My grandmother on my mother’s side of the family was Cleo Free. For years she worked as a nurse’s aide at R.T. Jones Hospital.
I remember as a child that I would ride with Granddaddy Free to pick her up from work. We would watch and wait as the employees clocked out and ended their shifts.
Granny Free had a tough job as a nurse’s aide. And she had many stories to tell of things she would encounter on the job. As a nurse’s aide, she got close to many of the patients in the hospital. This no doubt had its ups and downs.
But we would sit in the swing on her front porch after she got off from work and she would sometimes talk about patients who had passed away on her watch.
She didn’t tell me these things to frighten me. I believe she told me of these things so I would have an understanding that death is simply a part of life.
Granny Free told me stories of the peacefulness that would come over the room as the patients drew their last breath. This was no doubt due to her faith and her deep belief in God Almighty.
But R.T. Jones Hospital didn’t always have the best reputation for good patient care. As a matter of fact, it was the butt of many jokes in days past and gone.
There were people who would tell you that they wouldn’t go there for any reason. But it didn’t stop Granny Free and others from doing their best to provide the best patient care every day they hit that time clock.
Several years ago in 1997, R.T. Jones Memorial Hospital became Northside Hospital-Cherokee. Now affiliated with Northside Hospital of Atlanta, one would think the reputation would automatically change.
But Southerners have long memories. So it would take more changes before the hospital would get the recognition it deserves.
In 2004, Northside Cherokee Hospital hired Billy Hayes as its CEO. Mr. Hayes is without a doubt a visionary. And more importantly, he is a leader.
I met Mr. Hayes at a charity golf event a few years ago. And since that time, I have had the privilege to talk with him at many other charity events. You see, Hayes didn’t come to Cherokee County to just take from its citizens. He has given much back to the community through his time and financial contributions.
Mr. Hayes is a busy man running a large corporation. But when my Dad became so terribly sick with Alzheimer’s, he was admitted into Northside Hospital-Cherokee. It was a trying time for our family because many decisions had to be made.
I ran into Mr. Hayes at some function and told him about the seriousness of the situation and how well his staff had treated us.
He told me to call him and follow up on dad’s hospital stay and the issues involved with future placement for long-term care.
I did as he asked me to and Mr. Hayes took time for someone he barely knew to make sure my dad and our family received the proper care.
I unfortunately have had to visit Northside Hospital-Cherokee on many occasions since that time for related issues. And I will say that you will have a hard time finding an employee at our hospital that hasn’t had a personal conversation with Billy Hayes.
And you won’t find them saying anything but positive things about their leader. This is because Mr. Hayes genuinely cares about his staff. And they know it.
Northside Hospital-Cherokee is now thought of differently than it ever has been, due to the vision of Mr. Hayes. A little over a week ago, he was presented with the Lamar Haley Award by the Canton Rotary Club for his service to our community.
Though working toward the building of a new facility for the hospital, Mr. Hayes has continued to give his time to many charities in Cherokee County.
All of Cherokee County is a better place to live because of Billy Hayes. I wish he could have known Granny Free.
He would have liked her.
Chris Collett is a lifelong resident of