Each year SCHA presents the Distinguished Hospital Trustee of the Year Award to a South Carolina hospital board member whose service is truly exemplary. Our 2017 winner is Charles J. Bethea, Jr., who has served on the McLeod Health Board of Trustees since 2008.
A lifelong native of the Pee Dee, Mr. Bethea was born and raised in McColl, SC, and has lived in Marion County almost all of his life. He received a degree in history from Clemson University in 1967. After graduation, he married his high school sweetheart, Frances Whitner of Bennettsville. He then served in the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Branch as a Commissioned Officer for two years. After his service, he returned to Clemson University in 1970 and earned a Master’s degree in Education. In 1971, Bethea began his education career in Marion School District One—working his way up from teacher at Marion High School, to Principal of Marion Elementary School, to Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, to his final role in District One as Superintendent from 1988 to 1999.
From his years as an educator in a rural school district and time serving on the board of a rural hospital, Mr. Bethea has garnered a deep understanding of the needs of rural communities and their people. Among the most vital of these needs is access to a hospital. With the ever-changing healthcare landscape, it is becoming more and more difficult for small, rural hospitals to operate. The need, however, for these hospitals is as strong as ever. This is why, as the Chair of the McLeod Health Board of Trustees, Mr. Bethea oversaw the acquisitions of McLeod Health Cheraw and McLeod Health Clarendon—two rural hospitals in imminent danger of closing and leaving their communities without access to crucial healthcare. Thanks in large part to the leadership of Mr. Bethea, residents of Chesterfield and Clarendon Counties do not have to make the burdensome, and very often impossible, trip to larger cities to access healthcare. As a Trustee, he was also instrumental during the acquisition of McLeod Loris/Seacoast. Throughout his time on the Board, Mr. Bethea has been instrumental in supporting all of McLeod’s outlying hospitals, ensuring that residents of the Pee Dee can receive quality healthcare regardless of where they live.
Though access to care in rural communities has been a key focus of Mr. Bethea’s, it is far from his only contribution. During his almost decade of service to the Board, Mr. Bethea has served on the Finance, Educational Affairs, and Physician Development Committees, and chaired the Planning Committee. While Chair, as his fellow Trustees say, “he was at every committee’s meetings whether he was on that committee or not.”
Mr. Bethea has not only served the patients of McLeod Health through his own actions, he has worked diligently and tirelessly to help his fellow Board Trustees reach their full potential. Introducing regular self-evaluations and surveys, he encouraged Trustees to always be mindful of how they could better fulfill their role to the community. He has also improved governance by facilitating communication between the Board and hospital administration, ensuring that all leadership works toward the same goal. All new Trustees coming onto the Board during Mr. Bethea’s tenure have grown from his guidance. A former educator, Mr. Bethea spends hours with each individual incoming Trustee, acclimating them to the responsibilities of their position. Even the current Chair—who began his Board service prior to Mr. Bethea’s arrival in 2008—considers Mr. Bethea a mentor.
Though a teacher at heart, Mr. Bethea also keeps himself well-educated. He regularly attends leadership forums presented by the American Health Association and the Governance Institute, as well as Institute for Healthcare Improvement conferences. His propensity to constantly stay informed on healthcare-related issues has served McLeod well during its last several years of growth and outreach into rural communities. The South Carolina Hospital Association has been a key informational and relationship-building resource for Mr. Bethea, and helped him effectively lead McLeod through the above-mentioned hospital acquisitions.