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School of Nursing’s legacy remains strong

WHEELING — Although Ohio Valley Medical Center has closed permanently, the legacy of its School of Nursing lives on through the dedicated nurses it produced.

A capacity crowd filled the Ohio County Public Library’s auditorium Tuesday to share memories of the facility known most recently as OVMC and earlier as Ohio Valley General Hospital.

Wheeling resident Mary Gerkin McKinley, a 1972 graduate of the School of Nursing, served as moderator for a Lunch With Books program. She retired from OVMC in 2016, after a 43-year career beginning as a staff nurse and concluding as a nursing consultant.

A number of nurses, doctors and other medical personnel spoke during the one-hour session.

“Stories and compassion are holding us together,” McKinley said, reflecting on the OVGH-OVMC legacy.

Many artifacts — preserved by the School of Nursing’s alumni association and rescued before the hospital closed — were displayed in the library’s auditorium and adjacent board room. The School of Nursing closed in 1988.

“My first fear was that all of the artifacts would disappear,” she said.

The library offered to take possession of the memorabilia as OVMC’s closure loomed in September.

McKinley hailed library archivist Laura Carroll and local history specialist Erin Rothenbuehler as “my heroes.”

As artifacts were removed from OVMC, nursing alumni wondered how to transport a large, wheeled display unit holding composite photographs of each graduating class.

“Laura (Carroll) pushed it all the way from the hospital to the library,” the moderator said.

Several speakers cited the lasting impact of their training in the School of Nursing and the experience they received at OVMC. McKinley, a past president of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, said, “The foundation I had was so strong and so good, it was what made me successful.”

Dr. Michael Blatt thanked all of the nurses whom he met during his career. He told the audience, “Remember all of those good things that have come out of this institution and the School of Nursing.”

James Stultz of Moundsville worked in OVMC’s administration for 41 years, beginning in 1970. The nursing force was key to the hospital’s success, he said.

“How proud I am to have served with you,” Stultz told the crowd. “How OV is ultimately remembered is the work you did — the hands-on (care) at the bedside.”

Becky Corder, also a member of the nursing school’s class of 1972, said, “It was the foundation. … I’m truly blessed to be a diploma graduate.”

Kathy Robinson, a former nursing instructor, said the school’s leaders pushed nurses to continue their education. The training opened doors for graduates, she added.

Many speakers expressed heartbreak over OVMC’s closure. With no desire to seek employment elsewhere, one woman said, “I was an OV nurse, and I will die an OV nurse.”

After hearing the various stories, McKinley said, “It’s great to know there are wonderful memories here and that’s living on.”

Chartered in 1890 as City Hospital, the medical facility opened in 1892. The School of Nursing started at the same time and was the first such school in the state, she said.

The institution was renamed Ohio Valley General Hospital in 1914, when a new building replaced its original quarters. The hospital expanded over the years and became Ohio Valley Medical Center in 1973. Its final addition, the 200-bed West Tower, opened in 1980.

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