Janice Dabney recalls running a warm washcloth over a woman’s body, and patting the patient’s arm reassuringly.
The patient, badly-injured in car-crash, had glass dotted all over her face after smashing through a windshield.
All Dabney could do — at that time in the early years of her career — was help make the woman as comfortable as possible at Springs Memorial Hospital.
“That was my first lesson in customer service,” said Dabney, who now is the hospital’s chief executive officer. “People remember you for all of the small things you do, and not so much the big things. I kept that with me all my life.”
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Dabney, who began her medical career passing out flowers to patients in 1966, is entering the final months as the hospital’s CEO. She said she’ll officially retire later this summer after serving Springs Memorial for 51 years in myriad administrative and executive roles.
Friends and colleagues say the hospital will never be the same without Dabney.
The mother of two and grandmother of five has donated the past few years working with the South Carolina Hospital Association and local legislators to attract more funds and attention to Springs Memorial.
Karen Martin, who’s served at Springs the past 40 years, said Dabney was willing to do anything to bring Lancaster residents a better hospital.
People remember you for all of the small things you do, and not so much the big things. I kept that with me all my life.
Janice Dabney, retiring CEO of Springs Memorial Hospital
“She’s got a knack for it,” said Martin, the hospital’s chief nursing officer. “She knows how to move mountains.”
‘Blood and guts’ and flowers
Dabney said she’s collected 1,326 paychecks in her career — she’ll pick up just four more before officially cleaning out her desk in August.
The life of a medical professional has dramatically changed over the past five decades. Dabney followed the footsteps of her father, James Caskey. He served as a business office manager at Springs Memorial when Dabney was in elementary and middle school.
Caskey would often introduce his daughter to doctors and receptionists in the hospital when the family picked him up from work.
“I thought a hospital was a cool place to hang out,” Dabney said.
She even picked up a volunteer role as a “candy striper,” working under the watchful eye of nurses as she comforted patients with flowers.
Soon after she began college, Dabney marched right up to the CEO’s desk and asked for a paid position. She says now that she was naive to think she could demand a job from an authority figure.
65 cents Dabney began her career at Springs as a nursing assistant for 65 cents an hour
However, she said the CEO gave her a nursing assistant job in the emergency room that paid 65 cents an hour. When the hospital later adopted the federal minimum wage, Dabney’s salary doubled.
She became responsible for connecting injured or ill residents with their doctors, whether it be for a stomach-ache or a heart attack.
“I saw some pretty bad chain-saw accidents, car accidents, I had to go to the morgue with the coroner sometimes,” she said. “I knew that it would be very exciting, even though I didn’t like the blood and guts.”
Constant learning experience
After working several years on the front lines, Dabney transitioned into administrative roles such as supply clerk, secretary, and even director of administrative services.
She also married her husband, Tommy, a now-retired vice president of operations at Comporium Communications. They have two children, Alex Dabney (the principal at Andrew Jackson High in Kershaw) and Pamela Trimnal (director of marketing at Comporium in Rock Hill).
Whether her job was refilling pantries on each floor with bandages or meeting with patients’ families, Dabney says she was a part of a constant learning experience. She said she learned about the power of teamwork as a secretary. She learned about the importance of timing as she slowly but surely rose through the ranks at Springs Memorial.
Dabney’s children include the principal at Andrew Jackson High in Kershaw and the Director of Marketing with Comporium
Dabney mentored all kinds of new employees during her 20-year stint as assistant CEO, leading to 2010 and beyond.
She even pushed for her longtime friend Martin to earn the spot as head nurse: Dabney said she sees her own job as less important than Martin’s.
“She’s been unbelievable,” Martin said. “When there’s nursing shortages, she’ll go ‘Karen, what do you need me to do?’ When there’s snow on the ground, it’s ‘Do you need me to serve patients, pass out hot trays?’ She’s always helping people.”
‘God meant for me to be here’
Janice Dabney has a few plans for retirement. She’s an avid camper, thrilled to get back out in the woods with her family.
She said the trees, the space, the relaxation all take her away from the hustle and bustle of a constantly-adapting work environment.
She said she’ll make sure to head to Flat Rock, N.C., where she loves to go antiquing and art collecting with her girlfriends.
Then, in what she describes as most important, she’ll spend more time with her five beloved grandchildren, Allie, Tad, Tyler, Dabney, and Alexandra. They’ve been reminding their grandmother for quite a while that if she retires, she can play with them all the time.
God meant for me to be here, I believe that like I believe that my name’s Janice Dabney. It’s time to stop and do some new things.
“My husband told me, ‘You’ll know (when to retire) when the time comes,’” said Dabney, who’s now 70. “I believe in God’s guidance. God meant for me to be here, I believe that like I believe that my name’s Janice Dabney. It’s time to stop and do some new things.”
‘You took care of me’
Martin said Dabney’s departure will be bittersweet for those who work at the hospital.
“She’s part of the brick and mortar of this place,” Martin said. “She’s given all she’s got to make this hospital successful.”
Nearly a decade after Dabney ended her time in the emergency room, she met face-to-face with the car-crash victim who changed her life.
The lady walked up to her in a Harris Teeter one day and asked if Dabney remembered who she was.
“She said ‘You took care of me,’” Dabney said. “Look at the impact I can have by just being aware and being kind and right. ... It’s a fairy tale. I’ve gone from the loading dock to the C-suite. It’s been wonderful.”