Two longtime Paulding medical professionals recently recalled some of the county’s medical history as WellStar opened the doors to its new, $92 million Paulding hospital earlier this month.
Dr. John Covington began his medical career in Georgia on New Year’s Day 1959, at the then-new Paulding Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
He was moving from his home state of Tennessee to rural Georgia on the recommendation of a fellow medical student fresh from medical school in Memphis, Tenn., and internship in Nashville.
The 25-bed, 14,000-square-foot hospital had opened the year before at a cost of $390,000 with two physicians. Covington added to the lineup which included former classmate Dr. Jerry Worthy and Dr. Sam Braly.
“[Worthy] said, ‘Come down for a year and give it a try,’” Covington recalled.
Paulding County residents had worked for three years to raise enough funding to build the hospital -- aided by the federal Hill-Burton law which provided funding for hospital construction in needy areas.
Covington recalled he and the other physicians delivered babies, made house calls and covered the small hospital’s emergency room every third weekend.
However, they had no in-house specialists, such as surgeons or cardiologists, which became an impediment to the growth of the facility. Specialists had to travel to Dallas from areas nearer to Atlanta, like Marietta.
A shortage of beds developed at Paulding Memorial. Covington and Worthy went on to open Medical Arts Hospital and Clinic in Dallas, which they operated for parts of the next four decades.
By the early 1970s, specialists still were traveling from Marietta and Atlanta to provide treatment in Dallas – putting the hospital at a competitive disadvantage with hospitals like Kennestone in Marietta, Donna Garner recalled.
Garner, who has worked for the hospital for a total of 42 years, said she and other staffers took days off without pay to help keep the doors open.
Now the hospital’s manager of health information management and quality improvement, Garner began work at the facility in 1972 as a pharmacy transcriptionist. The only traffic light in the county was in downtown Dallas, and the hospital workplace was very family-oriented -- with many on the staff knowing most other staff members personally, she said.
Northwest Georgia Health System had bought the Paulding hospital and, finally, in 1994, convinced local leaders to make it part of the system. Northwest became part of Promina the same year, and changed its name to WellStar in 1998.
“For several years, we struggled,” said Garner, who worked for 16 years as director of medical records. “In that way, WellStar has been a godsend. As an independent facility, I don’t think we could have made it.”
Covington went on to serve as the Paulding County medical examiner. Then, after beginning to work part-time at the Georgia Tech student clinic in Atlanta, he went on to serve as a team doctor for the football and basketball teams.
Covington’s wife, Glenda, worked for 30 years as a nurse both at Paulding Memorial and at Medical Arts before retiring in 2011.
In late 2012, the Covingtons decided to donate to WellStar’s effort to build the new, $92 million, eight-floor hospital to replace the Paulding hospital. The donation led to the naming of one of the state-of-the-art patient rooms for the Covingtons.