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Interview with Vernell Best, June 1, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Vernell Best, June 1, 2004
June 1, 2004
This video taped oral history interview with Mrs. Vernelle Best took place at her home on June 1, 2004. It was conducted by LuAnn Mims for the Special Collections program. Mrs. Best was the Medical Records Librarian at Community Hospital for 4 years (1962-1966). She recalls the physical structure of the facility, the specifics regarding records management (prior to computers), and social aspects of a local hospital.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Best, Vernell Interviewer:  Mims, LuAnn Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  SENC Health Services Length:  40 min


Mims: Today is June 1, 2004. I'm LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library Special Collections, series on Health Services of Southeastern North Carolina. We are speaking with Mrs. Vernelle Best who was at one point in time the Medical Records Librarian at Community Hospital.

Mims: How are you doing today?

Best: All right, how are you?

Mims: Just fine. If you could give me a little bit about your background, about your family, where you guys were from and what school you attended, brothers or sisters?

Best: Well I'm from Wilmington. I was born in the first Community Hospital that was built in 1931. This has been my home, I grew up here, I lived away for a while but came back.

Mims: What high school did you go to?

Best: Williston High School.

Mims: You did?

Best: Yes, I graduated from Williston and went to West Virginia State College and I married in 1949 and started having children and all of them were born at Community Hospital, I had five children born at Community Hospital.

Mims: Wow! This was the newer facility by this time. Well, you said you went to school in West Virginia and you came back down after you finished your degree?

Best: Well, I didn't finish my degree; I went there for two years.

Mims: Okay. What were you looking to do when you were attending college?

Best: Well I was a Business Administration major, but I wanted to do some kind of clerical work in the business field.

Mims: How did you come by your position at Community Hospital?

Best: Well, I was working as a secretary there for the administrator on a temporary position. Then when Mrs. Talley, the Medical Records Librarian decided to go to work for the government, then I applied for the job and got it as Medical Records Librarian. Eugenia Childs was her assistant and she decided that she didn't want the job of Medical Records Librarian so she remained on as an assistant. And I learned on the job.

Mims: Who was willing to teach you, Mrs. Childs or Mrs. Talley?

Best: Mrs. Childs and Mrs. Talley for a while, but Mrs. Childs mostly. The doctors and all were very nice. All the personnel were very nice, showed me how to handle the ropes.

Mims: And this is a real important job at the hospital. Can you give a little bit of a description of what your job entailed?

Best: Yes, I kept a record of all the diseases and operations and deaths, and the causes of them, the babies born and all that for statistical purposes. They got help from endowments, I guess they were called that, from the Duke University and others and they would have to have statistics to back up their request for money.

In keeping these records, I would compile a yearly amount of deaths, a yearly amount of appendicitis, diabetes, all that. I kept statistics daily and I could total them up and whatever you wanted, a year or whatever.

Mims: In an age of computers, this sounds like it wouldn't be that hard, but you were not working with computers.

Best: No, I wasn't. It was all manual.

Mims: So how did you do that, just keep like monthly books?

Best: Yes, monthly books and charts and so forth.

Mims: This involved you reading the patients' records?

Best: Yes, we did read the patients' records in order to come up with, well the doctor would write out the diagnosis and write the history. There was something about the history we had to read and take notes on it. I've forgotten so much. It's been a long time, a very long time.

Mims: I know (laughter), and I'm always dredging these things up. Well, I have a little information regarding like medical record keeping. Sometimes whenever the hospital was being accredited, they had to review these charts so they had to be kept in a certain order you might say. What was your responsibility as far as that was concerned?

Best: Keeping it in order, in the orders they wanted. I remember they would come in there inspecting and doing what they had to do. Whenever they asked for something, I'd have to get it and I had it arranged so I could put my hands on it.

Mims: Also the doctors had to do all of their orders, they had to sign them?

Best: Yes and get them to write up the histories and the operations and all that. We kept behind them all the time. I remember a stack being up there. You had to keep a stack for the doctors, trying to get them to finish them off all the time.

Mims: So this involved you personally trying to get t he doctors…

Best: Yes, sometimes the doctor would come in and I would ask him to do a history or an operative procedure and he'd say, “Well, I’ll do it now.” So I had to move from my desk and let him sit down there and do it.

Mims: What happened if they didn't comply with your request?

Best: We just had an incomplete file.

Mims: And eventually it would catch up with them?

Best: Yes, because if the patient was admitted the third or fourth time, then you had to have the prior record. If they didn't have the prior record, they'd find the doctor.

Mims: Was this a normal working hour job or did you have to do any shifts or weekends?

Best: No, the hours were 8 to 5, something like that. Then when the doctors had a meeting once a month over at the nurse’s home, I would have to take minutes of the meetings and record it.

Mims: Was this like the medical society meetings or was it the Board of Trustees.

Best: No, it wasn't the Board of Trustees; it was doctors, the staff. The name of it I don't remember right now, but it was all doctors. I was the only one in there that was not a doctor. I was taking the minutes.

Mims: So you had kind of a close relationship with some of these doctors?

Best: Yes, uh-huh.

Mims: What were some of the ones you can remember the most?

Best: I remember Dr. Upperman, Dr. Gray, Dr. Eaton, Dr. Mebane, Dr. Dickey…

Mims: Dr. Dickey, I don't recall him. Do you remember what his specialty was?

Best: It was surgery and he was on Princess Street. I remember he was very nice. Dr. Boise, orthopedics. The staff was black, but they called in white doctors and the white doctors were on the Board because of their specialties.

Mims: Like Dr. Bertram Williams was a surgeon. So you had to work with them too?

Best: Yes, Dr. Williams.

Mims: How about nurses, would you have to make sure that nursing charting was completed?

Best: Yes, but most of the nurses kept their charts complete. When babies were born, I had, I remember I had trouble sometimes, to get the names of the babies and get the doctors to sign in the birth certificates. Seems as though we had get every birth certificate recorded down at the Health Department.

Mims: Did you actually get to record the babies' names?

Best: Yes.

Mims: Really? That's a fun job, don't you think?

Best: Yeah, I guess all of it was fun, but there was so much there.

Mims: Right, again no computers at that time. A lot of keeping up with all this paperwork, did you have anything to do with any of the employees' charts.

Best: That was kept separate in personnel.

Mims: Personnel kept up with that.

Best: Yes, and then they had a nurses' personnel that kept up with the nurses.

Mims: So that was all separate from you.

Best: It was all tied in, but separate.

Mims: Right, I read somewhere that part of reaccredidation for the hospital required them to have a standard medical library. Do you remember anything about that, where they had textbooks out for doctors and nurses to reference?

Best: Well there were some reference books available to the doctors in there, but there weren't many. They used the standard nomenclature for diseases and operations. This nomenclature consisted of numbers that, you could tell by looking at the numbers just what disease the person had and what operation they had or what procedure was done. Like 410 is sticking in my mind, maybe the 4 was that part of the body, the 1 was… what was what they had wrong with the body and the 0 was what caused it.

Mims: Kind of like the coding they do today, the medical coding?

Best: Yes, uh-huh. I think they still use it, but they have modified it some.

Mims: Probably because of the specifics that are required for insurance purposes. Would you have to, like today the privacy issues that come up regarding patients' records…what kind of guidelines did you have regarding that? Say if another doctor was asking for this patient's record or insurance.

Best: You know I don't remember there being any guidelines about that. We just gave out whatever information was necessary. Maybe there were some, I just don't remember.

Mims: Well, probably third party billing was just kind of coming into play more where now you know it's exclusively with the insurance doing the billing, but it may have been a little bit different.

Best: It's gotten more complicated.

Mims: We were talking off camera a little bit and you said that prior to closing Community Hospital and the opening of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the patients' records were moved?

Best: I think they were. I left there in 1966 in July and went to work for the government. They were building New Hanover at that time. I knew that they were going to close, but I wasn't involved in the actual closing. But I know they must have moved the records to New Hanover because…seems as though I went in the hospital in New Hanover not long after that and they had records of my prior hospitalizations. So they must have taken them there some kind of way.

Mims: Well, you said you knew that Community was closing Do you recall that sequence you know when you heard that the bond had gone through? How do you recall that?

Best: Well, it was just a natural progression. Somehow we knew, just knew…and opening a new one. Community was run by the county anyway, New Hanover County. I just knew.

Mims: You didn't want to continue doing what you were doing in New Hanover?

Best: No, I got the job with the government, which paid much more money. Of course, I went for the money.

Mims: What was your new job?

Best: A clerk over at Sunny Point.

Mims: Oh yeah, that would have been a nice job.

Best: Yes, it was nice. That was really interesting.

Mims: Well, one of the things that seems to be missing is the visual reference to Community Hospital. Can you kind of give me a description of your memory of what it looked like?

Best: You don't have a picture of it?

Mims: I do have a picture, but I only have a front view of it.

Best: Okay, well from that front view, you go up some steps on the second floor. To the right, all the business offices were on the second floor.

Mims: Is that where you were?

Best: Yes, in the front part it was the switchboard and the personnel office and nursing office. The Administrator was at the end of the hall, the secretary next to him and we were next to the secretary, between the secretary's office and the hallway. We could look out the window and see people going into the emergency room and stuff like that.

The other hall was for the patients. It was shaped like a "T." The front was the top of the T and the back was the bottom of the T.

Mims: So that opened up to the floor, the stick part of the T?

Best: Right, down the hall.

Mims: Now there was an upstairs?

Best: Yes, there was a third floor and the elevator was as you come in the door. The elevator was down there on the right.

Mims: Where was the cafeteria? Was there one?

Best: It was on the ground floor on the back end of the T.

Mims: The ground floor, was that where the emergency room was?

Best: Yes. It was passed the emergency room. I wouldn’t say near, but passed it. The laundry was a separate building. The nurses' residence was a separate building. The laundry on one side and the nurses' residence on the other side.

Mims: Did you have any contact with the student nurses from the school?

Best: Oh yes, they would be up and down. We'd talk to them and we'd know their names. They would be all over the floors gathering up our records, we had to file records. Early in the morning, first thing every morning, the night supervisor, the night nurse would leave us a copy of all admissions, discharges, babies born and everything that happened during the night or the past 24 hours. She would give us a copy of that sheet and we would go by that and do something. That was very important to us.

Mims: Probably it had to do with the assigning a medical record number. Did you make those assignments?

Best: Yes, we did assign the record numbers. The switchboard operator would do the admissions and she would assign record numbers. If they had been there before, of course we had a number for them. It was a cross-index if they could find it. If they couldn't find the number, they would give them a new number and we would find it the next day, what it was.

Mims: I know that's really important. I mean now a computer assigns them a new number if they can't be found, but when you were doing the other system, manually assigning these, it was important that you didn't have multiple numbers.

Best: If they couldn't find a number and if they were there before, they would assign them a new number, but we would change it the next day if we found the old chart. If we came up two or three days later, to keep from getting all confused, we would just take the old chart and bring it on up to the new number.

Mims: A lot of details.

Best: Yes, it was.

Mims: Did you ever have any student nurses working with you to experience that aspect?

Best: No, they didn't. Not with me they didn’t.

Mims: Well, the closing of Community Hospital was kind of a loss for the African American community.

Best: Like Williston was.

Mims: Like Williston, exactly. So the whole idea of transferring everything over to New Hanover, did you think that was going to be positive or negative or do you remember what you thought about it during that time?

Best: Well, I think it was closing, on the part of the patients, I'm talking about records now and I understand all the employees were given jobs out there. As a matter of fact, my aunt was the Medical Records Librarian. She got the job after I left. She worked out there until she retired in the Medical Records Department, but not as Medical Records Librarian.

Mims: What was her job there?

Best: It was a Medical Records clerk.

Mims: Clerk, okay. I'm trying to figure out that transfer. It seems like people were given jobs, but maybe not their first choice.

Best: Right, well a lot of them were heads of their departments there, but just in the department there.

Mims: Yes, I'm just finding this out. People that had real specialties within Community maybe got put someplace else. It's something to look into as to why that happened like that. But then I have talked to a couple that said they got exactly what they wanted when the transferred. Do you recall any of the old records from the old Community Hospital? Were they maintained there in your office?

Best: They're on microfilm. They put them on microfilm.

Mims: So you guys could pull them up if you needed to.

Best: Yes, it wasn't very good microfilm, but it was on microfilm.

Mims: I'm trying to figure out where stuff had gone. Of course patients' records would have gone to the new hospital. What about personnel records? Where do you think those would have gone? I mean if they weren't hired by New Hanover, where do you think your records would have gone?

Best: I don't know.

Mims: I don't either because I know there was some stuff at Community Hospital that people have started questioning where that went and mainly it was stuff that was kept in that medical library where the books were, papers, articles that doctors wrote.

Best: That library was over in the nurses' residence.

Mims: It was?

Best: Because over where we were, we kept…

Mims: So it was like the student library over there.

Best: Yes, we had our meetings over there; the medical staff met over there, the doctors.

Mims: Well, that's interesting to know. I wonder where that stuff went. I'm going to have to contact like Coastal AHEC, maybe they have it. There were also a number of portraits that people have recalled seeing like Miss Taylor. I want to say Dr. Burnett had a portrait in the hospital. I'm not sure whether Dr. Avant did or not.

Best: Salome Taylor…yes, I remember seeing those, but I don't know where.

Mims: That's what I was wondering, what the entrance looked like, were the portraits would have been there or in the medical/student library. As an employee there do you recall what kind of benefits you got? Vacation days?

Best: Yeah, vacation days and hospital insurance, that's about it. That's all there is now I suppose.

Mims: Were there any events planned for the hospital like a picnic or a Christmas party or anything like that that you recall?

Best: I really don't recall any now, but it seems like there was. We had a Christmas party, but I just don't remember the specifics of it like that.

Mims: But you do recall some social events?

Best: Yes.

Mims: Generated through the hospital itself?

Best: But not many.

Mims: And of course then you had your patients that were chronic, kind of long term cases?

Best: Yeah, we had a clinic too. I was responsible for getting in that clinic every Saturday morning.

Mims: Where was this located?

Best: On the ground floor. We, Mrs. Childs and I, would take turns, one would work one Saturday, then I'd work the next Saturday.

Mims: And what was going on in the clinic?

Best: Most of them were diabetics. They had some that didn't have doctors and they would come…

Mims: Like a walk-in type clinic?

Best: Yes. We kept records for those patients in the clinic too. I just remembered that.

Mims: It's funny how the mind works, isn't it? Some of the nurses have recalled like some of the other buildings, like there was a Soda Shop or something nearby?

Best: There was a Soda Shop was next door that belonged to Dr. Burnett’s son, but that wasn't on the property. It was next door to Community. The building is still there.

Mims: Is there any of them standing?

Best: I think that building is still there. It's a brick building.

Mims: Is it on Castle?

Best: On 11th Street.

Mims: There is a little corner store that stands today, I want to say…

Best: On 10th Street.

Mims: Tenth and Castle?

Best: Yes.

Mims: Was that functioning while the hospital was there?

Best: Yeah, I think so, but I don't know what it was.

Mims: It's like a convenient store now, didn't know whether it was a neighborhood grocery or something.

Best: I don't know what it was then. I used to pass by it every day too.

Mims: I mean you see these things, but then you don't really see them cause you go by them so often.

Best: And that’s been from long ago.

Mims: Well, overall what else can you recall about Community Hospital? Like I said, with it being torn down there's not a lot of memories except for the people that were part of it.

Best: Well, yes… I remember it being across the street from the school, Gregory, right across the street because my children were small and they were going there then. My baby was born in 1962.

Mims: Who watched your kids when you were at work?

Best: I would get the neighbors or somebody, I would pay them during the summer, a schoolgirl would come during the summer. I would walk them to school in the mornings and they would stop by and let me know they were out of school and on their way home. It was a family…a family hospital. Everybody was close.

Mims: This is what I'm hearing over and over again is that there was face recognition and name recognition on all levels.

Best: Yes, uh-huh.

Mims: So that neighborhood situation was across the board. There weren't too many people that didn't know…

Best: The other one.

Mims: Right, so if you were sick, it became more than you were just a sick employee. You knew you were part of this group that would have some kind of response to it. Can't think of anything else.

Best: You know somebody else that worked there? She worked…Matilda Torrance.

Mims: What did she do?

Best: She was in the Business Office. She worked with Bernie Rose. She's still around.

Mims: Okay, maybe I can find her name.

Best: I talk to her every now and then.

Mims: Really?

Best: Uh-huh.

Mims: That's another thing, is you know the people, like you live near to former Community nursing student and she went on to work at Community Hospital so you see these people and you know that they were part of this.

Best: And Thelma and I were classmates.

Mims: At Williston?

Best: Yes.

Mims: So you know there's still this community spirit going on. It's just trying to formalize it a little bit more. I wonder how many other people are out there that would be interested. Have you been to New Hanover Regional lately to see the exhibits in their concourse?

Best: Yes, I stay out there all the time, mostly in the emergency room. But yes, I've seen it, down the hall?

Mims: Yes. They have one glass enclosure that talks a lot about the nursing school and the physicians at the Community Hospital. I didn't know whether you had a chance to see that.

Best: Yes, I've seen that. It’s a nice exhibit.

Mims: Well, I want to thank you for talking to me today.

Best: You're quite welcome. I hope I've been some help.

Mims: Oh yes, it's been great.

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