Mount Pleasant -- With its final patient transferred to a new hospital up the road, some of the people who opened East Cooper Regional Medical Center stood in its emergency room lobby for the final time Thursday morning.
When Chief Executive Officer Janie Sinacore-Jaberg asked if anyone wanted to share memories, a 91-year-old redheaded volunteer named Dolores Hill piped up from a wheelchair. In a sarcastic voice, she said, "I'm keeping quiet."
Hill wore a pin shaped like a ladder on her coral-colored shirt, one rung for every 500 hours she logged in this place off Von Kolnitz Road. It ended with "8,000."
When a staff member told her she'd have a room to work on special projects at the new East Cooper Medical Center, she said, "That would be nice. I'd like to do it as long as I can."
Another staffer chided her about the white pants she vowed never to wear when they became the volunteer uniform decades ago. She wore some Thursday.
"I'm blessed," Hill said. "I don't have a family, but I have great friends."
Thursday's hospital transition happened with some hugs and tears but no hang-ups.
A parade of lights from eight ambulances passed the new facility at 5:30 a.m. en route to pick up about 50 patients from the old hospital. Members of its governing board met in the bright new lobby and gathered behind the reception desk.
Sinacore-Jaberg announced that she and the hospital's leadership team had deemed the facility ready for opening, and the board voted unanimously to do just that.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails called the hospital the town's biggest employer and likely one of its biggest taxpayers. With a new $153 million facility stocked with cutting-edge technology, he said, "This is a place not only for Mount Pleasant to be proud of but the whole East Cooper area -- Georgetown, Andrews, Charleston, everybody. We're so proud of you."
Shortly thereafter, the first ambulance arrived at the new emergency room doors, and Sinacore-Jaberg greeted 89-year-old Mount Pleasant resident Jeanne Ochiltree, a former gift shop volunteer. Ochiltree fell and fractured her pelvis while walking to dinner with her husband Tuesday evening at the Franke at Seaside retirement community.
Smiling as paramedics wheeled her out of the ambulance toward the new hospital, she said, "I never expected to see it this way."
Just as she rolled past the doors, East Cooper Medical Center received its second patient a little faster than expected. In came a woman in labor.
For the next hour and a half, ambulances looped between the two hospitals, until their final passengers: 30-year-old Tiffany Crawford and her first child, 2-day-old Elijah. With her son in a baby carrier wearing a blue bonnet, the Goose Creek accountant waved goodbye to the dozens of staff members who had gathered to see her off.
Back inside the old hospital, Dr. Norman Khoury, a trauma surgeon and one of the first physicians at East Cooper Regional Medical Center, picked up the phone to deliver a message over the intercom.
"Thousands of babies have been born here and, like those children, this hospital has grown up and become a part of the East Cooper community," Khoury said. "We'll always remember this hospital, East Cooper's first, as we look forward to the new facility and as we continue to provide the same compassionate care that this hospital's been known for. Each new journey must begin with the end of the journey that came before. Therefore, I hereby officially close East Cooper Regional Medical Center."
With that, a crew outside placed a blue tarp over the old hospital's sign. Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. plans to sell the building to a company offering complementary services to the new East Cooper Medical Center.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.