In 1937, Dunn is an active, thriving city in Harnett County. There is only one hospital in the county and it only treats private patients. Some citizens of Dunn realize there is a great need for a county hospital to treat all patients. The first step in the plan to establish a modern, endowed hospital was made in August 1937 when an anonymous donor had a vision for a local health center. The donor wanted quality care for people regardless of race, creed, color, or ability to pay.
The original three-story facility named Dunn Hospital, Inc. was built on North Ellis Avenue. The hospital grew to 85 beds, and by 1956, expansion was greatly needed. The original anonymous donor once again made a contribution for the expansion project. In 1956, hospital board members convinced the anonymous donor that the name of the hospital should be changed and his identity made known to the public.
On December 21, 1956 the name of the 85-bed Dunn Hospital, Inc. was changed to Betsy Johnson Memorial Hospital in memory of the mother of Nathan M. Johnson, Sr., prominent Dunn businessman and sole donor of the hospital to the community. Since the original building in 1938, Mr. Johnson donated sums of money to the hospital and voluntarily specified that he was doing it “without retention of any control over the appointment of the board of trustees or management of the hospital. But with the hope that I may be spared to live and see the great and good work of this hospital continued in a spirit of charity to those deserving it, and with special privileges to none.”
Just two years later after the hospital was named for his beloved mother, Mr. Nathan Johnson, Sr. was killed instantly in an automobile accident. To thousands of people in the area he was known as “Big Nathan.” Mr. Johnson will be remembered as a man of vision, charity, humility, and a deep care and concern for other individuals. Without his generous interest and concern for the well being of individuals in the surrounding communities, it is possible that the hospital would still only be a dream and not the viable reality it is today.
By the early 1960s, more beds were needed as the hospital reached an occupancy rate of 100% and the decision was made to build a new 115-bed facility on a 35-acre tract of land. The new hospital opened in 1968 on Tilghman Drive. During the 1970s and 1980s the hospital aggressively recruited physicians and updated its services including physical and respiratory therapy, a day-surgery department, a CT scanner, a mammography unit, ultrasound services, stress testing, and echocardiography services.
In 1982, the Board of Trustees of Betsy Johnson Memorial Hospital realized that the Hospital was at a crossroads in its history. The Hospital was facing many problems that were confronting many small rural hospitals through the county. For many years, the Hospital had operated and provided care under a lucrative Medicare and Medicaid program. However, with the passage of the Prospective Payment System or DRG System, the Hospital was all of a sudden hit with a tremendous decrease in revenue related to the Government’s reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid services at a time when the Hospital also needed to expand services and recruit new physicians.
Thus, the Board of Trustees made a commitment that Betsy Johnson Memorial Hospital would be a viable institution then and would plan to make it a viable institution in the future. With limited financial resources, the Hospital began to modernize and update its services.
In 1996, Betsy Johnson Memorial Hospital was converted to a private, not-for-profit organization, placed under the authority of an independent board of trustees, and the name was changed to Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital. Nine years later, the hospital, along with Harnett County Commissioners and WakeMed, created Harnett Health System. The new not-for-profit health system would allow expanded access to care in all of Harnett County.
Thanks to the original vision and generous support of Mr. Nathan Johnson, Sr., Harnett Health System now has more than 750 employees and a medical staff of 140 physicians including 14 specialty physicians. To expand access to care, the system employs 12 physicians and five physician assistants/nurse practitioners working in five medical practices: Angier Medical Services, Dunn Medical Services, Lillington Medical Services, Harnett OB/GYN and Premiere Pediatrics. In addition to Betsy Johnson Hospital, Harnett Health System has a breast care center, a pain management center, cardiac rehabilitation program, and rehab/wellness facilities.
Since 2005, Harnett Health System has invested $63 million in a new five-story inpatient tower at Betsy Johnson Hospital, an expanded emergency department, new operating rooms, a renovated pediatric wing, new heart monitoring technology, new MRI and CT scanners, an electronic medical records system, and the addition of more than 200 employees. Building upon a great history of growing services, Harnett Health System is building a $56 million Central Harnett Hospital, a full-service, 50-bed hospital in Brightwater Park in Lillington that opened in January 2013.