Dolly Parton
Mountain Press
May 23, 2007
Dolly leads hospital groundbreaking
By: Angela Williams

SEVIERVILLE - In the country backwoods of Sevier County in 1946, Dr. Robert F. Thomas made his way to the home of the Partons to help in the birthing of one Dolly Parton.

Just over 61 years later, Parton came home to return the favor. Following up on her benefit concert Sunday, she made a special appearance at Monday's groundbreaking ceremony for the new hospital - funded by the Robert F. Thomas Foundation.

"This is a very special day in the history of Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center," Ellen Wilhoit, FSSMC chief administrative officer, said. "With the new hospital, we will be bringing broader services to our patients. Gone will be the long drives. People will be able to get that treatment here."

In the middle of the former Dan River property, the invited audience of over 400 guests watched as the new hospital's plans were unveiled. The $110 million project includes a 200,000 square foot hospital, a branch of the Thompson Cancer Survival Center, and a medical office building.

County Mayor Larry Waters underscored a continual need to upgrade the county's medical facilities.

"In 1978 when I was first elected, people came to me and said that my first act as county mayor needed to be to help save the hospital," Waters said. "So I went to Nashville and asked for funding to help save the hospital for our community. In 1980, the opportunity came to join into a partnership with Covenant Health. They helped us to maintain a growing hospital.

"Now we are to the point where we are ready to expand. This is going to be a regional health care facility where anyone can come for top of the line health care."

The new medical center is being funded by donations from the community via the Thomas Foundation. Thomas was a county doctor whose imprint remains on Sevier County medical care.

"When this facility unveils, it will be from the cooperative effort of the whole community working together for the betterment of the community," Sevierville Mayor Bryan Atchley said. "I'll draw a line from Dr. Thomas, who once said, 'There is no reason why this hospital can't be the Mayo Clinic of the South.'"

Currently, Fort Sanders Sevier is a 79-bed acute care hospital. Demands on the building are exceeding the capacity, especially that of the emergency room. The ER was designed to treat 17,000 patients annually, but current numbers are in excess of 41,000 people each year.

The new facility will draw from the mountain heritage that surrounds the area.

"The brand new facility will house the newest in technologies," Covenant Health CEO Tony Spezia said. "This county has probably some of the deepest roots of anywhere. We plan to salute and celebrate those roots in the months to come."

Parton hasn't forgotten her own roots. Through her foundation, she has donated $500,000 for the new hospital facility and her concert Sunday benefited the Foundation.

Monday, she came riding in on a large construction truck that dwarfed the tiny Parton.

"Did you expect me to come riding up on a little rig?," Parton asked. "I have to do things in a big way. I'm a ho with the big hoe."

Decked out in a blue polka-dot hard hat and stiletto-heeled work boots, Parton had the audience in stitches.

Spezia unveiled a rendering of the new women's care facility, to be named in honor of Parton. The Dolly Parton Center for Women's Services will include the latest in women's health care technologies.

"The women's care center will be the destination site for women's health care," Spezia said. "We want to honor your commitment by adding your name to the new hospital campus, so that all will know that the women's care center reflects the nature of a great and caring woman."

Never one to miss out on an opportunity to poke fun at herself, Parton reminded those in attendance that she had a medical degree.

"Y'all know that I'm a doctor," Parton said. "Several years ago, Carson-Newman gave me an honorary doctorate. I'm Doctor double D."

To the amusement of those gathered, Parton went on to explain her statement.

"It stands for Doctor Dolly Dee, not that other stuff," Parton said. "We'll leave that other stuff to the women's center."

As honorary chair of the Thomas Foundation, Parton joined the ranks to break ground on the new site. It made for a great photo opportunity, even if construction is still to come with an expected fall 2009 opening.

"I don't quite know what we're doing," Parton said, "but I know that I'm proud to be doing it."

No place like home for Dolly
Entertainer's love and loyalty for her home pay off in big ways

How about that Dolly Parton. She's a millionaire many times over, a singer with a world following and enough awards to fill china cabinets many times over. Yet here she was in Sevier County for two days, raising money and enjoying her time back in the place of her roots.

Parton's benefit concert Sunday night at Smokies Stadium generated a reported $500,000 for the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation, which is seeking to raise $10 million to pay for extras as part of Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center's new campus. And speaking of that new campus, there was Parton Monday morning joining 400 or so people at the groundbreaking for that new hospital. The sun was shining and the weather was still a touch cool, which made the entire event that much more special.

Parton and her family have benefited over the decades from the Sevierville hospital. Parton used her concert to remind the audience of how Dr. Thomas rode horseback into the mountains to deliver Parton in 1944. Her connection to Sevier County is more than just as her birthplace. This is her home, and the agencies and facilities that serve the people in her home are very special to her. Not everybody keeps such an attachment to the places of their youth, especially if they have gone on to the kind of success she has. Thankfully Dolly Parton does.

Parton is big on loyalty. Despite a bitter falling out with Porter Wagoner more than 30 years ago, Parton went back to the Grand Ole Opry Saturday night for a tribute to the ailing entertainer. No matter the acrimony of their split, Parton owes a lot to Wagoner and wanted to show her appreciation for one of the last remaining giants of country music. That's classy.

Thanks again, Miss Dolly, for all you do and are doing for this community. We draw 12 million visitors a year, but 80,000 people live here and that number is growing. Your dedication to the place of your childhood will help ensure that the local residents are well served in health care.