A disc jockey may have been spinning the Bee Gees tune "Stayin' Alive" at a Fallston General Hospital party yesterday, but employees were holding a wake of sorts for the 1974 building, which is closing this weekend.
They ate good food, gathered in quiet groups and shared a drink, although the beverage was soda. They also reminisced about Fallston General, which is shutting down operations at 6 a.m. Sunday as Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air opens the doors of its new facility.
"It's been good memories. I'm going to miss all of it," said Bonnie Custer, a customer service representative who started working at the hospital in 1980 after graduating from what is now Towson University. "We've grown up here."
Yesterday, she and several colleagues gathered in front of the hospital's signature blue awning for a memento photograph, as did many other employees.
Craig Willig, Upper Chesapeake administrative officer, was much in demand for group pictures. His career path at Fallston, which is owned by Upper Chesapeake Health, is legend. He started at the hospital in the dietary department in 1976, washing dishes and stocking shelves.
But he had other goals. He returned to school, and started working in the hospital's accounting office. In 1997 he became Upper Chesapeake Health's corporate controller.
"It's been a dream," he acknowledged.
While Fallston General was a career springboard for Willig, he already has accepted the new hospital, which is operated by Upper Chesapeake Health.
"It's beautiful," he said of the $60.6 million medical center at Route 24 and West MacPhail Road. "It's like the first time I saw Camden Yards. After that, I said, `Who cares about Memorial Stadium?'"
With much of Harford's growth in recent years in the Bel Air-Abingdon area, Upper Chesapeake Health, which also runs Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, sought a more central hospital location. The new medical center also will offer obstetric services and pediatric in-patient care, which previously were available at Harford Memorial.
Upper Chesapeake Health still is committed to 300-bed Harford Memorial, officials say, pointing to millions of dollars that have been spent in improvements in recent years. But the organization is trying to sell Fallston General and its 35-acre property off U.S. 1.
About 80 Fallston patients are expected to be moved to the new hospital in a 20-ambulance convoy with assistance from police Sunday.
While Fallston General may have become something of a white elephant over the years, employees cherish memories of the close-knit early days.
"It's been a good family," said emergency room nurse Betty Smith. "Once upon a time, I knew everybody."
At yesterday's 1970s-themed farewell party - with tables covered in lime and bright-yellow cloths and topped with platform boots filled with flowers - long-time volunteers also spoke.
For 26 years, Charlotte Jones has been a familiar face at Fallston General. "I think of being a good volunteer as being an ambassador of good will," she said. "You have to put on a good front and greet people with a smile."
But she's accomplished another goal recently. She helped to raise $100,000 for the new hospital.
No staff layoffs are expected as a result of the change in facilities.