Hilton Head Hospital marks 40 years of care

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Back in 1975, Hilton Head Island and its 6,500 residents, composed mainly of retirees and rural native islanders, were on the verge of witnessing a modern healthcare miracle.

There were a couple of stoplights, a handful of great restaurants, a couple of hotels and, of course, a great coastal lifestyle in the Lowcountry. A small clinic served the population's medical needs.

That all changed when Dr. Peter LaMotte, an esteemed young physician in New York City, was informally recruited to the island while on vacation in 1970 by Sea Pines visionary Charles Fraser.

"He was the one who said to Peter, 'Why don't you come down here and build a hospital?' recalled LaMotte's widow, Beryl. "And Peter said, 'Well, you know what, nothing ventured, nothing gained. That sounds like a challenge.'"

The LaMottes moved here in 1971. Soon after, Peter met pioneering local lawyer Bill Bethea, and the idea of building a not-for-profit facility took shape. After a flurry of sustained activity gathering financial and human support - thanks in large part to a dedicated throng of auxiliary volunteers - Hilton Head Hospital opened on Aug. 10, 1975.

Last month, the hospital leadership celebrated the 40th anniversary with a tree-planting ceremony attended by hospital staff, volunteers, local dignitaries and friends.

The ceremony also kicked off a "40 Days of Caring" campaign of community give-back events with hospital staff and volunteers reaching out to local residents, families, schools and civic organizations. "We thought it was really important to give back in our celebration," said Jeremy Clark, market chief executive officer for the hospital since January.

When Tenet purchased the hospital in 1994, its medical team - which now numbers 100 active physicians, 500 full- and part-time staff, and 200 volunteers - continued following in the legendary footsteps of Dr. LaMotte.

"We owe a lot to the excellent medical staff and excellent administrators who came before us," said Clark. "People don't have to leave the community and drive west or north to get the best right here."

In the beginning, the hospital was a 40-bed facility. Now it's a 93-bed acute-care facility with specialized services, state-of-the-art technology, and a host of national awards and recognitions.

"Tenet has raised the hospital to be a first-rate hospital in South Carolina," Beryl LaMotte said. "Tenet has been a wonderful keeper of the key. They continue to carry the torch."

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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