Do you remember feeling ill in 2017? Was it a little pain, or a big pain? Did you wake in the middle of the night wondering, “what do I do…we don’t have a hospital or an emergency room?” Do you remember driving by the hospital building and noticing all the signs that indicated that it was closed? We definitely had times of feeling very desperate. But we, as a community, know it’s the Wharton way. We take on those big problems, come face to face with reality, and go to work! One of those big problems was the closing of Gulf Coast Medical Center. Then the sad day came when we were without hospital/emergency care services.

Okay, folks, let’s put that aside and come to June, 2018, when the doors to OakBend Medical Center opened in Wharton with no-wait emergency services. A lot happened before that day, but we vowed that if we could ever re-open our hospital, we would support it in every way.  And here we are today … we have come a long way, and are getting better every day.

OakBend, like every other hospital, was overwhelmed by COVID-19. When COVID-19 hit, like a bomb overnight, I was a patient in the ICU at the OakBend-Jackson Street campus in Richmond.  I was well taken care of, until suddenly, changes were happening. My doctor came in and said, “we are getting you out of here because the hospital floor is filling up with COVID patients.” I was immediately taken to another floor. Two days later, due to the increase in COVID-19 patients, I was told I would be released to go home because it was safer than staying in the hospital with my health condition. 

During wars, we talk about soldiers being on the frontline. During the past year, our doctors and nurses have been on the frontline against this pandemic, and they have been the true heroes through it all. These warriors are now feeling the exhaustion.

Ordinarily, we talk about people going to the hospital, getting a procedure done, or getting back on their feet and going home. This past year, our medical people have seen deaths and felt personal grief unlike any other. They have also dealt with extreme anxiety caused by fear for their themselves and their families. Each day they have been faced with new situations, and yet, they continue to gear up, keep a positive attitude, and head to the frontline to care for so many.  

How can we say thank you to these brave men and women? How else can we support our hospital? Words cannot express our appreciation and gratitude.  

Have you ever had a colonoscopy, or any day procedure, in Houston? Then had to have a loved one drive you there and back, while you feel terrible during the commute? Now, rather than having to travel, we can have these day procedures done right here in town. This is one of many ways we can support our hospital.  

Lives are being saved in our OakBend emergency room every day. Not only here, but at the other OakBend campuses as well. And let’s not forget the other benefits that OakBend has provided for our community.  If your personal physician happens to prescribe any laboratory, radiology or physical therapy work, it can be done right here in Wharton as well. We even have one of our own, Dr. Andy Francis, who can provide you with the best physical therapy around. 

Have you been looking for a local, family doctor? The good news is Dr. Thomas Richey can be found on the first floor of the OakBend-Wharton campus.  Just call 979-358-9410 to schedule an appointment for any member of your family.

OakBend is personal, from top to bottom. While we are saying “thank you” to our doctors and nurses, we certainly want to express our appreciation to our CEO, Joe Freudenberger, who has come to know us well, and is excited about the future plans of growing our OakBend-Wharton campus. We are so fortunate to have a man who truly cares about all aspects of our hospital, from staff and operations, to the patients that come through the door. It’s that personal relationship that fits our community.

Billie Jones is a longtime resident who writes a weekly column on items of interest in this community. She can be reached at



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