Okefenokee Health, Inc. is the legacy corporation of a series of hospitals and healthcare organizations that have served Ware County, Georgia, Pierce County, Georgia, and the surrounding area since the 1870s.
The first of these hospitals was built in Waycross in 1876 by the Plant Railroad System. Not long thereafter, the Plant System became the Atlantic Coast Railroad Company, and the hospital was operated by the ACL railroad for the primary benefit of its employees and their families for many years.
In 1907, supported by community funds raised by personal donations and numerous fundraising events, construction began on the King’s Daughters Hospital, which was opened to the general public on Brunel Street in Waycross. Disaster struck the hospital in 1928 when it was destroyed by a fire, and the hospital moved its operations to Williams Street.
Soon thereafter, a bond referendum in the amount of $150,000.00 cleared the way for a modern, sixty-bed, three-story brick facility known as the Ware County Hospital, which opened on State Street in 1929 and remained in operation until the early 1950’s.
After the end of World War II, both the Waycross and Blackshear communities recognized the need for more convenient and modern clinical services, which resulted in the expansion of local hospital care.
Pierce County appointed a committee to investigate the various possibilities and, on June 24, 1952, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the construction of a new hospital. On September 16, 1953, a ceremony was held to dedicate the new facility. In 1971, the hospital was expanded, doubling its capacity. In 1982, Baptist Medical Center of Florida became manager of the hospital and, in 1985, the Pierce County Hospital was leased to Memorial Hospital in Waycross. In 1992, the Pierce County Hospital was converted to the Pierce County Nursing Home.
During the same period of time, Ware County was actively expanding its hospital services and facilities. It filed an application with the Georgia State Department of Public Health’s Division of Hospital Services for approval to build a new hospital to be located on Darling Avenue. On June 9, 1954, the application was approved by the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service in conjunction with the State of Georgia, and construction began almost immediately with financial support provided by the Federal and State Governments. This new hospital was named Memorial Hospital of Waycross, and the site on which it was built has remained the location of all subsequent hospital renovations and expansions in Waycross.
In 1987, under expanded operational authority granted by the State of Georgia to local hospital authorities, Satilla Health Services, Inc., was formed as a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit entity to manage the hospital and it related subsidiaries and to support its continued growth in providing additional clinical services. Operationally, Satilla leased the hospital facility from the Hospital Authority of Ware County and began operating Memorial Hospital.
In 1991, Satilla Health Services changed the name of the hospital to Satilla Regional Medical Center in order to reflect the further expansion of healthcare services to include the citizens living in the counties surrounding Waycross.
In 1992, the medical center underwent a $7,400,000 expansion, which added 47,250 square feet of space, including a new lobby, new admissions area, and expanded radiology and emergency departments.
In 2001, the medical center again expanded, redesigning the main entrance and adding additional surgical, cardiac, intensive care, coronary, labor and delivery units.
In 2010, Satilla Regional broke ground on a three-story, 25,000 square foot expansion that added a 16-bed progressive cardiac care unit, additional surgical care units, and space to accommodate further clinical services as needed in future years.
During this period of time, the board of directors of Satilla Health Services conducted a detailed review of the healthcare industry, which was undergoing rapid change nationwide. As a result, the board made the decision to consider alternatives that would enable the medical center to successfully navigate these changes and would insure the continued provision of quality clinical services to the local communities well into the future. Coinciding with this decision, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville approached Satilla to discuss any interest it had in joining Mayo Clinic. After extensive discussions over eighteen months, Satilla Health Services, Inc., joined the Mayo Clinic on March 1, 2012, changing its corporate name to Satilla Health Services d/b/a Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross.
Over the next five years, the healthcare industry continued to evolve. Late in 2015, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville made the decision to discontinue its development of a regional healthcare network of hospitals surrounding Jacksonville in order to focus on becoming a destination medical provider on the Florida campus. As a result, the decision was made by Mayo Clinic to divest of the hospital in Waycross.
The Mayo Clinic and representatives of the local communities came together to determine the best solution to insure the hospital would continue to provide quality clinical services in a fiscally sound manner. Together, the decision was made to conduct a nationwide search of potential partners, and on May 1, 2017, the Hospital Corporation of America purchased the Waycross hospital, renaming it Memorial Satilla to reflect its long and rich history. As a part of this transaction, Satilla Health Services, Inc. changed its corporate name to Okefenokee Health, Inc.
As a result of the purchase by HCA, Okefenokee Health became the recipient of the monies HCA paid for the hospital as well as the monies generated in September, 2017 when the Satilla Care Nursing Home and the Pierce County Nursing Home were sold. These funds are held in trust by Okefenokee Health and its related corporation, Satilla Health Partners, Inc., to be in position to consider the repurchase of the hospital under a right-of-first-refusal agreement with HCA which expires in 2027 and to benefit in perpetuity the healthcare needs of Ware, Pierce, Brantley, and surrounding counties.