Ribbon cutting for Hillis Medical Office Building, Starrett Center at Athol Hospital
June 20, 2019 : Athol Daily News, by Kathy Chaisson
ATHOL – It began in 2012 with a handshake between two board members from Athol and Heywood hospitals, James Meehan and Kenneth Pierce. That promise to the community to construct a new emergency department and medical office building was fulfilled this year, and on Wednesday, over 100 people attended a dedication and ribbon cutting in front of Athol Hospital, followed by public tours of the new Hillis Medical Office Building and The Starrett Center for Emergency Care.
The Hillis building offers primary, specialty and emergency care, made possible by a gift from the Hillis family in memory of Frederic W. Hillis who was the hospital’s longtime CEO and “visionary leader.” The building also houses audiology, cardiology, diabetes care, oncology, physical therapy and speech therapy. The new Emergency Department has doubled space capacity to include eight private dedicated acute care rooms, five dedicated behavioral health rooms, a separate ambulance entrance and thirteen exam rooms.
Favorable weather and a cheerful audience brightened the celebration of the most significant construction project since the hospital was built in 1950.
Honored guests and speakers took turns sharing their gratitude and excitement over the new building.
Marie King, RN, Clinical Coordinator for Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center called the ceremony to order, welcoming the audience to the “historic” occasion. King, who said she was the 127th baby delivered there when it was a maternity hospital, started as a nurse in 1973. Naming her fellow nurses, she said, “It was here when I learned the meaning of real teamwork.” Acknowledging that the hospital “has had its share of trouble,” she said, “I feel solid with our sisterhood with Heywood Hospital. I call us fondly a bonded family.”
Dayna Girouard RN, MSN, Associate Chief Nursing Officer & Director of Professional Practice & Patient Experience, and her daughter Haylee Girouard sang the national anthem in harmony.
Athol Hospital staff and attendees sang “God Bless America” followed by a blessing delivered by Patricia Pandiscio, Assistant Manager, Medical Records.
President and CEO of Athol Hospital and Heywood Healthcare Win Brown welcomed the crowd, commenting that “someone’s smiling down on us” because the weather was also good for the Heywood Hospital fundraising golf tournament on Monday. He said many things came together to make the project happen, calling the community “proud yet humble,” “steadfast,” and “a community that embraces new ideas.”
He noted how Athol Hospital has had its challenges over the years. “Challenge makes change. It turns out we are all indeed stronger together.”
Robert Chauvin, Chair, Heywood Healthcare Board of Directors, likened the relationship between the two hospitals to a marriage, with their courtship beginning in 2012 and enduring “a lot of hard work and compromise.”
Brown thanked the Athol Hospital Campaign Cabinet Tri-Chairs, Cheney Castine, Esq., David Hillis, Sr., and Douglas A. Starrett for their hard work and fundraising for the $19 million building.
Starrett and Hillis shared the podium, exchanging friendly jabs. Starrett said their paths have intertwined over the years and credited Hillis for stepping forward to put a coalition together to help the hospital survive. “Can you believe it?” he said. “They said it couldn’t be done.” He also said the Starrett Center for Emergency Care is a “30-year dream come true for me” and that it couldn’t have happened without the Board of Directors of the two hospitals. “I can tell you, I am so proud of Athol.”
Starrett also gave special mention to the late Pauline “Polly” Briggs who served as president of the Athol Hospital Auxiliary for many years.
Hillis gave recognition to Castine and Starrett and “the glue that holds this thing together,” Dawn Casavant, Vice President of External Affairs, Chief Philanthropy Officer, and Executive Director of the Heywood Healthcare Charitable Foundation.
Tina Griffin, DNP, FNP Athol Hospital Chief Operating Officer & Vice President for Patient Care Services said the hospital employees go “above and beyond,” and that when she arrived in Athol six years ago, she was impressed by the “hard work and dedication” of the staff. She also thanked the project manager, contractors and others involved with the building’s construction.
Senator Stephen M. Brewer called it a “glorious and special day.” Looking into the audience, he said that he could see people from Templeton, Phillipston, Orange and Barre. Paraphrasing a proverb, he said, “happy are those who dream dreams and are working to make them come true.” Brewer said it’s not just about the brick and mortar and technology but the heart and soul of the medical facility, the people who wear scrubs, the technicians, and other staff who greet people with a smile. “I virtually guarantee that you will have that when you come to this place.”
He thanked those who saw into the hospital’s future so that their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have the chance to experience it.
Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski said, “a health care facility means so much to a community. It’s an asset that communities seek out.”
Lauren Liss, President and CEO of MassDevelopment which provided a $28 million financing package for Athol Hospital which includes a tax-exempt bond and a tax credit allocation, delivered congratulations on behalf of Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. Liss extended gratitude to those involved and said, “It takes so many people to do a project like this.”
Karin Jeffers, Chief Executive Officer of Clinical & Support Options, which will occupy the top floor of the new building, said they serve over 1,500 people and is “thrilled” about the new space. “We look forward to setting the national standard for models of care. The synergy you’re going to see on all floors is going to be amazing.”
A plaque honoring the late Frederic W. Hillis was unveiled and will hang in the main lobby. Hillis became the hospital’s CEO in 1960 “where he worked tirelessly to advance the health and wellness of his community, until his retirement in 1985.” His son David said, “because of Fred Hillis and a community of people like him, Athol always has and always will be on the cutting edge” for the community. Hillis also thanked Brown for his leadership and support “which serves as a beacon for all of us.”
A commemorative toast was made by long-time Athol Hospital supporters and Fulfilling Our Promise Committee members Jim and Lenny O’Loughlin. Lenny said, “our three sons were born here. The staff is super. I looked around and saw the faces of people smiling. We are so very proud of the dedicated hard work, the efforts and generosity by so many. This doesn’t happen automatically. Fill your hearts full because this was the best of the best.”