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 It was also becoming outdated.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.