Emory & Henry’s students bring new life to old hospital

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Eventually, the students in Emory & Henry College’s School of Health Sciences will improve their patients’ health. Right now, they’re improving Marion’s economy.

“What we have done in our office is be the biggest cheerleader we can be for Emory because we see that the potential isn’t just filling up the old hospital,” says Marion Economic Development Director Ken Heath. “The potential is all the ancillary benefits we’re starting to see already – turning Marion from a pretty nice little, sleepy, cool town into a college town and all the benefits that brings.”

When Smyth County Community Hospital moved to new facilities in 2012, some folks worried the old hospital (built in 1965) would become an eyesore at the edge of town. Henderson Graham, a retired dentist, was determined that wouldn’t happen. He went to several schools promoting the idea of using the old building to teach new health professionals. Eventually, Emory & Henry, with its campus just 20 miles outside Marion, bought in.

“Henderson Graham is the one I fully credit with this whole shebang,” Heath says. “He was like a bulldog. He grabbed hold of that thing and wouldn’t let go until it thundered.”

Graham died before the college’s Marion campus opened. “He got to carry the ball almost to the goal line,” Heath says. The economic development director helped push it across.

The graduate programs of Emory & Henry’s School of Health Sciences are housed in the former hospital building. The doctor of physical therapy program’s inaugural cohort of 28 students had a white-coat ceremony in June, marking the beginning of their final year in the program. That year is devoted to clinical study. A month earlier, the 30 members of the college’s first class of physician assistants donned white coats, beginning a 27-month curriculum.

While they’re learning and supporting the local economy, students also are getting experience and helping locals through the Mel Leaman Free Clinic at Emory & Henry, the Obesity Research Center and the Falls Prevention Center.

Those programs, plus the master’s program in occupational therapy, have brought 120 students to the Marion campus. The college expects to increase that number to 180 this fall. Heath says the college expects to bring in hundreds more. “They’ve got some big dreams,” he says, “and I’m dreaming right along with them.”

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