulting Groups, two national consulting agencies.


Whitfield Emergency Medical Services named Region One EMS of the Year.

Hamilton restructures to become a private, not-for-profit, tax-exempt hospital with acquisition of hospital assets from The Dalton-Whitfield County Hospital Authority.

Hamilton opens a Sleep Disorders Laboratory to better serve the public’s needs.

Whitfield Place, a 48-apartment-home complex designed to meet the needs of older residents with low income, opens.

Hamilton’s Diabetes and Nutrition Center is recognized by the American Diabetes Association for its quality patient education program.

Hamilton Medical Center is once again named as one of America’s Top 100 Hospitals, a distinction only bestowed on one-half of one percent of all hospitals nationwide.


Hamilton Long-Term Care Inc., an affiliate of Hamilton Health Care System, purchases three area skilled nursing facilities: Ridgewood Manor, Quinton Memorial and Wood Dale Health Care Center.

Hamilton launches the Northwest Georgia Sports Medicine and Industrial Rehabilitation Program.  

Hamilton once again scores among the best hospitals in the nation when it is surveyed by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Hamilton scores a 97 out of possible 100 points.

Hamilton Diagnostics Center, Hamilton’s outpatient radiology facility, completes its expansion project, which provides area residents the most advanced digital diagnostics center in the Southeast.

The Medical Plaza, a 51,000-square-foot medical office building, opens to meet the community need for more medical office space for physician practices serving our area.


Hamilton Medical Center receives the Voluntary Hospitals of America Inc. Leadership Award.


Regency Park, a 100-bed advanced skilled nursing facility, opens for area residents in March.

Bradley Wellness Center completes a 10,000-square-foot expansion to accommodate growth in membership.

Hamilton Diagnostics purchases upgraded Magnetic Resonance Imaging equipment providing enhanced MRI services to area residents.


Hamilton Health Care System launches its website hamiltonhealth.com.

Hamilton Medical Center creates Hamilton Surgical Weight Management, a bariatric program designed around the Lap-Band (laparoscopic adjustable gastric band) procedure. Hamilton becomes one of 20 original U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trial sites for the Lap-Band procedure.

Hamilton once again receives a high score of 97 out of 100 possible points from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.


Hamilton opened a seven-room Chest Pain Center in its Shaw Department of Emergency Care.

Hamilton Ambulatory Surgery Center, a freestanding surgery center with four operating suites and 22,500 square feet combining the latest medical technology with comfort and convenience, opens.


Hamilton becomes one of 10 FDA trial sites for the Swedish band, another cutting edge bariatric procedure.

Hamilton opens its new Surgical Care Center, which includes six operating suites, specialized rooms for endovascular and urology procedures, a new Surgical Intensive Care Unit, a family-oriented waiting room and private consultation rooms. Hamilton also completes its remodeling which includes a new main entrance.

Hamilton once again receives a high score of 98 out of 100 possible points from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.


Hamilton Home Health is awarded a Certificate of Need to expand its services into Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties.

In April 2004, renovation of Judd Cancer Center begins to prepare for the installation of an advanced linear accelerator and CT simulator. Renovation also begins on a Special Procedures Lab featuring digital vascular and interventional equipment.


The Varian SmartBeam IMRT radiation therapy system becomes operational at Judd Cancer Center.

Implementation of the Hamilton Regional Cancer Institute begins.

Hamilton Medical Center is selected as one of 10 Georgia hospitals to participate in a national program to provide angioplasty, led by Johns Hopkins Medical Institution’s Cardiovascular-Patient Outcomes Research Team (C-PORT).

Hamilton Diagnostics Center adds high definition MRI to diagnostic services.


Hamilton Medical Center receives full accreditation from the Accreditation Review Committee, making it the seventh accredited Chest Pain Center in Georgia and the 243rd in the nation.

The first coronary angioplasty/stent is performed at HMC as part of Hamilton’s participation in Georgia’s C-PORT program.

Hamilton adds a 64-slice computerized tomography (CT) system to its arsenal of diagnostic and imaging equipment, among the most advanced CT scanners in the world.

Hamilton Ambulatory Surgery Center is awarded the prestigious Summit Award by Press Ganey Associates, ranking it among the best centers in the nation for patient satisfaction, a designation the center has continued each year since.

Hamilton Medical Center earns Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval.


The Turner Maternal and Infant Care Center begins operation.

Hamilton Medical Center begins operation in its expanded and reconfigured Emergency Care Services Department. The renovations and expansion include three triage rooms, 35 private treatment rooms, four trauma suites, eight fast track rooms and 6-bed chest pain center, all arranged around a centralized nursing station.

Hamilton Weight Management, recognized nationally as a Bariatric Center of Excellence, began offering gastric bypass, in addition to the Lap-Band procedure.

Hamilton Medical Center, Hamilton Ambulatory Surgery Center and Royal Oaks campuses and buildings become tobacco-free facilities.

Hamilton Medical Center opens its dedicated outpatient Wound Care Center.


Partial Breast Radiation Therapy is introduced through the Hamilton Regional Cancer Institute to offer a higher dose, shorter radiation treatment plan for early stage, node-negative breast cancers.

Hamilton opens its Spine Care Center, focusing on conservative treatments by a multidisciplinary medical team and partnerships with primary care physicians.

Electrophysiology (EP) studies begin in a dedicated laboratory near the hospital’s Cardiology Department.

On-Board Imaging is added to the radiation cancer treatment arsenal at Hamilton’s Judd Cancer Center.

Hamilton Medical Center’s Ambulatory Infusion Center begins operating in expanded services and surroundings adjacent to the Judd Cancer Center.

Westcott Center receives Press Ganey Summit Award.

Stroke Program received Silver Award in 2008 from the American Heart Association.


Hamilton Convenient Care opens.

Hamilton’s Surgical Department added the da Vinci Surgical Robot, featuring advanced 3-D visualization capabilities.

Hamilton’s Wound Care Center adds Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and becomes known as Hamilton Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center.


Hamilton’s Dedicated Education Unit opens on the Westcott Beckler Morrison Unit, a partnership between HMC and Dalton State College Department of Nursing.

Hamilton opened a 12-bed Level II Neonatal Care Unit to care for premature, sick or low birth weight infants. Hamilton also added a special transport unit that enables the transfer of sick newborns from other locations to our facility.

Hamilton Physician Group was created as a venue for physician employment. The first group is Hamilton Cardiology Associates

Hamilton Specialty Imaging, dedicated to outpatient nuclear medicine studies and other cardiac diagnostic studies, opens.


Hamilton Medical Center receives Hospital of Distinction recognition from HealthGrades.

Hamilton is named a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit facility, allowing the hospital to care for infants delivered as early as 28 weeks gestation and weighing as little as two pounds.

Bradley Wellness Center adds massage therapy.


Hamilton Medical Center receives Hospital of Distinction recognition from HealthGrades.

Hamilton Physician Group adds Hamilton Primary Care.

Hamilton Medical Center completes major renovation of service level, including new cafeteria and meeting rooms.�