This is the first in a series of articles marking Southeastern Health’s 65th anniversary, which will be observed throughout the month of August — editor.
LUMBERTON — A community hospital can play a central role in local families’ lives throughout the years, but when multiple members of a family have worked at the same hospital for the past 60 years, there is a special connection.
Physician Assistant Phillip Stephens, who has earned a doctor of health science degree, has been working for or with Southeastern Health for about 32 years, and he is now the chief physician assistant in the Emergency Department. His mother, Jessie Stephens, retired in 2008 after 50 years of service at the hospital, where she was a laboratory technician. This summer, one of Phillip’s sons, Matthew, is joining the staff in the Emergency Department as a physician assistant.
The family connections don’t stop there. Phillip’s aunt, Patsy Stephens White, also retired from the lab, and his wife, Gina, who holds a doctor of nursing practice degree, is a nurse practitioner in the Emergency Department. If one starts counting cousins, there’s more.
“This hospital is truly a community hospital,” Phillip Stephens said. “It not only serves patients, but its employees are a part of the community. I feel great kinship to the hospital. How do you describe a specific example of a memory when it’s part of the fabric of your life? This hospital is a touchstone for the most important events in my life. My mother worked here, my father died here, and all my children were born here.”
One day that stands out, however, is the day his father, Wilton Stephens, died.
“I think that was when I knew I wanted to work here,” Phillip said. “I was 16 years old. He had been brought to the ER with an intracranial hemorrhage. I remember there was a lab tech who had to run, but the floor was slick, so she kicked her shoes off so she could run the blood down to the lab. I saw everybody trying to save his life, and I see the way the people here touch people’s lives when they are the most vulnerable.”
Though he could have worked elsewhere, Robeson County and Southeastern Health were the only places Phillip Stephens could see himself living and working.
“This is home,” he said. “I feel like we make a difference in this community. It’s a completely unique environment in the community, and it’s one where you can impact people’s lives when they need you the most. We’re extremely busy, but we see moments of humanity every day that most people don’t ever see.”
Stephens said his mother never pushed him to work at the hospital, but both parents encouraged their children to follow their passions. She and his father, who was a farmer and buyer for a tobacco company, only insisted that he do well in school.
“Mother would always come home in a white lab uniform,” he said. “Her lab gave me the interest for the science, and my experience with my father gave me the passion. If you’ve got those two elements, I think that’s what makes people stay here.”