Rusk State Hospital celebrates 100 years of service

by Cristin Parker

They may not have actually held 100 employee appreciation lunches since the days of the Rusk State Hospital’s beginning – but facility officials say it’s because of the hospital staffers giving 100 percent that the facility is able to mark a century of service this year.

Local, county and state officials were on hand to celebrate the Rusk State Hospital’s employees – and help the facility mark its 100 years in service -- during the annual Employee Appreciation and Service Awards luncheon, held Friday, June 28, on the hospital’s grounds.

The event celebrates the Hospital staff’s hard work and dedication as they provide state-of-the-art inpatient psychiatric care to Texans with mental illness.

“I’m blown away at how many people came out today – thank you so much for joining us, Texas Health & Human Services Commission Associate Commissioner of State Hospitals Tim Bray said. “The dedication of the employees here is truly amazing to see. And that’s why we’re 100 years old this year. It’s my job to see to it that you have the tools to make 100 more. That’s why we’re building a new facility.”

According to the THHS’s website, planning for the construction of a new Maximum Security Unit and a new non-MSU at Rusk State Hospital began in 2018. Construction of each unit will be done in phases – with the MSU project due to begin in October; and the non-MSU in December 2021, depending on additional legislative appropriations

“(The first) unit will have the capacity for 100 MSU beds, which will re-place 40 MSU and 60 non-MSU beds,” THHS’s website states. “The non-MSU will have the capacity for 100 beds, which will replace 100 non-MSU beds on the current Rusk campus.”

As the hospital marks its centennial, several longtime staffers remarked on the Hospital’s upcoming remodeling project, which includes the demolition of the current administration building and other buildings on the campus.

“There are a lot of memories, a lot of history in these old buildings,” assistant Chaplain Bill Crowley said. “It’s hard to see them go, but we need the space and we’re glad to be able to keep providing these services. Mental illness is, unfortunately, prevalent, so I’m glad we’re here to stay.”

Mental health specialist and 45-year veteran employee James Harper agreed.

“It’s certainly bittersweet,” he said. “Some of these buildings are historical and I do hope they keep some kind of visual record of how it was when it was first built to now, to show the evolution of the hospital,” Harper said. “I worked in the main building when I first went to work here. But the patients deserve a nice, new facility to heal in. It’s sad, but we have to keep up with the ever-changing business of helping people get better.”

RSH Superintendent Michelle Foster summed it up best.

“The hospital is not the buildings, it’s us – the staff,” she said as she addressed the crowd at the luncheon. “It’s the tradition, it’s the family we are.”

And to celebrate that very family, festivities included banana-pudding and salsa contests; live entertainment; a picnic lunch of custom nachos; games; more than $4,000 in door prizes; and novelty balloons!

“I’m excited to be here,” Case Manager Connie Davis said. “I’ve been here for 18 years and it’s always nice to be recognized for the work you do.”

Rusk’s Pink Flamingo and another sno-cone shop were on hand, offering free gourmet sno-cones to all employees.

“We’re super stoked,” Administrative Assistant Heather Sheer and Clerk II Lindsey McRae agreed, as they stood in line for a sno-cone.

“They always go above and beyond,” McRae said.

Sheer added, “It’s really nice.”

The city of Rusk, the Rusk State Railroad, Sam’s Club and UT Health EMS all showed their support to RSH staff with booths offering cookies, service information and more.

“We’re very proud to be a part of the Hospital’s celebration today,” UT Health CEO DeLeigh Haley said. “UT Health is also celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year and I think it’s a testament to the importance of health care in Cherokee County that these organizations have been here that long – and that the future is looking bright for both.”

A total of 93 service awards and eight “Hospital Hero” awards were awarded to employees at this event including six employees recognized for 40 or more years of service at the hospital.

Bray gave out the first-ever Hospital Heroes awards.

“We wanted to do something that specifically recognizes employees for the services that goes above and beyond,” Bray said. “These nomina-tions were made by hospital staff as a way to recognize the outstanding work their peers have contributed in service and patient care.”

This year’s Hospital Heroes at Rusk State Hospital were RoDona Bur-ford, Lorri Hawkins, Sheila Loftis, Linda Minton, Dr. Jill Pontius, Ladaron Sessions, Bruce Stewart and Sherry Wible.

Those earning service awards include:

Five years – Lashunda Anderson, Clayton Argenbright, Sandra Banda, Leatha Bishop, Adrian Blakemore, Edric Bradford, Benjamin Chaney, Cheryl Charles, Ozzian Clayborn, Michelle Coates, Cody Curlee, Chris-tine Dominguez, Roselle Garcia, William Goette, Kimbra Harper, Emma Hernandez, Karen Herrington, Scott Jenkins, Brandon Jowell, Susan Kel-ler, Colby Langston, Crystal Larimer, Terra Loden, Dana Long, Apolinar Loredo, Benjamin McFarland, Johnny McMichael, Cheyanne Miller, Danielle Newland, Cortney O’Bryant, Cindy Padron, Woodie Ross, Rawl-isha Session, Shawanda Session, Shetiqua Sessions, Lasandra Settler, Katina Sturns, Belinda Tilley, Juan Torres, Donna Walton, Tanisha War-ren and Erin Weaver.

10 years – Tina Benge, Duncan Cameron, Jeremy Dickerson, Mikayle Durant, Cynthia Gail, Calvin Gerke, Tranika Holland, Bobby Huckey, Laura Kyser, Johni Marshall, Melissa Minchew, Alfredo Mondono, Nor-ma Munn, James Schock, Danielle Todd, Andrey Tsyss, Johnny Wright and Mary Wright.

15 years – Terri Arnold, Eric Brinkley, Deborah Dement and Rhonda Knight.

20 years – Johnny Fernandez, Betty Foster, Peggy Green, Robin Tatum, Jeffery Todd and Sylvia White.

25 years – Stacey Ambroson, Allan Arnold, Cobey May, Janet Morton, Rhonda Neely, Barbara Price, Mark Rogers and Rachel Trawick.

30 years – Karla Gaddis, Nathan Hawthorne, Bryan McMakin and Mi-chael Russell.

35 years – Dorothy Coleman, Larry Hawkins and Linda Henderson.

40 years – Paula Abel, Evelyn Cleaver, Jimmy Foreman and Glenda Hackney.

45 years – Marsha Gregson and James Harper.