Thursday, July 05, 2012

TOP STORY >> She volunteers to help others

Leader staff writer

For 27 years, Francis Burnett of Jacksonville has “done a lot” for the North Metro Medical Center Auxiliary.

“I had a lot of help along the way,” she said while describing her life with a humility characteristic of older generations.

Burnett said the support she needs has come from God, her family and her friends.

The Lonoke County native was in her early 20s when a car accident in 1947 left her with a broken back.

Since then, Burnett has been wheelchair-bound.

But that hasn’t stopped her from leaving benevolent footprints in the lives of others.

Burnett’s mother passed away in 1985 and she needed a way to cope with the loss.

“I just had to—it just bothered me so bad and everything, and I said, ‘Well, I’ve just got to do something,’” Burnett explained.

That something was volunteering for the auxiliary.

Burnett continued, “So what I did, I just prayed about it and you know it just came to me to go over to the hospital. Now I know it looked kind of funny. Some of them looked at me like they thought, What in the world could she do? At that time, I was driving a cart with hand controls and I just had a mobile chair.”

What she could do — and did do — was spread joy to patients by delivering newspapers and selling things to them in their rooms at the rehabilitation center.

Burnett said, “I am strictly rehab-connected. I was in rehab a lot. I did a lot back there. Back in those days, we had a cart with goodies on it you could take to the rooms and let people buy something if they wanted it. I’d push that cart around. I could do a whole lot with my little chair. And I just enjoyed every minute of it.”

She smiled as she remembered the auxiliary’s bake sales and playing bingo with patients.

“The patients there really used to enjoy (bingo). I think some of the people got tired of me coming around because I had a cart going around asking for prizes. We had a good time,” Burnett said with a soft laugh.

She is still volunteering and plans to continue, “as long as I can.”

But now Burnett volunteers from her apartment at the Jacksonville Towers by making phone calls for auxiliary.

Burnett said, “I do a whole bunch of their calling. About 25 or 30, I guess, at a time when they’re going to have a special meeting or something. Like if a death comes up and they are to go and maybe wear their red jackets.

“You know I’ll call them and be sure to remind them to wear their jacket at the funeral,” Burnett pointed out.

She remembers when the hospital opened as Rebsamen in 1962. The name was changed to Rebsamen Medical Center and then the hospital was renamed North Metro a few years ago.

Louisiana-based Allegiance Health Management Group, which has managed North Metro for the past three years, officially purchased the hospital from the city in April.

Jodi Love was hired last month to take over for Jay Quebedeaux, who had been the hospital’s CEO since February of 2011.

Love has lived in Arkansas for more than two decades and has ties to Little Rock Air Force Base.

Quebedeaux transferred to a CEO position with another Allegiance-owned facility in Louisiana, where he was born.

Burnett praised the facility.

“When it started out, it just wasn’t big like it is now. There have been a lot of improvement made over the years. I think they’re improving all the time,” she said.

“North Metro Home Health can hold their place with anybody. They are good. I just love ’em. That’s a good bunch of people,” Burnett said.

She moved from Lonoke County to Jacksonville in 1944 and her father worked at the ordnance plant.

“When we moved here there wasn’t very much going on. But then the ordnance plant came in and then (Little Rock Air Force) base came in. That started making things perk up, getting more things,” Burnett said.

She worked at Franklin Electric in Jacksonville for 20 years.

Burnett has one daughter, who lives in Cabot and is in her late 60s.

She has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Burnett said her family has been very supportive. Her daughter was two years old when Burnett broke her back in the car accident.

She said all them know how to handle a wheelchair and they help her a lot.