This month, Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center celebrates its 60th anniversary of moving to Silas Creek Parkway. (The hospital actually traces its roots back to 1887.) Here, three longtime team members recall their early days and reflect on the changes they’ve witnessed over the years.

Martha Harrelson started working at Forsyth Medical Center the year CNN debuted. The year the median home price in North Carolina was $71,300. And the year Ronald Reagan defeated the incumbent Jimmy Carter to become the country’s 40th president.

That was 1980, and the NICU nurse manager has been here ever since. She’s never wanted to go anywhere else. “We’re a family,” she said of her longtime teammates. In Harrelson’s case, the hospital is literally her family. Her now-retired husband, Tim Harrelson, worked in radiology for 35 years.

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When she joined the hospital as a young nurse, she embarked on a career she’d wanted since she was 10. “Mother had a dear friend who was a nurse and was very influential in my development,” Harrelson said. She began on a medical/surgical floor before being recruited to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Although initially reluctant – she was “worried about seeing those sick babies” – she quickly fell in love with the job.

What hooked her? The connections she made with families. She thrived on being able to guide and comfort them during an uncertain time and loved seeing moms and dads bond with their newborns.

She left the NICU to become the manager of the mother-baby unit for nine years, but she recently returned to manage the NICU.

In her nearly 44 years at Forsyth Medical Center, she’s seen a lot of change. Glass thermometers have given way to quick-read battery-operated models, for instance. Technology has radically changed how nurses do parts of the job. Harrelson remembers writing vital signs, heart rates, time of birth and more on slips of paper or her scrubs. Now, everything’s digital.

A more significant change is how the hospital approaches labor and delivery. Facilitating bonding between mother and baby wasn’t even a thought in 1980.

“When I first started, patients labored in one room and then moved to a more clinical ‘delivery room,’” she recalled. “A nurse would take a newborn for a first bath, put them in a crib in the nursery and wait until first feeding to bring baby back to Mom’s room. There was no room for dads, so they usually stayed home. Moms would stay for up to three days. The nurse would give mom the bottle and often leave. Back then, we’d have four moms in one room, divided by a curtain. They all shared a bathroom.”

Today, babies stay in the mom’s room and dads can spend the night in the room, too. (There’s a sofa bed in every room.) And Novant Health nurses are trained to support bonding and breastfeeding. “Now, we're "'Baby Friendly,’” Harrelson said.

In spite of all the changes, a few things have remained constant. “Our staff cares so much,” Harrelson said. “We care about our patients, their families and our whole community.”

A proud past. A bright future.

Since a group of women opened a makeshift hospital – the predecessor to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center – inside someone’s home in 1887, the hospital has evolved with the times.

To keep pace with Winston-Salem’s growth, the hospital is evolving again. Now under construction and expected to open in early 2025 is the five-story, 193,000-square-foot South Tower, which will feature 59 critical care rooms and 36 medical-surgical rooms. Abundant natural light and patient privacy were at the forefront of the design.

The surgical services department is being remodeled and expanded, and there will be a modern and spacious waiting area for family members and guests.

The new tower is part of an overall $400 million multiphase upgrade that includes an obstetrics emergency department (OBED) completed in 2019 and the recently renovated labor and delivery unit.

Next up, the hospital’s mother-baby post-delivery and antepartum unit will undergo a renovation. The goal is to make hospital rooms feel more like home. Once complete this summer, all labor and delivery services, including the state-of-the-art, 56-bed, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), will be combined into one convenient location.

Twenty years of ‘losing herself in the service of others’

Frankye Burke found her home in Forsyth Medical Center’s cardiac procedures team – specifically, the electrophysiology lab – in 2004.

After seven years in there, she was promoted to nurse manager for the small telemetry monitoring unit. Under her leadership, the unit tripled in staff.

In 2016, she returned to cardiac procedures to manage the cardiac cath lab and cardiac vascular pre-post. As the cath lab nurse manager, she oversees five cath labs that perform close to 5,000 heart catheterizations each year.

She’s loved every department and made lasting relationships in each place she’s worked. She thinks the compassionate, patient-centered care sets the cardiac specialty – and the hospital – apart.

As a procedural nurse, she works alongside doctors performing cardiac procedures. It’s a unique vantage point. “I’m part of a team working toward a shared goal to provide the best, safest and most efficient care,” she said. “There is a mutual trust among the team members; we’re caring for patients when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Burke was hooked on nursing after one anatomy class. She earned her nursing degree from Winston-Salem State University and has never doubted her career choice. “I’m often asked why I chose nursing,” she said. “My response is, ‘This is how God made me.’ I am most fulfilled when caring for someone when they need me most. That is joy.”

Cardiac care has changed a lot since Burke first started 20 years ago. “Most patients would stay at least one night in the hospital,” she said. “Today, 75% of caths are done with radial access – meaning the catheter is inserted in the radial artery in the wrist – and 90% of patients go home the same day.”

A Mahatma Gandhi quote has long inspired Burke: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” She said, “I do my best for my team and patients. I hope they’re always proud to have me by their side.”

‘Go work your magic’

Tyrone Lindsay was just 17 when he started working at the hospital as a dishwasher. Then a student at East Forsyth High, he worked at the hospital after school. At the time – 1981 – minimum wage was $3.35 an hour, but the hospital was paying $4.25 an hour as a starting salary. “I thought I was rich,” Lindsay said.

But he never thought he’d still be there 43 years later. He loves the reactions he gets when people ask how long he’s been with the hospital. “Their jaws drop,” he said. “And that’s a really good feeling to think how long I’ve been here.”

After he graduated from East Forsyth, he was promoted to cook. Then lead cook. Then stock room supervisor. Then patient service supervisor. Now, he’s in plant engineering.

As lead cook, he was responsible for feeding every patient in the hospital – twice a day. “I was overseeing 35 team members who were responsible for delivering food to patient rooms,” he said. “That was 1,400 meals a day at that time – 700 for breakfast and 700 for lunch.”

He’s always enjoyed interacting with patients and has become friends with some. When he was lead cook, his boss would often dispatch him to a patient’s room if the patient had a question or complaint. “My boss would say: ‘Go work your magic,’” he said. “I’d listen to whatever the patient had to say. And often, we’d form a bond.”

Overseeing food service for so many was a huge undertaking, but there were other challenges. “We used to have an old bandsaw – like you’d see in a woodworking shop – in the kitchen,” he said. “That’s how we butchered meat.” (For the record, the saw is long gone.)

Lindsay also remembers, with disbelief, that smoking used to be permitted inside the hospital.

Three years ago, he took on responsibility for inspecting the hospital’s 1,400 fire extinguishers. “I know where every one of them is located,” he said. “It involves a lot of walking, but I really enjoy doing it.”

The married father of five has no plans to retire soon. “This place has taken good care of me all these years,” he said. “I'm grateful for that. It’s been a safe and dependable place to work.”

Forsyth’s staff and patients have always been able to depend on Lindsay, too. He went more than 27 years without missing a day of work.

It takes many people to run a hospital. Every doctor, nurse, tech, receptionist, custodian and line cook is there to be of service to patients and their families. And according to these team members, who have a combined 119 years of service, Forsyth Medical Center has felt like family since the day they started.

Celebrating 60 years (although we’ve actually been around for 137)

The multidecade tenures of Martha Harrelson, Tyrone Lindsay and Frankye Burke, while impressive, represent only a fraction of the hospital’s history. The precursor to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center opened in 1887. The hospital moved to its current location on Silas Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem 60 years ago.

And women have always been key to the hospital’s existence and growth. It was women volunteers – the Ladies Twin City Hospital Association – who first conceived of the hospital and began raising money to build it. The first iteration – which could accommodate 10 patients – opened inside the Martin Grogan home on North Liberty Street.

In 1914, those volunteers opened the 90-bed City Hospital, which expanded over time to 547 beds and eventually became Forsyth Memorial Hospital. Now one of North Carolina’s largest hospitals, Forsyth Medical Center is a regional referral center that treats patients from over 22 counties. The hospital has earned some of the nation’s top honors in quality health care, including:

  • America’s Best Maternity Hospitals 2023 (Newsweek)
  • Five-Star Breastfeeding Friendly Designation (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services)
  • Comprehensive Stroke Center Certification (since 2012; recertification by The Joint Commission occurs every two years.)
  • “Get with the Guidelines” Gold Plus Achievement Award (American Heart Association, 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020)