A Strategic Reorganization

“This is an outstanding organization that is true to its mission in every sense of the word and whose compassionate, caring services touch every corner of our community.”

—Ed Gillespie, 1991

Edward M. Gillespie’s 1991 retirement letter touting University’s services was an affirmation of nearly 20 years of concerted effort coming to fruition. The goal was to expand the institution from a single hospital in downtown Augusta to a far-reaching system of services accessible to people all across the CSRA, throughout every stage of their lives.

As the new hospital administrator, Gillespie arrived at University Hospital from Rochester Methodist Hospital in Minnesota on April 15, 1974. The state-of-the-art hospital had been dedicated in 1971, and patient opinion polls were 95 percent favorable. However, the 1973 opening of privately funded Doctors Hospital 10 miles west of University Hospital — as well as the Medical College of Georgia’s state-subsidized Talmadge Hospital — brought stiff competition, and with Augusta’s population dwindling, many physicians and patients had left University for one of the new kids on the block.

University’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, created in 1974, reaffirmed University’s commitment to its youngest patients. University’s first cardiac cath lab opened in 1973, followed by the hospital’s first open-heart surgical procedure the following year.

Nevertheless, “the hospital up to that point was considered more of a county facility, more aligned to indigent care,” Gillespie said. “We wanted to change that image.”

In 1975, Gillespie brought in consultants to craft a 10-year strategic plan focused on moving beyond reactive, curative services and embracing community education, preventative services and rehabilitation. Expanded services for neonatal and pediatric patients — including the Pediatric Emergency Suite in 1975 — were complemented at the other end of the age spectrum by plans for expanded elder care.

Health Central, which opened in 1980, made University “one of the first hospitals in the country to have a wellness program off-campus.” Available not only to hospital patients but also to the broader community, Health Central offered fitness, nutrition, dental and smoking cessation programs.

The Brandon Wilde Life Care Community joint venture with St. Joseph Hospital was part of a trend of focus on providing elder care in the CSRA.

University then partnered with nearby St. Joseph Hospital (later Trinity Hospital, now part of University Health Care System) to introduce new services and facilities for the elderly, including the Walton Rehabilitation Hospital, Brandon Wilde Life Care Community and the Resource Center on Aging.

In 1984, major shakeups in Medicare and hospital reimbursement spelled the end for many smaller rural hospitals, and the next phase of University’s growth was all about restructuring and growing University’s geographic footprint beyond downtown Augusta. How could University make quality care accessible across the region and eliminate the inconvenience and expense of patients having to travel long distances?

To make good on this promise, however, University soon found itself mired in a legal battle that would ascend to the Georgia Supreme Court. This battle would determine the future institution’s ability to truly reach “every corner of our community.”

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