Chief Nurse reflects on life-long career at local hospital

May 15, 2024 /// 4 Min Read

Few people can say they have been part of an organization for five decades. In recognition of National Hospital Week Chief Nursing Officer Debbie Burch reflected on her life-long career at the local hospital.

Burch heard the country song titled “The House That Built Me” and realized that described her years of experiences working at Burke County’s local hospital.

The first chapter of her career began at Burke County Hospital when Burch volunteered after school, taking patients magazines and offering ice water and snacks under the watchful eye of the nurses there. After graduating from high school, she spent summer breaks from nursing school, working as a nursing assistant on the night shift. There were fifty beds back then and they stayed full most of the time. Burch learned some valuable lessons about time management, courtesy and compassion from staff she continued to work with for many years after that. Burch also learned to be prepared and to anticipate what Dr. Walter Voyles would need to make his rounds. There were certain room preparations for his patients that were mandatory, including an ash tray. It turned out to be a life lesson Burch still uses today.

“If you prepare for the simple things in life, the bigger ones and the emergencies won’t overwhelm you,” she explained.

Burch returned to Burke County Hospital after becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) about the same time Dr. Griffin came on board as the new Pediatrician.

Burch remembers walking that long hallway to fourth street to help Griffin set up two rooms that would be used for children, the first new specialty service addition she recalls. Of course, adults, as well as children, had been cared for many years by Dr. Byne, Dr. Green, Dr. Hensley, and Dr. Murray.

“I fondly remember their patience with me as a new nurse,” Burch reminisced. “Dr. Jackson and Dr. Sanders also joined our medical staff, and they brought new techniques and treatments that were exciting to learn and be a part of as they cared for their patients.”

The second chapter of her career was marked by the building of the new hospital in 1986. The hospital had recently added obstetrician and gynecological (OB/GYN) services again as the next specialty service.

“The night before we were to move into the new building, we delivered a baby in the old building but had already moved the nursery to the new facility,” she recalled. “Mom recovered in the old hospital, while the new baby and I spent the night in the new nursery.”

As expected, the new mother was the first to be moved the next morning to reunite with her newborn. Under the coordinated efforts of former Director of Nursing, Velma Bragg, the other patients soon followed. The excitement of the modern technology and the opportunity to care for the patients in a new facility was felt by all the staff; especially those who had transitioned from the days of sharpening needles, glass syringes and sterilizing individual gauzes to most everything being disposable. Pediatrics had their own hallway with rooms decorated especially for the children.

After Dr. Voyles decided to retire, the hospital had other surgeons that came. A couple of years after moving into the new facility, OB services were discontinued. Fortunately, Dr. Acree, in his efforts to support the facility, brought in Dr. Carter, Dr. Christian and Dr. Gresham to bring back the OB services again. The hospital thrived for many years with their dedication to working long hours, many during the night.

The hospital name was changed to Burke Medical Center, and like other rural hospitals, it struggled for many years with changing guidelines for reimbursement from insurance companies and hardships. Once again, the OB services, the nursery, and eventually the Pediatric services were discontinued. Because of the experience and encouragement from the physicians, Burch returned to school once more and became a Family Nurse Practitioner. She returned to work alongside the physicians who had taught her so much through the years, as well as Dr. Bonnie Jenkins as she joined the staff.

“We experienced frequent changes in management from 2012 till 2021, always looking for opportunities to bring in new services to help our hospital thrive once again,” Burch explained.

Under new leadership in 2021, the hospital’s staff were given a vision of adding orthopedic surgeries as a new specialty service. At that time, the hospital consisted of two operating rooms that had mostly been used for OB/GYN surgical cases. Those were adapted for orthopedic use, and soon cases began. Since then, the new management has added surgery rooms which include robotic capabilities, and currently more than twenty orthopedic surgeons performing procedures that include hip, knee, shoulder, spine, hand and other orthopedic specialties. Pain management, Cath lab and Cardiology services, to include cardiac rehab, were added, and many have benefited from having these specialties closer to home.

“The current chapter of my experience at what is now Burke Health is working with the orthopedic surgeons and cardiologist who have challenged us to learn new skill levels,” Burch said. “ They have taken myself and others who have been loyal to the hospital through it’s transitions over the years, as well as the new employees, and have shown us how to expand our experience and our knowledge base to care for our own Burke County residents, as well as those who come from surrounding areas to us for the care and services they need.”

These are exciting times at Burke Health, and Burch feels honored and privileged to be part of the growth.

“I can’t help but to reflect on those early days and those pioneer physicians who helped to start my healthcare journey,” she exclaimed. “Those who were a profound influence in my life and have now left us, left a legacy behind that I can only hope will continue through me as I try to be the encourager and mentor to my staff.”

‌Source: Chief Nurse reflects on life-long career at local hospital – The True Citizen