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The Future of Healthcare: Major Upgrades Ongoing at Watauga Medical Center

The Future of Healthcare: Major Upgrades Ongoing at Watauga Medical Center

Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower

The Future of Healthcare: Major Upgrades Ongoing at Watauga Medical Center


Originally published in High Country Magazine, Aug/Sept 2021. Used with permission.

Healthcare in the High Country has come a long way since 1925, when Dr. Henry B. Perry moved into Boone’s first hospital facility in the Lovill House Annex. Blanford B. Dougherty established the infirmary – where Dan’l Boone Inn is currently located – to support Watauga Academy, now Appalachian State University, and the surrounding town.

After operating on the university campus for 29 years, a new Watauga County Hospital, now Watauga Medical Center, was built at its current location on Deerfield Road. Its first patients entered the building on March 23, 1967.

The original building was constructed through money allocated by the Hill-Burton Act of 1946. This piece of federal legislation, signed into law by President Harry S. Truman, allocated money to states for the purpose of constructing hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Since that time, Watauga Medical Center (WMC) has served the healthcare needs of countless patients, including a major expansion in 1980 and continual additions of new and updated services.

The quality of care continued to improve after the 1980 expansion, but infrastructure problems such as power failures and repeated HVAC system repairs have plagued recent years. These issues prompted stakeholders to begin planning for infrastructure upgrades.

Rising to meet the community’s needs


Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) has begun a $126 million construction project, making structural and technological enhancements to ensure the delivery of premier healthcare into the future.

“When we started talking about this project initially, it involved building a new bed tower and moving outpatient services back to campus in a new medical office building,” said Rob Hudspeth, Sr. Vice President for System Advancement at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and the President of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation. “The board of trustees started considering how to make that happen – if we could afford it and how it would impact services until we were able to build it all. Meanwhile, our new CEO Chuck Mantooth was transitioning into the role Richard Sparks had filled for more than 30 years.”

To aid in the initial plans for hospital expansion, a team of Master of Architecture students from Clemson University’s Architecture + Health Concentration visited Boone to perform a needs assessment and survey the land. They performed the initial assessment and made recommendations for the bed tower and medical office building. Soon however, power plant issues began to arise, changing the initial building plans for the hospital.

“We had a prolonged air conditioning failure during the hottest week of 2019 because of old and outdated HVAC equipment. While we were thankful for the support we received to try to keep our facility as cool as possible, our board of trustees realized we needed to consider major upgrades. They approved an engineering survey to review all our systems. Charlotte Engineering’s report stated we had multiple issues that needed to be addressed. The cost was estimated at $22 million to repair the 60-year-old building,” Hudspeth said. “Our central energy plant was antiquated. If you don’t have power, it’s hard to do surgery; it’s hard to keep patients comfortable and provide quality healthcare for them.”

The decision to replace the central energy plant at WMC added approximately $28 million to the project cost which is being funded from a $126 million bond issuance.

“We felt like it was the right thing to do for the community. We were designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid as a five-star hospital, but we know we can’t keep delivering five-star care in a 60-year-old building,” Hudspeth said.

“The expansion project started with the new central energy plant,” Hudspeth said, “because we couldn’t just tear down the power plant and build another one in its place. It has to be a staged, staggered approach. The new central energy plant will give us all of the modern technology and power we need.”

The new 100,000-square-foot energy plant will include two fire tube dual fuel steam boilers, three condensing boilers, five hot water heating pumps, three 750-ton water-cooled centrifugal chillers, a three-cell cooling tower, two 30,000-gallon above-ground fuel tanks, two 2,500 kilovolt-ampere (kVa) utility transformers and a 1,000-kilowatt (kW) generator.

“For years, ARHS has successfully worked around limitations in space and declining buildings that have kept us from achieving our full potential. It’s time we invest in people, systems, and facilities. This will expand our opportunities and position us for the future,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. 

A new and improved patient care tower


A new 48-bed tower will provide larger patient rooms capable of accommodating high-tech mobile medical equipment, state-of-the-art surgical suites, an updated Emergency Department, new waiting areas, and more. A new two-story entryway will greet patients as they enter the building, with natural light and serene mountain images.[/caption]

Watauga Medical Center is currently licensed with 117 beds, which is enough for inpatient demand, so the bed tower will not add additional beds. This new facility will allow the hospital to create new modern spaces and renovate and repurpose space in the current facility.

Patient privacy is a primary concern of the new building. Separate patient and visitor elevators are planned for the bed tower to provide more privacy for patients traveling to and from their rooms for diagnostic tests, surgery or physical therapy. Built-in medication carts will be integrated into the six new surgery suites so all necessary supplies are at the staff’s fingertips.

The bed tower will also be home to women’s health services as well as imaging and laboratory services – both of which are currently located outside of the hospital. Patients will be greeted by new registration and waiting room areas.

Along with the expansion to the new patient care tower, the existing space will be upgraded and utilized. For example, a brand-new Intensive Care Unit recently opened inside the current hospital building.

A new era of surgical excellence


Image: New Surgical Suite at Watauga Medical Center

New operating rooms will have plenty of space for the advanced technology needed for every surgical specialty.

Along with the new building comes a whole new era of new technology advancement at Watauga Medical Center. A major feature of the new patient care tower is a spacious, efficient and modern surgical suite.

“The current 300-square-foot surgical rooms limit our capabilities for advanced procedures like robotics-assisted surgery and orthopedic joint replacements, “said Kevin Henson, Senior Director of Surgery and Anesthesia Services for ARHS. “Many of the rooms are just not big enough for the equipment needed.”

In designing the new surgical space, a cross-functional planning team considered facilities such as WakeMed, UNC Health, Duke Health and others, and aimed to meet or surpass the technology available in larger metropolitan areas of the state. Watauga Medical Center, already a high-achiever in quality metrics, will be considered one of the premier hospitals in North Carolina.

According to Henson, the expansion will double the space of every new operating room. “With the expansion and design of these rooms, we can extend our robotics program. Every room will be able to handle the various needs of all surgical specialties, rather than relegating certain procedures to only certain operating rooms.” The new surgery department design will also have the pre-op and post-op rooms close to the operating rooms to improve efficiency.

Image: New Patient Room

New patient rooms will also have space for updated technology, as well as reimagined atmosphere and visitor space.

“On a typical surgery day, surgeons can log more than 18,000 steps and spend precious time they could use for patient care. They walk from one area of the hospital to speak with the family before surgery, then travel a couple long hallways to scrub in, and back down another hallway to go into the surgery department,” Hudspeth said. “We will relocate departments that work closely together to allow for more efficiency and a seamless transition between services.”

Watauga Medical Center has recently seen people traveling longer distances to receive care at the hospital. A significant portion of outpatient and inpatient surgery patients live outside Watauga County. “It’s a testimony to the vision that is being realized,” said Henson, “and it’s going to be an incredible facility for this small community.”

ARHS leaders hope the expansion will help them continue to recruit talented physicians, nurses, and staff. In addition to patients seeking out Watauga Medical Center for their procedures, they anticipate that doctors and healthcare professionals will increasingly view ARHS as an employer of choice and a place they want to be for a long time. Currently, many of Watauga Medical Center’s healthcare professionals live in Wilkes County, Ashe County, Caldwell County, and even across the state line into Tennessee. Many top physicians are also relocating to the High Country from other states, drawn by the facility improvements, the beautiful local area, and more.

A new and improved Heart and Vascular Center


One of the earliest efforts of this expansion was a new Heart and Vascular Center. Formerly known as The Cardiology Center, the 8,000-square-foot facility opened in a new heart care wing at the medical center on August 17, 2020.

The Heart & Vascular Center provides more efficient and convenient access for patients, by integrating outpatient heart care with diagnostic services in the same convenient location. The center includes twelve exam rooms, three device rooms, and two heart failure treatment rooms. The new name represents the enhanced service offerings and multi-disciplined team of board-certified cardiologists, advanced practice providers, cardiac nurses, office staff, and device technicians that all partner with patients to manage symptoms, monitor medications, and create customized treatment plans.

“Bringing services – diagnostic testing, catheterization lab, etc. – under one roof reduced the wait time for patients and enhanced the level of interaction between medical professionals to collaborate and delivered customized care,” said Kim Bianca, President of Watauga Medical Center.

After analyzing the number of people WMC was sending ‘off the mountain’ for cardiac catheterizations – approximately 300 each year – ARHS invested millions hiring additional cardiologists and enhancing the cardiac program.

“During a cardiac emergency, time is muscle,” Bianca said. “Any delay in restoring blood flow increases the chance for significant damage to the heart muscle.”

The WMC catheterization lab is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. High Country residents no longer have to leave the mountains for interventional and diagnostic services from the nation’s top medical professionals.

The future of Family Medicine, Wellness and Orthopedics Programs in the High Country

Over the last several years it has become evident that access to primary care, including family medicine, is a challenge in the High Country.

MAHEC Family Medicine Residents

First- and second-year residents with MAHEC Rural Family Medicine Residency Program

The MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, located at Watauga Medical Center and AppFamily Medicine is a partnership between ARHS and Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and will also serve as a clinical training site for medical students from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The program was created to train full-scope family doctors to serve in rural and underserved communities. Resident training will take three years, and ARHS and MAHEC are hopeful that many residents will choose to continue their careers in the High Country.

The Watauga Medical Center expansion ensures that resident doctors will be able to train in the most up-to-date, advanced environment while providing care to our rural population. A $1 million investment will be made into the future of the residency as a part of the capital fundraising campaign that supports the overall project.

“We are enormously excited to welcome these family medicine residents,” said Molly Benedum, M.D., Director of the MAHEC Boone Rural Family Medicine Residency Program. “Their interest in our program indicates their strong commitment to spending their careers meeting the primary healthcare needs of communities across the state. We look forward to what they will accomplish in the years to come.”

Recognizing the relationship between physical fitness training and healthcare for joints and bones, ARHS is allocating $1.5 million to relocate their acclaimed orthopedics programs to the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center. Orthopedic physicians will now be able to collaborate more closely with physical therapy and wellness staff to provide access to specialized pre-surgical training and post-surgical physical therapy.

Jackson working out post-surgery while trainer Tiffany coaches

Jackson working out post-surgery while trainer Tiffany coaches

David Jackson, President and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, greatly benefitted from a customized pre-surgery conditioning program before orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steven Anderson performed his hip replacement procedure. This “prehab” gave him the best possible chance of overcoming his lifelong struggle with a rare condition and chronic hip pain that threatened to destroy his active lifestyle and consume his family life.

With the growing number of active seniors in the High Country, people who use the Wellness Center for fitness may increasingly find themselves in the midst of a major health event where they experience illness or need surgery. They may need help to get back to their previous level of activity.

Fitness services, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapy through The Rehabilitation Center, and other clinical wellness programs are currently housed in the 54,000-square-foot building. With the addition of AppOrtho orthopedics and sports medicine, ARHS can consolidate services and help patients successfully navigate the cycle of wellness and rehabilitation.

“We wanted to take the integrated care concept and create a unique space – something special for the community,” said ARHS President and CEO Chuck Mantooth. “With our specialized staff, trained to work with different health populations, we can help people live up to their potential at any age and condition.”

Support from Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is a 501c3 non-profit organization that reinvests earnings to improve healthcare services for the High Country. It is important to note that construction of the central energy plant and bed tower will not raise taxes for residents or require the use of town or county funding.

In addition to the $126 million bond issuance for construction, the ARHS foundation has been tasked with raising $12 million through a capital campaign for ancillary costs such as people, programs, and technology to enhance the project further.

“Our foundation hired a consulting firm from Winston-Salem to perform a feasibility study and help develop our fundraising plan. We surveyed people in the community about a variety of themes around healthcare delivery,” Hudspeth said. “We are currently in the silent phase of the $12 million capital campaign and have raised about $6 million.”

Created in 2007, Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation engages with the community to identify individuals, businesses and organizations who want to partner with ARHS in providing for the healthcare needs of the community.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has been able to continue to provide excellent healthcare in part because of the generosity of full-time and seasonal residents in the High Country.

“The support the foundation has been able to garner from seasonal residents is vital to our success, and we couldn’t provide this funding without them,” Hudspeth said.

To kick off the capital campaign, the foundation received two major gifts from generous benefactors to recognize the excellent care they have received in the past.

Tom Dale, Rob Hudspeth, Peter Rucker, Bonnie Schaefer, Jamie Schaefer, Chuck Mantooth

Tom Dale, Rob Hudspeth, Peter Rucker, Bonnie Schaefer, Jamie Schaefer, Chuck Mantooth

The first gift came from Blowing Rock residents Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer, together with their family, Marla Schaefer and Steve Weishoff, who generously gave $3 million for the future Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower at Watauga Medical Center.

“They say people make a place and it’s a good thing, because the core hospital, built in 1967, is dated, in disrepair and in need of improvement,” said Bonnie Schaefer.

“Watauga Medical Center offers life-saving medical care to those living in the High Country,” said Jamie Schaefer. “The patients and healthcare professionals need and deserve a new, state-of-the-art hospital.”

On June 17, 2021, Blowing Rock resident Ken Lewis surprised his wife, Donna, with a $1.5 million contribution to ARHS in her honor to name the new Donna C. Lewis Heart and Vascular Center.

Both Donna and Ken have needed cardiac interventions in the past. “Donna had some heart issues and she needed repair work about 15 or 16 years ago. I’ve had a heart stent myself,” Lewis said, “When this (capital campaign) came up, I thought about how lucky and blessed we were to have the ability to access this kind of facility.”

Lewis noted that as seasonal residents, they typically have all the facilities and technologies nearby their primary homes to address emergency situations. “But that is not necessarily the case when you are in the mountains,” he said, “It’s all about time in those situations. We have what we think are the best hospitals in the world [in our primary home cities], but they might as well be in China. At certain times of our lives, it is all about this hospital [in Boone]. It may be enlightened self-interest, but it’s also about all of the things we can do for the people of this region and this community. This is a great thing to do because it will help save people’s lives and Donna and I feel privileged to be a part of it.”

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation hopes to have continued success to fully fund the capital campaign. For more information, and opportunities to contribute, visit

Topping Off Ceremony held at the Patient Care Tower

Topping Off Ceremony held at the Patient Care Tower

Watauenter Topping Off Ceremony

On September 30th, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System celebrated another milestone in the construction of the Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower by joining Vannoy Construction for the “topping off” ceremony.

A topping off ceremony is a long-standing tradition among steel construction workers to commemorate the completion of a building’s steel structure.

During the ceremony the final steel beam – adorned with a small evergreen tree on one end and an American flag on the other – is placed at the highest point on the building. For some, the placement of the evergreen is a talisman of good fortune for the building’s future inhabitants. 

The ceremony is also an opportunity for project teams and construction partners to celebrate the progress made and thank everyone involved.

The 48-bed Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower is expected to be completed by the end of 2022. The building will house larger patient rooms to accommodate high-tech mobile medical equipment, state-of-the-art surgical suites, an updated Emergency Department, women’s health services, imaging and laboratory services, and new waiting areas.

Learn more about the Watauga Medical Center Expansion Project >

Image: WMC Topping off 2

Image: WMC Topping off 3

A Legacy of Giving: Major gift to Watauga Medical Center in memory of Dr. Al Petti

A Legacy of Giving: Major gift to Watauga Medical Center in memory of Dr. Al Petti

Photo: Chris Petti

When Chris Petti visited her parents’ Avery County cabin as a teen, she didn’t realize just how much the North Carolina mountains would impact her. Nor could she foresee how she and her husband, Dr. Al Petti, would make their own impact on the community.

Before Dr. Petti passed away in 2019 Chris remembers a friend saying, “There are no pockets in coffins. You can’t take it with you, so spread the good around.” And that’s what the Pettis spent more than 40 years doing in the High Country.

At the pinnacle of a lifetime of philanthropy, Chris is still living by the friend’s advice today, but now she says, “is the time to do bigger and better things.” Because Dr. Petti spent many years as an innovative orthopedic surgeon, Chris has chosen to honor his legacy with a $1 million gift to the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation toward a new, ultramodern orthopedic program at Watauga Medical Center. A part of the orthopedic expansion project will bear the Petti name as a tribute to their history of medical excellence and community advancement.


Photo: Chris Petti and Dr. Al Petti

Chris Petti with her husband, Dr. Al Petti

The roots of medical innovation

Back in Broward County, Florida, Dr. Petti was the first doctor to perform total joint replacement surgeries, while Chris served as a registered nurse in the pediatric ward at the regional hospital. When demand for orthopedic surgeries outpaced operating room availability, Dr. Petti and two other doctors built a new hospital and orthopedic practice. Chris eventually received her nurse practitioner certification and worked together with her husband.

In the late 1970s, when Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital (Cannon) was still located in Banner Elk, the Pettis purchased a home next door to fellow orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gary Welliver.

Dr. Petti received special privileges to practice at Cannon and would work together with Dr. Welliver on challenging cases. Dr. Petti soon became known as the “white house physician,” because their house was white – but also, as Chris puts it, because “he never met a person he didn’t want to help.” Friends and neighbors routinely sought his recommendations for medical care.


Helping the community grow

Having spent every summer here since 1979, Chris said, “I feel this is my home. I’ve watched it grow.” They not only watched it grow; they helped it grow.

“When we moved here, there was no grocery store,” Chris said with a chuckle. “You needed dry cleaning? Forget about it. You wanted a donut? That wasn’t happening.” The only restaurant at the time was The Tack Room in Foscoe, and there was increasing sentiment in Banner Elk that they needed a restaurant as well. So, the Pettis built the structure known as “the Petti Building” and persuaded legendary chef Fabian Botta to open Louisiana Purchase, now home to the Blind Elk Tap Room.

In the coming years, the Pettis encouraged many entrepreneurs and restaurateurs to come to Avery County, and Chris is delighted to see how much there is to do now – restaurants, music, theater, and more.


First brushes with medical care in the High Country

Chris Petti’s introduction to Watauga Medical Center was through the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center in 1999, when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Chris had the means and opportunity to go anywhere for her cancer care, but she chose to complete her first nine months of chemotherapy in Boone.

“I want to be at my home in the mountains, where the air is pure and clear,” Chris told her friends who thought she should be going to a big-name facility in a larger city. “I was extremely pleased with my care,” she said, “And I knew I could get everything I needed right here.”

“They were phenomenal,” Chris said, “And when I went back to Florida to continue my chemotherapy, I was very disappointed.” She found the care at the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center to be clinically excellent, but also caring, kind, loving, and “not what you would find at a large institution.”

Chris has found that same level of care throughout the services offered by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

Several years ago, she had gall bladder surgery in Florida and had arrived at their mountain home when she became very sick. For months, none of her doctors could tell her what was happening.

Rejecting the idea of traveling back to Florida, Chris saw Dr. David Kimmel, whom she says was at ease, calm, and knew exactly what was wrong. He prescribed medications that cured her months-long illness, and he has been her primary care provider ever since.

She is also a patient of Dr. Andrew Hordes at the Heart and Vascular Center of Watauga Medical Center, and is especially pleased that they have recently expanded cardiac catheterization to 24/7 coverage. Most patients can now stay at Watauga Medical Center for life-saving treatment any time of the day or night. “If you have a cardiac event, you need to get care quickly,” she said.


Bloom where you’re planted

In the past, access to primary care physicians was a barrier, but Chris insists that finding a local physician is important even for residents who are here for only six months of the year, “If you are in the mountains and you have a problem, you need a doctor. You need to find a doctor and be established,” she advises.

And now, exceptional primary care is easier than ever to access in the High Country with the growth of Elk River Medical Associates, Baker Center for Primary Care, AppFamily Medicine, and MAHEC Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, and the addition of same-day appointments and walk-in hours.

Chris has been a long-time supporter and ambassador of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System throughout her time in the High Country, serving with the Pretty in Pink fundraiser and making other donations. But in this phase of life she wants to help position Watauga Medical Center to rival any other hospital in terms of modern technology, advancements, facilities, and people.

Her generous contribution to the orthopedic wing, was not for personal recognition, but to show her support for the project. Her hope is that the community will see there are people who care and will be inspired to join in her giving.

“When I heard about the new orthopedic wing, I thought that would be a perfect match. I realized I could help in a more extensive way than ever before,” said Chris. “The High Country is such a close-knit community, and knowing the people involved makes it personal to me. I’m not just giving a corporate gift, but I’m giving to people who will carry on a quality of care that will honor my husband’s memory and make us proud.”


For more information about the Watauga Medical Center Expansion Project, and how to get involved, visit

Watauga Medical Center and Cancer Center Entrance and Parking Updates

Watauga Medical Center and Cancer Center Entrance and Parking Updates

Watauga Medical Center Parking Map Update: July 19, 2021

ALL patients and visitors for Watauga Medical Center and Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center will now enter through Medical Center Drive. Cancer Center traffic will continue straight and around to the building. Hospital traffic will turn left into the first parking lot. Thank you for your patience and understanding during our growth.


Update: May 26, 2021

Beginning June 1, Mary Street will close and the new Medical Center Drive will open. All Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center patients and ambulances should enter from Medical Center Drive. There will be no public access to the hospital from the Medical Center Drive entrance or from the Cancer Center lot.

Watauga Medical Center patients and visitors should continue to enter through the main entrance on Deerfield Road.

The week of June 7-11, the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center parking lot will be closed due to construction. Patients will be notified of the new parking location and shuttles will be available directly to the door of the Cancer Center.


Original article: March 3, 2021

In preparation for a new hospital patient bed tower, Watauga Medical Center will experience changes to the entrances, exits and parking lots over the next few months. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) announced that construction on the new patient bed tower began this week.

“The expansion project represents a $100 million investment in the health of Watauga County,” said Rob Hudspeth, SVP of System Advancement for ARHS. “The first phase – a new Heart and Vascular Center – was completed in August of 2020. Phase two, in progress, includes construction of the new central energy plant. Phase three calls for construction of a new medical bed tower, which we are excited to start this March.”

Traffic and Parking Changes

Beginning March 11th, traffic into Watauga Medical Center, including the Emergency Department, will flow one way (two lanes) into the main parking lot entrance closest to the hospital. Leaving the hospital, drivers should exit to Deerfield Road through the parking lot’s side exit. Signage will be posted.

All Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center patients and ambulances should enter from Mary Street and park in the existing parking spaces. There will be no public access to the hospital from the Mary Street entrance or from the Cancer Center lot.

Patient and Visitor Entrance Changes

Hospital patients and visitors, including Emergency Department walk-ins, should enter the building through the temporary main front entrance doors close to the newly constructed canopy and walkway beside the Heart & Vascular Center.

The usual Emergency Department entrance patients and visitors have been using for the past year will be closed on March 10th.

ARHS is attempting to limit the inconvenience for the community while proceeding with these much-needed improvements and additions to the hospital facility.

ARHS names Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower in honor of lead gift

ARHS names Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower in honor of lead gift

Photo: WMC Hospital Expansion Exterior_SchaeferName_1200x675

June 10, 2021

Many things come to mind when the names Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer are spoken – savvy business acumen, dedication to their faith community, as well as support for the arts, women’s causes, animal welfare, higher education and more. Especially in the High Country, the Schaefer family name evokes gratitude for the incredible philanthropy, support and wisdom they give to their community.

The Schaefers have been great friends to Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) throughout the years. They both recently experienced significant health challenges and turned to ARHS to walk with them through their journey of healing.

For a total of 70 days and nights over the last two years, Bonnie and Jamie considered the hospitalists, doctors and nurses at Watauga Medical Center to be their extended family, describing them as “our angels with invisible wings who provided comfort and care on a daily basis.”

While the Schaefers have the means and opportunity to seek healthcare from anywhere in the world, they trusted Appalachian Regional Healthcare System with life-saving medical care, chronic disease management, surgical services, emergency care, intensive care — as well as several other service lines and specialists. Fortunately, they are both on the road to good health and they only return to the hospital for routine care these days.

But while they were in the hospital, they realized that the world-class healthcare they received from the people of Watauga Medical Center didn’t necessarily match the aging physical building.

Photo: Steve Weishoff, Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer, Marla Schaefer

Left to Right: Steve Weishoff, Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer, Marla Schaefer

“They say people make a place and it’s a good thing, because the core hospital, built in 1967, is dated, in disrepair and in need of improvement,” said Bonnie.

“Watauga Medical Center offers life-saving medical care to those living in the High Country,” said Jamie. “The patients and healthcare professionals need and deserve a new, state-of-the-art hospital.”

The couple recently returned to the hospital – their “home away from home” – to thank the hospital family, including doctors, nurses, dietary staff, lab technicians, cleaning staff, and the chaplain.

And in a tradition as long-standing as the Schaefer family itself, they are taking steps to ensure that everyone continues to receive the same high standard of care they did – for generations to come – in a brand new, modern patient care tower.

Bonnie and Jamie are joining together with their family, Marla Schaefer and Steve Weishoff, to give a three-million-dollar gift for the future Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower at Watauga Medical Center.

“I would like to thank Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer, Marla Schaefer and Steve Weishoff for their generosity in providing the lead gift for a new 48-bed hospital tower,” said Rob Hudspeth, President of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation and Sr. Vice President for System Advancement for ARHS. “This historic investment will fuel the future of healthcare in the High Country, ensure access to continued technological improvements and allow us to reimagine our community hospital to address the ever-changing world of healthcare.

To learn more about the hospital expansion project, visit For more information about the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation, visit


Watauga Medical Center Expansion Information

Watauga Medical Center Expansion Information

Watauga Medical Center Expansion Project

About the Project

Our commitment to provide you the highest quality healthcare is born from a deep-rooted belief that to live here is a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility.

Our responsibility is to deliver premier healthcare—which means having the best doctors and nurses, the most innovative healing technologies, the most modern, coordinated spaces and systems for family and patient-centered care.

That’s exactly why we are investing today in critical upgrades for tomorrow—improving and enhancing our entire operations from the inside out. Because this is what you expect and deserve; it’s what you’ve come to trust from us after 60 years of dedication to this community.

Just like the mountains all around, we stand ready to deliver more than seems possible, and precisely what you need.


Topping Off Ceremony held at the Patient Care Tower

On September 30th, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System celebrated another milestone in the construction of the Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower by joining Vannoy Construction for the “topping off” ceremony. A topping off ceremony is a long-standing tradition among steel construction…

New Entrance & Parking

ALL Watauga Medical Center and Cancer Center Patients will now enter through the new Medical Center Drive. Click to enlarge image.

Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower

Click to enlarge and scroll through the photo gallery

Watauga Medical Center Expansion Progress

Click to enlarge and scroll through the photo gallery. Most recent photo first.