ORANGE PARK – The sounds of hammers, clanging metal and welder’s torches were the perfect backdrop during Friday morning’s ceremony honoring the first CEO of Orange Park …
ORANGE PARK – The sounds of hammers, clanging metal and welder’s torches were the perfect backdrop during Friday morning’s ceremony honoring the first CEO of Orange Park Medical Center.
An expanded hospital will lead to expanded services, which is exactly what Lee Ledbetter would have appreciated most as officials honored his memory by dedicating a plaque near the entrance.
Ledbetter died last July at 93, just days after groundbreaking for a new $62 million tower. Work on the expansion continued a few feet away during the ceremony, which may have been the best way to recognize his never-ending work to improve healthcare in Clay County.
“Dad would be amazed,” said Ledbetter’s daughter, Holly Solsona, after she unveiled a plaque at the flagpole to signify her father’s service. “He always talked about it being an honor to grow from a hospital to a major medical center. He knew about the new structure and he was very pleased.”
Ledbetter joined local doctors W. Raleigh Thompson, Henson Stephens and Tom Harden in 1974 to turn a pine forest into the 196-bed Greater Orange Park Community Hospital. Today there are 317 inpatient beds with ongoing construction on a five-story addition that will increase the occupancy to 365.
The original three physicians were struggling with regulatory approvals to build a new hospital among the whispering pines and palmetto bushes. Ledbetter organized a series of breakfast and late-night meetings sandwiched around his workday at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville. With the building of a not-for-profit hospital blocked, he muddled through the red tape and the physicians began negotiating for an investor-owned hospital Humana (now HCA) to build, lease and operate a hospital on land the three doctors already owned.
Ledbetter struck a final deal and the first patient was treated on Nov. 18, 1974.
Since then, it’s undergone a myriad of expansions and change, with each step guided by Ledbetter’s legacy of “treating people well and leadership,” said local attorney and board member David King.
“This hospital really represents the legacy of Lee Ledbetter and that legacy is continued today by the 1,500-plus employees that serve our patients and serve our community every day – day in and day out, 24 hours a day,” King said. “Yes, today we honor him with a plaque. However, we really honor him by continuing his legacy today and into the future.”
His daughter said her father was humbled to serve his community.
“My father felt very blessed for the opportunities that passed his way,” Solsona said. “He took advantage of those opportunities, but he always felt blessed.”
Amid the bustle of construction and traffic on Kingsley Avenue, Orange Park Medical Center remains a soaring testament to Lee Ledbetter’s vision.
“Where we stand today, and as far as you could see in any direction, the only thing you would see would be pine trees,” King said. “And yet we stand here today in front of this magnificent facility. Ever growing. And ever improving.”