By Jaime Hayes
In the Fall of 2018, McLeod Health Dillon will celebrate its 75th anniversary serving the community and 20th year since the hospital joined the McLeod Health system.
In the midst of World War II, Dillon, South Carolina, was a remote rural area with only a handful of physicians serving a county population of nearly 30,000 people.
One of these physicians, Surgeon Dr. William Victor “Vic” Branford, had the vision and determination to establish a state-of-the-art hospital on the border of South and North Carolina.
Dr. Branford began his Dillon practice in 1934. His wife, Lucille, was his office nurse. Soon after his arrival, discussions resurfaced on the need for a local hospital.
At the time, the people in Dillon who needed to be hospitalized traveled long distances. Two failed attempts to build a hospital preceded Dr. Branford’s involvement.
Knowing the community could not undertake the task of building a hospital on its own, Dr. Branford, a Roman Catholic, contacted the Reverend Emmet M. Walsh, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, with an urgent plea for the Catholic Church to consider helping to build his dream hospital.
Bishop Walsh corresponded with the Order of the Sisters of St. Mary, requesting support for the proposed hospital in Dillon. Their mission involved establishing hospitals in areas of great need. Led by the insight and compassion of Mother Mary Concordia, Mother General of the Sisters of St. Mary, the Sisters traveled half way across the country from St. Louis, Missouri to South Carolina to begin this healing ministry.
In addition to the support of the Sisters of St. Mary, Dillon County donated the land for the hospital on Highway 301. The Sisters of St. Mary financed building of the new hospital, and a planning committee held fundraisers in order to furnish it with modern and up-to-date equipment.
Completed in 1943, the new four-story hospital cost $175,000. Catholic healthcare publications hailed it as one of the “most scientifically equipped and most efficiently operated hospitals in the United States.”
Dedicated as Saint Eugene Hospital, the facility opened on November 16, 1943. Pope Pius XII proposed the name when the Sisters told him they planned to name it St. Pius Hospital. Years before, when he was known as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Sisters promised to establish a new hospital in his name. He suggested that since they made the promise when he served as cardinal the name should reflect that fact.
Fourteen Sisters of St. Mary staffed the hospital under Dr. Branford, the Chief of Staff. This original building would serve the community until 1972.
The Need For A New Hospital
During the late 1960s, everyone involved with the upkeep of the aging Saint Eugene Hospital realized that serious renovations needed to take place for the hospital to meet the growing health care needs of the community. The new hospital administrator, Sister Florence Weinel, hospital physicians, and community leaders announced optimistic plans for a new hospital facility.
The $3 million facility hinged on the ability of the citizens of Dillon County to raise $400,000 in 14 days.
The late Alan Schafer, a local businessman, led the fund drive for a new hospital. “When Saint Eugene Hospital was established in 1943, it didn’t cost the County a dime. The Sisters came here at their expense and took care of our sick people. Now the facilities are not adequate and it is time for us to show our appreciation by helping the Sisters build a better hospital,” Schafer said.
Schafer’s fundraising campaign included an all-night telethon with University of South Carolina Football Coach Paul Dietzel. The successful telethon raised more than $100,000. The citizens and businesses of Dillon rallied to the cause and collected more than needed. As a result, those involved in the plans for the new hospital decided to rename it Saint Eugene Community Hospital in honor of the people of Dillon County.
Since Dr. Branford owned all of the land adjacent to the old hospital, his widow, Lucille, sold the 2.5 acres to the Sisters for a fraction of the appraised value. Ground was broken for the new hospital on July 15, 1970.
The late W. J. McLeod, a state representative, addressed members of the community at the groundbreaking ceremony. “The people of Dillon County today see the coming true of a dream. A dream of countless Sisters of the Order of St. Mary who have worked in the present Saint Eugene Hospital, the first and only hospital in our county. To say we as a community, a county, as individuals are grateful for the presence of the Sisters is a masterpiece of understatement. Only by our actions can we let them know that their errand to Dillon County as Sisters of mercy has been successful. We hope and pray that their future will be long and bright.”
Saint Eugene Community Hospital opened in 1972 and included new monitoring equipment, donated by Mr. Schafer.
Highlighted by tremendous growth and expansions, the hospital developed depth and specialties. In 1987, a construction project added a new Emergency Department and larger Intensive Care Unit, as well as a Physical Therapy and a Pediatrics Unit to the facility. Less than ten years later, the campus grew with the addition of the three-story Professional Building housing physician offices and a rehabilitation center.
McLeod Health Acquires The Hospital
In 1998, McLeod Health recognized the importance of the facility to the community and acquired the hospital, bringing to the community an established quality program and even more services. One of the first projects undertaken by McLeod, a $3.8 million Operating Room expansion, accommodated the advancement in technologies and medical equipment used daily with four larger operating rooms, private patient care areas, a family waiting room and equipment storage. In addition, approximately 2,900 square feet were added to the Professional Building for future expansion of physician offices.
In 2004, the name of the hospital, Saint Eugene, officially changed to McLeod Medical Center Dillon. The new identity for the hospital was part of an ongoing effort by McLeod Health to identify and distinguish the quality of care offered to the people of Dillon County as well as the surrounding service areas.
Two years later, McLeod Dillon opened the Women’s Center offering four birthing suites, 12 rooms for recovery from birth or gynecological surgery, a suite for caesarean delivery, fetal monitoring for high-risk pregnancies, a Level-I skilled newborn nursery, a breastfeeding center and advanced nurse monitoring systems.
To make emergency care more accessible and timely for patients in Dillon County and the surrounding areas, a $6.3 million Emergency Department expansion added approximately 9,365 square feet to the hospital in 2010. The project focused on efficiency and flexibility — providing for future growth and changes based upon population and technology.
The Emergency Department included 17 new exam and treatment rooms, a decontamination area, staff support spaces, a new entrance for walk-in patients, a family waiting area, and a dedicated site for a helicopter pad to allow transport of trauma patients. In 2017, the Emergency Department cared for more than 35,000 patients.
In January of 2018, a new medical office building for McLeod OB/GYN Dillon opened on the McLeod Dillon campus. “This year, marks the 75th year the hospital has served this community, and the 20th year since Dillon joined the McLeod family. What a special time to open the doors to this beautiful new facility,” said Joan Ervin, Administrator of McLeod Dillon.
A life-long resident of Dillon County, Johnnie Luehrs, President of the Dillon County Chamber of Commerce, added, “The McLeod commitment to and investment in the residents of Dillon has not gone unnoticed. Thank you McLeod for your vision and for caring for our community.”
Today, McLeod Dillon looks toward the future while honoring its past. Without the vision and determination of many, the hospital would not have become a reality for the people of Dillon.
Upon entering McLeod Dillon, visitors see a large frame on the wall holding portraits of Dr. William V. Branford, Bishop Emmet Walsh and Mother Mary Concordia. The inscription reads:
“Their inspiration, guidance and efforts made it possible for Saint Eugene Hospital to become a reality on November 16, 1943. To these Founders, we give thanks.”
The main hallway at McLeod Dillon, or the “Hall of History,” includes a time capsule commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Saint Eugene. The contents of the time capsule will be on display at the celebration in November.