Spirit of Alabama: Educator finds new purpose in healthcare

Years ago, in fact in 1977, local educator Maude Whatley recognized that many families in Tuscaloosa did not have access to proper health care.  As a teacher she would see children in school who were sick with common illnesses but not receive the kind of care they needed.  Longtime city councilman Harrison Taylor knew Ms. Whatley and said when she saw a problem, she wanted to do something about it.

“She was a disciplinarian. She was an educator. She was a concerned citizen for this city, all of the city.  And I think it was almost like a lady’s thing who organized this facility, this medical facility.  They saw there was a need, not just a want but a need, medical facility, in West Tuscaloosa.”

Along with other leaders in the community, they raised enough money to open the West Alabama Community Health Center.  It was a small brick building on Herman Avenue. Word spread quickly that whether or not you had money, you could see a doctor or a dentist there.  Now, some 45 years later, people in West Tuscaloosa, West Alabama and from outlying areas know all about Whatley Health Services named in honor of Maude Whatley.  David Gay is the CEO and a local pastor.  Serving others is what he does in his church and at Whatley Health Services.

“All people deserve good health care, regardless of what color you are, regardless of your age, everybody deserves the best of health care and that’s all Maude Whatley and other people wanted for the people of West Tuscaloosa.”

Doctors and nurses at Whatley Health Services feel the same way.  Donnie Lewis is a registered nurse and has worked at Whatley for 31 years.  She says of course it’s a job, but it’s more than that.

“It’s what we do for the community we serve.  I feel it’s part of my mission on earth.  I’ve always felt, as a nurse, I was here to help people.  And Whatley does that. We help folks that don’t have insurance, people who may need a little bit extra, to live better, to do better, to be better than what they are right now.”

Today there are ten other Whatley Health Centers spread throughout West Alabama.  Last year more that 6,000 people were served at the facilities.  And, another center will soon open in Aliceville.

Former Tuscaloosa City Councilman Harrison Taylor helped raise support back for the centers.  He told us that people are often unaware that Whatley serves a diverse group of people.

“He walked in and saw a lot of whites in here, and said man I didn’t know this.” “I said yea, it’s diversity. If you need it, they’re here to help.” He said “I can’t believe that many whites was up in here, that many Hispanics was in here… all kinds of people. And, that made a big difference to the city council, you know because it’s everybody from everywhere.”

Soon, Whatley will open a pharmacy which will allow patients to get prescriptions filled after their doctor visits.  David Gay summed up his feelings about the services they’re able to provide.

“Well, what I like about it is, it’s like a ministry.  You can see how you’re helping people who walk through your doors.  And that’s what it’s all about. When people come in with problems, they leave feeling so much better.”

Categories: Local News, Spirit of Alabama