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Valley Regional Hospital staff, supporters reflect on 25th anniversary

Pat Foote, David Hovell, Dr. Michael Dunn, Karen Jenkins and Cathy Hale stand by a photo display commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Valley Regional Hospital.
Pat Foote, David Hovell, Dr. Michael Dunn, Karen Jenkins and Cathy Hale stand by a photo display commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Valley Regional Hospital.

KENTVILLE - Karen Jenkins vividly remembers the transition from Kentville’s old Blanchard Fraser Memorial Hospital into a shiny, new facility.

The switch was scheduled to occur at midnight, allowing for a slight overlap between operations at Blanchard Fraser and Valley Regional Hospital.

“It was really exciting. I think we were all excited to move to a new building, but also there was a bit of nervousness,” recalled Jenkins, who was working as the manager of the emergency department and ambulatory care at the time.

The doors to Valley Regional Hospital opened April 4, 1992. Jenkins has been there since day one.

“The first few days people were going around with maps in their hands,” she said with a laugh.

With patient care as the top priority, Jenkins said health care professionals quickly learn how to adapt to their circumstances.

She can remember one occasion in particular when staff in multiple departments rallied together to minimize the impact of a flood.

“The bell started ringing and we sort of ran out of our offices into the hallway and you could see the water just cascading from the ceiling, and people were running trying to clear out offices and pull up the cords,” said Jenkins, a former site manager at Valley Regional and acting executive director of the western zone.  

“The water came really quickly.”

The source of the flood appeared to be a broken pipe in an area of the hospital above the lobby that housed the old chapel, Jenkins added.

“It sort of went in a waterfall all down through the lobby and down through the stairs.”

She couldn’t recall the exact year, offering 2005 as an estimate, but Jenkins does remember that it was shortly after some redevelopment work had been completed.

Looking back, she believes that event is now a prime example of the sense of community at Valley Regional Hospital.

“It was really a demonstration of people coming together… to make sure that the service continued and the patients were able to get the care that they needed,” she said.

“It’s just [one of] those overall moments when you’re really proud of what you’re a part of.”

The Valley Regional Hospital Foundation and auxiliary members continue to fundraise to help purchase much-needed equipment for the hospital.

25-plus years of nursing

Like Jenkins, Cathy Hale has been with Valley Regional Hospital since it opened 25 years ago.

Hale, the charge nurse in oncology, has seen a lot in her 27 years of nursing. But her passion for the job is most evident when she talks about her work with patients battling cancer.

“I always tell people it’s the best place to work. The patients are always so wonderful up there and we’ve got the best area in the hospital,” she said, noting that the unit is located in a bright space on the upper level that used to be reserved for offices.

“They appreciate everything and we learn so much from them.”

That’s not to say working in oncology easy.

“We treat some kids… and they are so smart,” said Hale.

“We’ve had some of them pass away and those are the hard times… really hard.”

She said the tight-knit group of nurses working in the unit lean on each other to get through the difficult days, always taking comfort in the fact that they’re making a difference.  

“They’re getting good care when they come here,” said Hale.

Construction on Valley Regional Hospital began in 1998. The Valley Regional Hospital Foundation recently created a photo display to mark the 25th anniversary of the hospital.

The evolving world of medicine

It was the promise of a new CT scanner that first drew Dr. Michael Dunn to Valley Regional Hospital in 1992.

“That was really a game changer in practicing medicine around here, as it would be for any community at the time. The CT scanner was a fundamental component of the investigation of illnesses,” the radiologist explained.

“The newer one would make our first CT scanner look like a Model T Ford compared to a modern car. It’s enormously more functional and because it works so fast, it keeps up for the increase in demand for service.”

The fact that the promised CT scanner would be located in a new hospital was an added bonus from Dunn’s perspective.

“At the time, it was a wonderful thing,” he said, reflecting on his first shift in the pristine Valley Regional.

“This looked like we were moving into Heaven.”

The hospital has undergone several transformations since it was first constructed, said Dunn.

“What they couldn’t foresee at the time was really how medicine would change itself over time,” said Dunn, noting that the changing roles of hospitals in eastern and western Kings County resulted in more patients from outside of the Kentville area turning to Valley Regional Hospital for service.

Dunn has watched the hospital become a referral centre serving patients from throughout the Annapolis Valley region and beyond. He notes that this growth would not be possible without dedicated staff genuinely devoted to providing excellent care.

“It is a bit unique that people work so well together,” he said.

Dunn stressed that it is critical the hospital continues to receive the support necessary to meet the needs of the day while also planning for the medical advances of tomorrow.

“That will be the challenge of the future,” he said.

A memory display posted in the lobby of the Valley Regional Hospital features this photo of radiologist Dr. Michael Dunn.

 A hospital shaped by its community

Pat Foote first joined the Valley Regional Hospital Auxiliary as a volunteer in 1965.

“My father was a doctor and I wasn’t able to be a nurse because I faint at the sight of blood,” the career dietitian confided in a recent interview.

Needless to say, things aren’t quite as they were when Foote first started volunteering for her local hospital.

“It has changed quite a bit and, from the auxiliary perspective, we enjoyed having a much bigger gift shop… from what we had at the Blanchard Fraser Memorial Hospital,” she said, adding that the gift shop is the auxiliary’s main fundraiser.

The auxiliary also gets a percentage of the proceeds from art sold in the gallery it established.

“We have donated well over a million dollars to the [hospital] foundation over these years,” said Foote.

David Hovell, long serving member of the Valley Regional Hospital Foundation’s board of directors and past president, said community support is critical to the hospital’s longevity.

“We are so fortunate to have Valley Regional Hospital here today and it has certainly evolved over the course of 25 years. It’s more than just a community health care centre , it’s now a tertiary centre that has a lot of specialties we’re very fortunate to have so close to home,” he said.

It was a personal experience that motivated Hovell to start volunteering for the hospital foundation.

“I saw the care that was offered here and I also understand that as a member of the community we have a responsibility to give back and we have a role in enhancing health care,” he said.

“We were part of raising the capital money to build the hospital, we then raised money to equip the hospital.”

The foundation continues to work toward purchasing new equipment that will make a difference in the lives of patients.

“We have what we have here because of the community’s deep commitment to this place,” said Hovell.

“We have a very giving and open community.”

Learn more about the Valley Regional Hospital Foundation at

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