Truly, we’re a fortunate group here at the Lake Wales Economic Development Council. Our roster of EDC partner-members is brimming with people whose interest in the future of greater Lake Wales — an interest in a better future — goes well beyond the walls of the businesses and organizations that employ them. The decision each of them made to invest corporate or other resources in the economy-building work of the EDC is a great example of that interest, but it’s not the only example — not by a long shot.
Consider the broad community-minded work of the people at Lake Wales Medical Center. The hospital has been with the Lake Wales EDC as an investor-partner since the very start of the EDC, as an arm of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce, in 2013. In addition to the extremely vital and quality health and medical services it provides around the clock to area residents and visitors, the hospital donates tens of thousands of dollars each year to local charitable, service, and youth organizations. The hospital also helps to raise thousands of dollars more each year for other charities and foundations, it offers many free health education services to the public, it regularly makes its meeting facilities available at no charge to various community groups, and it even donates kitchen staff time to help people in need.
“We like to say that ‘Care starts here and spreads through the whole community.’ ” Maryemma Bachelder, the hospital’s director of marketing, told me recently.
Founded in 1930, Lake Wales Medical Center is owned and operated by Community Health Systems. It’s the community’s largest private employer, with the equivalent of 520 full-time employees. The hospital is served by 50 active physicians and 50 additional consulting physicians. Andrew Howard is the hospital’s chief executive officer, a position he’s held since March 2014. Before that, he served as the hospital’s assistant chief executive officer. At the EDC, we’re grateful that in addition to his busy work at the hospital, Andrew volunteers some of his time to serve on the council’s board of directors.
During my conversation with Maryemma, I learned a lot about the Lake Wales Medical Center’s involvement with a variety of outside organizations and investment in the community. In 2015 alone, the hospital’s direct sponsorships and donations came to about $20,000. The hospital sponsored or co-sponsored the Polk County Senior Games basketball events in Lake Wales, the annual Pioneer Days and Orange Blossom Revue festivals, local youth baseball and softball programs, and the Ridge Soccer Association, just to name a few groups and activities. The hospital staff also helped to raise $5,000 for the American Heart Association through the annual Polk County Heart Walk event.
During the recent holiday season, Lake Wales Medical Center donated 800 pounds worth of food to nine local families in need. “Some of these were large families, some with a lot of kids,” Maryemma said. “One family had nine children.” In addition, the hospital’s clinics donated 20 bicycles that were given away to children as Christmas gifts through the Lake Wales Care Center. In a year-round effort to help many of the area’s elderly residents, the hospital is deeply involved with the Lake Wales Meals on Wheels program. “All the meals for Meals on Wheels are prepared in our kitchen, and volunteers come to the hospital to pick them up for delivery,” Maryemma said. She said more than 100 hot meals are prepared each weekday for Meal on Wheels clients, most of them elderly shut-ins.
In another form of giving not long ago, the hospital completed a $1.3 million campus-improvement and beautification project that included fresh paint for its buildings and the addition of new awnings, landscaping, lighting, and signage. Maryemma said that most of the work was done by Lake Wales and Polk County contractors. “That was intentional,” she said. “We wanted to make every effort to hire area companies and keep our local dollars local.”
There’s no room for doubt about the focus the Lake Wales Medical Center management team has for improving not only the care the hospital provides but also the community it serves.
“It just makes sense that as the biggest employer in Lake Wales, we want to be a part of the community and to help it thrive and continue to grow,” Maryemma shared with me. “That’s why we’re a member of the EDC and chamber of commerce (in the President’s Circle, the highest level of membership) and a partner with so many other organizations here in the community.
“We believe that a rising tide raises all boats,” Maryemma said, “so the bottom line is, we want to do everything we can to help improve the economy. We want to be here providing great care for our community while we also help our community to grow.”
I said early on that the Lake Wales EDC is fortunate to have a bunch of member-partners with the kind of community spirit — spirit in action — exhibited by the management and staff at Lake Wales Medical Center. I’ll add to that here: Greater Lake Wales is fortunate, too.
NOTE: I’ve shared in this column just a little bit of information about Lake Wales Medical Center. You can learn much more about the hospital through its information-packed and easy-to-navigate website. You’ll find it at www.lakewalesmedicalcenter.com.