July 19, 2018

Carol Wolfenbarger: Community Vision the One Constant in Mission Hospital McDowell’s History That Fueled Change and Growth

By Carol Wolfenbarger
President, Mission Hospital McDowell

Mission Hospital McDowell has a rich and proud history. Do you know who has been steadfast, supportive, and behind us for every moment of this history – both for the moments of success and the challenging ones? You – our community members! This month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the life of healthcare in our community, recognizing the crucial role your support plays in our success.

When McDowell Hospital/Marion General Hospital was founded, it was the realization of Dr. Gaston Bailey Justice’s dream; the hospital opened its doors in 1908, but survived only a year. Later iterations were initiated by Guy Kirby, MD in 1917 and later J.F. Miller, M.D. in 1927. The first long-term facility opened in 1930 on James Drive in Marion and served the community until 1952. Due to growth, a new, larger 50-bed facility was built on Fleming Avenue in 1952 and served patients’ needs for more than 30 years. By 1983, another upgraded facility was needed, and again the community made it happen.

A milestone transition came in 2004 when we became part of Mission Health, which enabled us to offer expanded services, gain greater financial stability, and partner in the delivery of specialty services. As part of that crucial relationship, the investment in our brand new replacement facility became a reality this year and we’re now enjoying the fruits of that labor.

I review this history with you to make an important point: You, our community, did this. Our extraordinary growth would not have happened without your ability to see beyond the current moment, and imagine what healthcare could be. The same goes for the great support we’ve always received from local and state organizations.

Scrappy is a word I’ve come to embrace when describing this community’s support of healthcare access. Meaning “courageous,” “spirited,” and “determined,” the word embodies the toughness and tenacity of this community. To get to where we are now, our leaders, team members, Board and neighbors had to be – and continue to be – fierce in their dedication to our hospital, focused on supporting us through thick and thin, armed with a clear vision, and inclined to take the occasional risk. As we watch rural hospitals across the country face struggles to remain viable, many of which we have experienced ourselves, the prudent decisions made across time come into even clearer focus. Simply, the treasure of support from all of you has resulted in a very bright future for healthcare in McDowell County.

I’m humbled when I consider the many people who supported us for over a century, including many whose names I’ll never know. I will continue to count on and appreciate this community as we move forward enthusiastically with our contemplated transaction with HCA Healthcare. Like our prior decisions, this relationship will help preserve and expand care and secure the future of our region’s health system. Your commitment to fight for the future of Mission Hospital McDowell, throughout every phase of our 100+-year history is what has gotten us here. Your ongoing commitment will steer our future for many decades to come.


Carol Wolfenbarger, MSN, RN, FACHE, is President of Mission Hospital McDowell. She holds both Bachelors and Masters of Science degrees in nursing administration from the University of Tennessee, is board certified in Healthcare Management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). Carol, who has served hospitals and health systems for more than three decades, has worked to add full-time cardiology services, led growth in outpatient services including imaging and surgery, and the expansion of primary care offering in Burke County since assuming her role as President at McDowell Hospital in 2015. She is an active member in Rotary and serves as a Board member for the Rutherford/Polk/McDowell Health District Board of Directors, the Corpening YMCA Board of Directors, and the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

To learn more about Mission Hospital McDowell, please visit mcdowellhospital.org.