Calvin Gwen Hudgins went to work at the Boaz-Albertville Hospital in 1956 when it was only a few weeks old. Back then, he recalls, you hired on to do whatever needed doing. When a car drove up carrying a woman who had just given birth, Hudgins was asked to tote the woman inside to a bed while a nurse held the still-attached baby.
“Then you did what you had to do,” says Hudgins, 87, believed to be the hospital’s only surviving original employee. “I mopped floors, I waited on patients and I did light maintenance.”
Today’s Marshall South, called ‘B&A’ then by most people, opened with 35 beds and 35 employees. Hudgins remembers there was nothing disposable – glass thermometers had mercury and had to be sanitized and reused. There were few antibiotics available. Highway 431 was two lanes. Where the lobby sits now was a yard.
“I’ve seen a lot of things happen,” says Hudgins, who worked 26 years. When he retired in 1983, the B&A News and Views newsletter called him “one of the few remaining employees who ‘opened’ the B&A Hospital in 1956.”
Hudgins was 27 years old when he walked into the hospital to ask for a job. A nurse picked up the phone and called the administrator at home. He said to tell the applicant to come on over to the house. Hudgins did, and Administrator Paul Hodges told him he needed a floater. He accepted and began doing a little bit of everything at B&A. Once he had to run down a patient who wandered away still wearing his hospital gown.
No degree or college training was required, says Hudgins, who didn’t finish high school. He was 17 when his mother died, leaving him to stay home and take care of his baby sisters while his dad worked.
After floating for a few years, Hudgins moved into the maintenance department. Later he worked in purchasing and did most of the buying for the hospital. He credited his knack for recalling numbers – he can still recite product numbers from back then – with his success in that position. There were 2,200 supply items in inventory then. Hudgins remembers nurses calling him during the night while they were trying to find something in the storeroom.
“I’d say, ‘Go down the aisle about halfway and look on your left.’ They’d find it right there.”
Hudgins’ final position was in the x-ray department where he learned to do chest x-rays. He bypassed the computer age, which started when he was about two years away from retirement.
Hudgins’ recalls one record-keeping snafu that happened at the brand-new hospital, which would never be allowed today. When an employee was hired, they were put on the payroll. There were no forms to fill out. That changed after the Joint Commission visited the hospital and asked to look at employment records. Employees had to fill out applications and backdate them, he says.
Hudgins is very proud of the progress made by the hospital since 1956. There was no ambulance service back then. Anyone who needed to go to the hospital was taken by car. If there was no car to get them there, the local funeral home was called and would transport patients – dead or alive. There were few telephones, and it was a long distance call from Boaz to Guntersville.
“We got by,” says Hudgins.
There were no emergency room doctors then either, he says. When a doctor was needed, he was called. There was a check-in light at the back of the hospital to show if the doctor was in. One RN worked per shift. Doctors would drive to peoples’ houses to deliver babies. If the baby was sick, the doctor would drive the baby to the hospital in his own car.
“You look back and then you look at what it is now and it makes you proud,” he says. “I’m proud of this hospital myself. I worked hard and I’m glad to see it grow.”
Hudgins lives near the hospital in the Beulah Community. After retirement, he worked for two medical supply stores until he was 85. His daughter, Kay Maddox, is office manager for TherapyPlus North and South. He was proud to attend the 50th anniversary celebration for Marshall South nine years ago and he plans to be present for the 60th next April.
“The hospital has been good to me,” he says. “I’ve been blessed.”
Rose Myers is a journalist working for Marshall Medical Centers.