Barbara Solomon, RN, Assistant Administrator/Chief Nursing Officer, is retiring this month after 35 years with Macon County General Hospital. Her longevity and competence in the nursing field and beloved status in the community are universally known, and she was gracious to share the story of her journey through healthcare:
“I graduated from Grady Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia in 1961,” said Solomon. “While training at Grady Memorial, my Head Nurse duty rotation was on the pediatric floor. I realized that pediatrics was special and it became one of my favorite duty assignments. My love of pediatrics was nurtured by the pediatric nursing supervisor and one of the pediatricians on staff. Both of these individuals mentored and encouraged me as I worked with the children entrusted to my care. It seems fitting that my first professional position was as a 3-11 staff nurse in pediatrics at St. Joseph Hospital in Tampa, Florida where I worked until 1963.
“In 1963 I relocated to Clewiston, FL to be near my two brothers who had moved there from our hometown of Moultrie, Georgia. I obtained a position as a Labor and Delivery and Newborn Nursery nurse at Hendry General Hospital in Clewiston. I soon realized that I had found my true calling in nursing—Labor and Delivery.
“I cannot begin to explain the satisfaction and joy of participating in a successful labor and delivery experience nor the overwhelming heartbreak when the outcome is not good. The experiences I had at Hendry General Hospital helped me mature professionally.
“While living in Clewiston I met a young man named Robert Solomon who lived in Melbourne, Florida. Robert won my heart and after we were married I relocated to Robert’s home in Melbourne.”
In Melbourne she got another job in Labor and Delivery, and it was there that she also gave birth to her son, Christopher. “I felt very comfortable facing my pregnancy and labor and delivery experience because I knew all of the nurses and OB doctors,” she said. “I had no doubts that I was in good hands, just as all of our patients were.”
The family then moved to St. Augustine, following Robert’s job, and she became Head Nurse on a surgical floor and Relief House Supervisor. She was blessed to be able to work with one of the surgeons she’d known from her student days at Grady Memorial, and to continue her activity in Labor and Delivery. When her husband’s job took them back to Clewiston, FL, she ended up as the department nursing manager of the Obstetrical Department, a position which carried 24-hour accountability for Labor and Delivery, Post Partum and Newborn Nursery.
In 1974 the family moved to Macon County, TN, purchasing a farm in Red Boiling Springs. “Robert and my brother, Billy McGahee were busy with cattle and growing tobacco,” said Solomon. “Robert and Billy were some of the first farmers in the area to get their tobacco plants from Florida. By the time they were fully operational they were growing approximately 100 acres of tobacco each season. I didn’t get too involved with the farming activities because I was working at Macon County General Hospital as a staff nurse on the medical/surgical floor. My duties included taking call for Labor and Delivery with Dr. Charles Chitwood and Dr. Lannie Holmes.”
For a three year interval, the family moved to Fayetteville, TN, where Solomon worked as a 3-11 House Supervisor at Lincoln Regional Hospital, and then they returned to Macon County for good.
“Robert and I knew when we came to Macon County that we had found our final place to put down some roots,” remembers Solomon. “This was the community in which to raise our son and daughter. A place where we could grow old together and someday have our grandchildren and perhaps our great-grandchildren call home. It was a big plus that my brother Billy and his family and my mother were close by.
“I wouldn’t take anything for coming to Macon county. It has been wonderful. We raised both my children here, and we wouldn’t take anything for it.”
She was rehired by MCGH on June 1, 1977 in the same position she held in 1974. During this era, she worked with Drs. Chitwood, Paul Byrd, Pleas Copas, Wilbert Brooks, and Marvin Deck, Jr.
In 1987 she was asked to take the position of acting Director of Nursing until the hospital could find a permanent Director.
“My children have said that I spent more time at the hospital than I did with them. That was when I was doing labor and delivery and sometimes I had to stay up there 24 hours at a time. We had a small staff then, too. The first day that I was here, Jerry Harper [former Director of Nursing] said, ‘here’s the keys; I’m going fishing.’ That’s no joke. Of course, I’d been here for a little bit.”
The hospital also had a new administrator, who had a vision for hospital growth and improvement. Under his leadership the hospital undertook a building program which included new patient rooms, operating and delivery room, newborn nursery, ER and Radiology departments.
“There was a while I thought—I’ll never be accepted in this area,” said Solomon. “Because I was something else—I was starched, stiff, very strict nurse; patients came first. But over time I think people realized that the care I wanted was the very best that we could give. And I always felt like, if that was my mother laying there, how would I want her taken care of. And I didn’t cut any slack, I really didn’t.”
The hospital also pulled off the feat of becoming Join Commission accredited—a lofty goal for any hospital at that time, says Solomon—an accreditation that they have since maintained.
“When we got ready to go Joint Commission—the floors were dirty, and we actually got down and scrubbed the floors with a toothbrush, and the girls still talk to me about that today. But nursing is what I was born for, I think. Because I always wanted to do it—I never thought about anything else.”
Solomon continued to act as Director of Nursing until 1996, when the hospital asked her to accept the position of Assistant Administrator/Chief Nursing Officer, the position that she’s held until today. In this role, she has been in charge of as many as 60 employees at a time.
“My years with Macon County General Hospital have given me the opportunity to watch the hospital grow and become an integral part of our community,” she said. “The hospital staff and employees and others associated with the hospital have also become an integral part of my life. They are my second family; that’s truly how I feel.
“Throughout my years at MCGH I have had the opportunity to work with many dear people, some of whom are no longer with us, and others who have moved on to other places of service in healthcare. Each one of these people has helped shape who I am professionally and personally. I have formed many lasting friendships among those with whom I’ve worked, including hospital leadership, the Board of Directors, physicians and the wonderful nursing personnel.
“I owe many thanks to so many people. It would be impossible for me to list them all. However, I do wish to thank Mr. Dennis Wolford, CEO and Mr. Thomas Kidd CFO and the hospital Board of Directors for the support they have given and the respect they have shown me. Their leadership and guidance have made my job as CNO a little easier.
“It is with mixed emotions that I feel it is time for me to retire and place the reins of nursing leadership in the very capable hands of the next generation. We have entered a new era in healthcare and the role of the nurse has undergone many changes. I have tried to teach them well and now it is time for them to take MCGH and healthcare to the next level.
“As I close the door on this chapter of my life, I want my hospital family and my community to know that you are now and will always be in my heart. I will always treasure the years I’ve spent with you and the patients at Macon County General Hospital.”
Solomon does have some plans for retirement—women like her can never sit very still for very long. “We will probably travel some,” she said, “but mainly I’m going to catch up on things I’ve put by the wayside, like photo albums and recipes and I’ll have a little time to visit. I want to spend time at the Senior Citizens, and I still want to be active in the community.
“I would like to help get a real volunteer program started in this hospital. I think we need that as much as anything that would help us. I would like to have a teenager program and an adult one. We’ve had a smattering of that, but it’s not been organized so that we have all areas covered. That’s what I would like to do. I’ve talked to Mr. Wolford a little bit about that, and he said he’d love to see that happen.”
“I think when I came here in 1984—I’ve been here a long time—one thing I noticed about Barbara was how she really thought it was important to have quality patient care,” said hospital CEO Dennis Wolford. “And that really stuck in my mind. Barbara has always been like that. Our patients deserve the best, and she wouldn’t stand for anything less than outstanding care. And that has been her goal for all these years.
“She’s really going to be missed. She’s set the standard high—and that’s the way it should be. All of our patient satisfaction scores in regard to nursing have always been excellent, and that goes back to her leadership.
“So Barbara recognized that it was time to retire and we’re all going to miss her very much, but I’ve worked with her here for 28 years, and you might say we’ve had a very unique working relationship, because I’ve always encouraged her to tell it like it is—and believe me she does—communication is so important. I couldn’t say enough about Barbara, about her performance, and really, what she has done for Macon County General Hospital.”
A farewell celebration for Solomon will be held at the hospital on Friday, September 28 from 2-5 pm. The public is welcome to attend.
Her replacements are Latise Jones and Leanne Bilbrey, who will share Solomon’s responsibilities. “I feel like I’m leaving my heart in good shape with these people,” she said.