For the past 19 years, Dr. Fred Thompson has served as administrator of Anson Community Hospital. That will all change when the current hospital closes and a new healthcare facility opens in July.
Thompson plans to retire and has announced plans to become the director of the Anson County Health Department, while his position as administrator of the Anson hospital will be filled by Gary Henderson, who will serve as the assistant vice president of the new Carolinas HealthCare System — Anson.
Thompson came to Anson County from LaGrange Memorial Hospital in Chicago in March 1995, seeking a milder climate and an escape from harsh Midwest winters. “I always wanted to live in North Carolina,” he said, adding that Anson County is the perfect location for him, because the Blue Ridge Parkway is about three hours to the west and Myrtle Beach is two and a half hours east.
However, Anson’s own experiences with winter weather helped him decide to make the transition from hospital administrator to county department head. “In February, the weekend of Valentine’s Day, we had that snow storm,” he recalled. “Walmart was closed. All county services were closed. But the hospital was open. The Health Department was closed so that’s what attracted me.”
Though a county department director has an intense job, for Thompson, that intensity is lessened when compared to the responsibility of caring for patients and staff 24/7. He also never considered retiring and leaving Anson County. “I’ve lived in many different places. Anson is the best place we’ve ever lived. And after 19 years, it’s home.”
When asked about Henderson replacing him as the local hospital administrator, Thompson said he was pleased with the decision, since he and Henderson share similar backgrounds. At 17, Thompson dropped out of high school and joined the Navy, where he served as a corpsman. Henderson graduated high school and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served as a medic.
Though he lives in Charlotte now, Henderson plans to move to Anson County in time for the new hospital’s opening. “Ansonians are a very proud group,” he said. “I have to learn a few things. I’ve never fished a day in my life, for instance.” Late in his Army career, he was stationed at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, and worked in home health, traveling throughout the region to care for patients, including Wadesboro and Ansonville.
“I never thought I’d be working here,” Henderson admitted. “But even in the late ’90s, I could see the need.”
Henderson currently serves as the executive director for two long-term care facilities, Jesse Helms Nursing Center in Monroe, and Lillie Bennett Nursing Center in Wadesboro.
Thompson feels that Henderson’s background will be an asset as he leads the new facility in Anson. “I have found that many hospital administrators have never actually taken care of patients,” Thompson said. “He understands patient care, and can talk to the nurses. That will serve him well, particularly at a small, rural hospital.”
“It will be very difficult to fill Dr. Thompson’s shoes,” Henderson said. “He’s made a huge difference in this community. What I’m most excited about is that partnerships in the community are very important. Dr. Thompson’s new position at the Health Department will help us out there.”
Thompson said he felt it was time to retire now, because the vision for the new hospital does not mesh with the way he’s used to doing things. “I was a traditional hospital president and that’s not where we’re going out there,” he explained. “Gary is best suited for that new model of health care.”
This will be the first facility of its type that Henderson will lead, but he’s ready for the challenge. “When we think of health care, right now if I have a diseased state, I go to the hospital, get care and go home,” he explained. “This model is built upon creating preventive care. It goes beyond the structure of the hospital itself.”
Carolinas HealthCare System — Anson will implement many new healthcare innovations, including telemedicine, telepsychiatry and will include specialist clinics from areas like Monroe and Charlotte.
“Our role in Anson County is primary care,” Thompson explained. “Basic secondary care is in Union, and you go to Charlotte for more intensive care.”
Thompson hopes that the Health Department can begin working with people at a younger age, so that they learn that the emergency department is not a primary care facility. “There was a study done by Carolinas HealthCare System that showed that there are 400 people in Anson County that consume 70 percent of the healthcare services,” Thompson said.
Carolinas HealthCare System — Anson will feature 15 inpatient rooms, 24-hour emergency care services, access to primary care physicians, a community room for health education, diabetes management, digital imaging services, faith-based health services, laboratory services, mobile health services, patient navigation services, pharmacy assistance and surgical services.
The new facility is scheduled to hold its grand opening on July 12. Thompson will take over as Anson County Health Department director on July 7.