Virginia Beach, VA - July 12, 2005 - The Mustang was a hot new car. The first U.S. combat troops were deployed in Vietnam and the fledgling city of Virginia Beach was just two years old when The General Hospital of Virginia Beach received its first patient on July 12, 1965. Frank Burns, M.D., the first orthopedic surgeon in the city, had been in practice just over a year.
The new hospital asked the doctors on staff to set very high standards and develop strict by-laws, Burns recalls.
"We decided that every physician who practiced there had to be board certified," Burns adds. "Right off the bat, we had a medical staff as good as anywhere."
When food service worker Jannie (pronounced Janie) Smith made the move from the old Virginia Beach Hospital at 25th and Arctic, she literally came out of the basement, where the kitchen was located.
"The old kitchen wasnt much different than a house," Smith recalls. "We had a home-type stove and regular refrigerators, but that hospital was just 25 beds. The new 105-bed hospital offered a commercial-grade kitchen and walk-in coolers, a tremendous improvement."
"I can't remember what we cooked on the first day," Smith says, "but I remember we came in on a Sunday to prep the kitchen for the first meals on Monday."
Forty years later, Smith is the cafeteria supervisor at Sentara Virginia Beach General.
Hospital heralded future growth of Virginia Beach
The modern new hospital was a visionary achievement for its founders. They expected big things from the small resort town after it merged with Princess Anne County, and they were right.
The hospital would expand to 274 beds as Virginia Beach grew into Virginia's most populous city. But, in 1965, building the hospital in the sparsely populated Hilltop area was a financial stretch, and Burns remembers the 30-odd physicians on the medical staff donating their time to the emergency department.
"We'd take turns working 12-hour shifts for nothing during the day," Burns remembers. "A patient might have a cut stitched up by a pediatrician, but we got it covered. The hospital paid Navy doctors to cover the night shift."
That went on for several years, Burns says, until they got on their feet financially.
But, Burns adds that Virginia Beach General always did its best to give physicians the equipment and technology they needed to remain current. The merger with Sentara Healthcare in 1998 brought a new infusion of resources and leadership that propelled the hospital into the Solucient Top 100, placing it among the nations most successful hospitals.
West Wing expansion looks to the next 40 years
The 40th anniversary comes as the new 108-bed West Wing prepares to accept its first patients this fall. The West Wing is a $29 million commitment to the future of Virginia Beach, says Sentara Virginia Beach General Administrator Les Donahue, FACHE.
"We're growing and modernizing for the long run," he said.
The West Wing will also be home to the Sentara Heart Center and 46 of those 108 private rooms will be dedicated solely to cardiac care. The West Wing will also feature The Bistro at the Beach, Starbucks Coffee, an expanded gift shop, new outpatient pharmacy and a Community Health Resource Center. A soothing water feature, community art work, a concierge and a piano will help create a healing environment for patients and visitors. The West Wing will also feature internet access for patients and visitors.
40 years not quite enough for Burns, Smith
Jannie Smith never expected to stay at Virginia Beach General 40 years.
"But as I got older," she muses, "I saw it was better to stay."
A hospital dietitian offered her a supervisory role 25 years ago, and she took it.
"I enjoy my job," Smith says. At 62, she hopes to continue working until at least 65.
At 76, Frank Burns is reluctantly contemplating retirement next year, but only after his son, Jeffrey, returns to Virginia Beach after completing a fellowship in orthopedic surgery in Florida.
"He's an EVMS graduate and a fine surgeon," Burns says proudly. "He'll carry on the Burns name at Sentara Virginia Beach General."
40th Anniversary ceremony scheduled 9:30am Tuesday, July 12th
Staff and invited guests will gather at the site of Mary's Garden behind the Medical Office Building at 1060 First Colonial Road. The brief ceremony will include recognition for Dr. Burns and Jannie Smith, placing a time capsule, the release of 40 doves and dedication of a Legacy Wall tracing the hospitals history.
Other significant events of 1965
-- President Lyndon Johnson declares War on Poverty in State of the Union address.
-- President Lyndon Johnson signs Voting Rights Act. (Aug. 6)
-- Martin Luther King, Jr and 2,600 others arrested in Selma, AL in voting rights protests. (January)
-- Malcom X assassinated in Harlem. (Feb. 21)
-- Watts Riots in Los Angeles. (August 11-16)
-- Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed.
-- First commercial satellite Early Bird put in orbit. (launched April 6, operational June 28)
-- Ed White II is first American to walk in space. (June 3)
-- Winston Churchill, Nat King Cole, T.S. Eliot and Adlai Stevenson die.
-- Great Blackout plunges northeast into darkness during evening rush hour. (Nov. 9)
-- The Sound of Music and Dr. Zhivago premier.
-- "Hello, Dolly!" wins Grammy for Song of the Year.