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History, cont.

Douglas and Coffee County grew rapidly during the late 1800's and early 1900's. Trained medical care had been limited to the efforts of Dr. Jefferson Wilcox and Dr. William Sibbett who arrived in Coffee County in the late 1800's in the wake of the typhoid epidemic. Before that, families had to make do with home remedies and the occasional "herb doctor." According to local history, one of the earliest settlers to Coffee County was Dr. John Barber, who resided in Douglas for 18 years and opened Coffee County's first hospital, albeit a temporary one, in 1862, in his home to combat an outbreak of small pox.

In 1908, Dr. Charles Roberts and Dr. Will Sibbett organized the effort that would build and open the Douglas Surgical Institute. The Infirmary opened in 1909 in the building now used as the Courthouse Annex. At a cost of $18,000 funding was raised by prominent citizens including Dr. Roberts, Dr. Welchel, Dr. Terrell, Mr. B.H. Tanner and Mr. John Marshall Ashley. The infirmary opened with 30 beds and a staff of two nurses. The infirmary closed its doors in 1916 leaving Douglas without a hospital.

By 1932, the Douglas Public Health Department was recognized by the state for a vigorous health campaign that all but wiped out typhoid fever, malaria and diphtheria in the areas which included Coffee, Jeff Davis, Bacon and Atkinson counties. In February of 1932, two nurses, Mrs. Carolyn Bailey of Athens and Miss Francis Lance of Blairsville, remodeled a home on the corner of Madison and Jefferson (now the sight of Becky's Antiques). The Lance-Bailey Clinic, sometimes called the Douglas Hospital opened March 1932. The small medical clinic continued for a couple of years and paved the way for the first real hospital in Coffee County.

In 1934 the City of Douglas represented by Mayor Lonnie Pope and Dr. W.L. Hall donated land on East Ward Street for construction of the new Douglas Hospital. The building was constructed by R.N. McEachren of Valdosta, a former Douglas resident who had built the Ashley-Slater home. (This building later housed the public library and the Board of Education and currently serves as the Alternative School). At a final cost of $30,000, the facility opened in June 1935. Within one decade this hospital became overcrowded and needed expansion. In 1946, recognizing a need for expanded hospital facilities, a new Hospital Commission was created with representation through the county. Within days the commission became the Coffee County Hospital Authority and began to seek federal funds through the recently passed Hill-Burton Act that required local matching funds. The bonds issue, requesting taxpayers provide local matching funds, was placed on the ballot in June of 1949 where it passed overwhelmingly. The Authority membership at this time included representation from Coffee County: Luther Roberts, Lonnie A. Pope, Steve Davis, and N.E. Holton, who would be named chairman, and from the City of Douglas representation: Dan G. Clough, Marvin J. Williams, Charles Anderson, Emmett Roberts and Andrew Tanner.

The new facility located on West Ward Street would be a three-story, 60 bed structure. The construction completed in 1953 at a cost of almost one million dollars. The ribbon cutting was held October 11, 1953 with Herman Talmadge as the keynote speaker. Gov. Talmadge dedicated the building by saying, "It is not only one of the most beautiful, but also the most modern and best equipped hospitals in the country." He added, "Your hospital here shows what is possible with cooperation."

In the spring of 1994 the hospital Authority voted to restructure Coffee Regional by forming a community based, non-profit corporation. As then Authority Chairman Norman Fletcher stated, "The new non-profit corporate structure will allow the hospital to be financially self-sufficient and be legally independent from the county thus protecting the taxpayers from future liability for the hospital." The Authority included Chairman: Norman Fletcher, Vice-chair: Arthur Johnson, Tullis Allen, Krishnan Chalam, M.D., Farrell Harper, Jon Lott, and Voncile Mille. The vision of this group was the catalyst for the construction of the new Medical Center.