For more than 69 years, Juanita Taylor has reported for work regularly at Sentara RMH. She served as a full-time employee for a remarkable 61 years and then, since retiring eight years ago, as a regular volunteer in the hospital’s gift shop, where she currently works about 50 hours per month. Her long tenure of service is unique among Sentara RMH employees and volunteers, and probably unmatched among the tens of thousands of staff members employed by Sentara Healthcare.
Taylor, 95, was hired at Rockingham Memorial Hospital on July 28, 1947, by hospital administrator C. Tiffany Loftus. Since then, she has personally known and worked under every subsequent hospital administrator and president, including J. Nelson Liskey, T. Carter Melton Jr. and Jim Krauss. She expects still to be volunteering at the hospital and completing her 70th year of service next July, by which time Sentara RMH likely will have named a successor to the recently retired Krauss.
“Juanita is in a class of her own in many ways,” says Deb Thompson, director of Sentara RMH Volunteer Services. “She is a faithful friend and supporter of the hospital, and she has a true heart for service, as well as one of the strongest work ethics I’ve ever seen. I’ve known Juanita since I joined RMH more than 28 years ago, and she seems as lively today as she was then. We call her the ‘Energizer Bunny’ for good reason—she can run circles around just about anyone!”
Taylor readily concedes there are likely other people who have been employed as long as she has, and maybe longer. She wonders, however, how many of them have worked for the same company or organization for nearly seven decades.
“I’d really like to know that,” she says. “I think I probably share that distinction with very few people.”
Taylor grew up in Sharon, Pa., very near the state’s border with Ohio. The border was so close, she says, that on a certain street she could stand with one foot in Pennsylvania and the other in Ohio.
Her father, a postal worker, was transferred to Pittsburgh, and it was there she entered young adulthood, graduating from Langley High School and Business Training College. She has always had a keen sense of responsibility and independence, with an equally strong desire to help others.
“I was the oldest of four children, and my mother wasn’t very healthy for as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “So I naturally had to help at home.”
During World War II, many local businesses sponsored USO programs for service personnel stationed in the area, and it was at one of those gatherings that Juanita met Lewis Austin Taylor.
“We were married in the chapel at Fort McClellan, Alabama, following a courtship helped by Uncle Sam and the Postal Service,” she says.
Their son, Lewis Austin Taylor II, was born on VE Day in the hospital at the U.S. Army base. After Sgt. Taylor’s discharge from the service, the family relocated to Harrisonburg, his hometown.
From RMH Patient to Employee
Not long after the couple moved to Harrisonburg, Juanita became ill and had to be hospitalized. She then decided to go to work to help pay her medical bills. With experience in accounting and clerical work, she applied to RMH and obtained a job in the Medical Records Office, which at that time only had four employees. They typed all patient reports, delivered the reports to patient charts, completed daily census reports and performed other miscellaneous duties.
One of the first people at the hospital with whom Taylor worked closely was Dr. Noland Canter Sr., chief radiologist and founder of the RMH Radiology Department. She would often go to what was then the X-ray Department, take dictation, go back upstairs and transcribe the radiology reports. Dr. Canter would then review the reports, make any corrections and sign off, and Taylor would place the reports in the patients’ medical records.
In that position, Taylor had more contact with patient charts than she did with either patients or nurses, she recalls—but student nurses were another matter. “The hospital was operating the RMH School of Nursing, and the student nurses had to do case studies, so we were often called upon to help them,” she says. “Sometimes we would interpret words they didn’t understand or help them access the records they needed for their studies. Sometimes we typed for them.”
Moving Up and Taking on Expanded Roles
Several years after she joined Medical Records, the head of the department left, and Taylor was able to step into the role of medical records librarian (essentially, the department director). Her job responsibilities changed, and she began working more with the hospital census and other types of reports.
Ever willing to help, she sat on numerous hospital committees, at one point taking minutes for 13 different committee groups. “I got a lot of free meals in those days,” she laughs.
In about 1953 or 1954, Taylor began assisting the RMH Auxiliary, a volunteer organization founded in 1911 by women in the community to help support the new hospital, which opened in 1912. The Auxiliary’s purpose was, and still is, to provide volunteer services and fundraising assistance to help support the hospital. When Taylor joined the Auxiliary, one of the group’s service projects was to provide hand-sewn stuffed animals and hand puppets for children who were staying as patients in the hospital. Taylor kept bags of the finished toys in her office and delivered them to the nursing units as needed.
She would also help make the toy animals and puppets, often sewing during her evenings at home. “My husband would sometimes complain good-naturedly that he wished I would put down my sewing and watch television with him,” she remembers.
After her son left home to join the U.S. Army in 1965, Taylor began using her free time to help several local physicians with accounting work during evenings and on weekends. “This work kept me from too much worry time while my son was serving in Vietnam,” she says. “I also really enjoyed doing this extra work because I got to know the physicians and their families.”
During this time, she also continued helping the RMH Auxiliary with various projects.
Increased Government Involvement in Health Care
Taylor worked in Medical Records from 1947 to 1983, when she switched jobs and began working with diagnosis-related groups, a system implemented by the federal government to classify inpatient cases into various categories for the sake of Medicare reimbursement.
When asked what she considers the greatest change in health care during her many years at the hospital, Taylor readily acknowledges that the technology and capabilities of medical imaging, laboratory science, cancer treatment, cardiac care, surgery and nursing have seen great—even revolutionary—changes. But the biggest change, she says, has been the huge rise in government involvement in the healthcare industry, beginning in the 1960s.
“Once the federal government got more involved in health care, it seemed we all had to start thinking of it more in terms of a business,” Taylor observes. “Of course, there had always been a business side to health care, but the paperwork expanded tremendously, and we had to hire extra people just to handle all kinds of new documentation and file various reports.”
From Full-Time Work to Retirement
Although Taylor is immensely proud of the way the original Rockingham Memorial Hospital has grown into the leading-edge Sentara RMH Medical Center of today, she can’t help looking back with fondness on the days when it was a smaller organization.
“One of my proudest accomplishments here has been the huge number of friendships I’ve established with people throughout the organization, from the lowest-paid workers up to the top,” she says. “There has always been a special family-like atmosphere at the hospital, one that we especially enjoyed when we were small enough that any employee could know almost everyone in the hospital personally.”
As time moved on, however, health care continued to change, and the job Taylor held went away. At that point she decided it was time to retire after 61 years of full-time work, but it never entered her mind to just sit down and take it easy.
“Oh no,” she states. “I had to have something to do.”
So Taylor decided to remain on at the hospital as a volunteer, working in the gift shop and continuing to assist the Volunteer Auxiliary with various projects to support the hospital.
Her many decades of service to the hospital made her a valuable asset as the RMH History Committee began planning for the hospital’s centennial celebration in 2012—so naturally, she helped work on that project, too.
In addition to her hospital work, Taylor volunteers at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society in Dayton. And on her 95th birthday, she joined the Salvation Army Auxiliary.
“I told them I could ring a bell for them,” she says.
A Key to Joyful Living
Taylor has spent a very long and fruitful lifetime in service to her family, her church, her community and her community’s hospital—service, she says, that has given her genuine joy. She plans to continue volunteering for as long as she feels she can make a valuable contribution.
When asked if she has any advice or insight into what makes for a happy life, her answer is simple: “Like what you do, and discover the joy there is in helping others.”