Hilda Walker retired from Atrium Health in December 2021 after an incredible 57 years of service.

News, Women's Health | 2 months ago

Five Decades of Dedication

March is Women’s History Month and we’re honoring one of longest serving teammates in Atrium Health history. Hilda Walker retired from Atrium Health in December 2021 after an incredible 57 years of service.

Through over 50 years of service at Atrium Health, Hilda Walker’s blend of grace and grit have sustained her through the highs and lows of her academic, professional, and personal endeavors. Her remarkable journey at Atrium Health Cabarrus touched the lives of many along the way. Although she retired in December 2021 from her role as senior risk manager on the Risk Management team, those who had the honor of working by her side say they will miss her passion and positivity. She’s one of those teammates whose impact reverberates long after they leave.

Triple Duty: Student. Mom & Leader

Hilda Walker, MPA, BS, began her 57-year career with Atrium Health when she joined the management team at Cabarrus County General Hospital (now Atrium Health Cabarrus) as vice president of medical services in 1964. Over the course of her 50+ year career, she would witness the growth of her hospital and community, as well as the digital transformation of health care.

While Hilda was busy starting her career, she was also two-years into a 33-year education journey. She had enrolled at Charlotte College in 1962, before it became the 1,000-acre campus with more than 24,000 students that we know today as UNC Charlotte.

But she couldn’t just be a student. “I didn’t have a dime, so I knew I had to work to fund my education,” Hilda says.

She steadily worked toward her goals, spending more than three decades as a student with a full-time job before completing her master’s degree in business administration in 1992 at UNC Charlotte and another master’s in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1995.

Two decades after the beginning of her career and education journeys, her responsibilities increased. Hilda had her first daughter in 1973 and her second daughter four years later. But in 1980, her husband passed away in a car accident, leaving her with sole responsibility for the children.

“Then I was pulling triple duty,” Hilda says. “I was a single mom before I graduated.”

From Proximity to Passion

Hilda initially chose to work at Atrium Health Cabarrus out of convenience – it was close to her home.

“Proximity was important because with two children and school, time was of the essence,” she says.  She thought briefly about a career as an attorney, but decided she enjoyed the health care field and wanted to stay in a hospital environment.

The longer she stayed with the system that would eventually become Atrium Health and continued to grow in her career, the more she realized how much she enjoyed her job and the people she had the opportunity to interact with daily.

She says she considered a few opportunities at other organizations over the course of her career, but when she compared them to her role at Atrium Health, she realized how much she enjoyed her position. “It was rewarding to advance in my career and be able to pursue my education,” Hilda says. “I enjoyed working in the health care arena and I had a passion for the people.”

Hilda says the common thread throughout her career was the opportunity to impact the lives of so many patients in a positive way. “I was able to witness so many very, very ill patients leave the hospital in good health,” Hilda says.

While Hilda continued to excel in the workplace, her family served as her motivation to finish school. “I was the only person in my family to go to college and I wanted to please my mom, so I stuck with it,” Hilda says. “My mom helped me with the children, but it still took a lot of determination and coordination to pull it all together … and I didn’t get much sleep during those years!”

Her persistence paid off. And it rubbed off on her own daughters, too. Not only did both of her daughters attend UNC Charlotte, but her oldest daughter graduated with a degree in computer science the same year Hilda completed her first master’s degree. Hilda’s passion for health care is shared by her younger daughter, who has been working as a clinical nurse lead at an endocrinological clinic at Atrium Health for more than ten years.

A Fond Farewell

Atrium Health teammate, Hilda Walker, receives ASHRM awardThroughout Hilda's career she has been active in the North Carolina Association of Healthcare Risk Management. In 2019, Hilda was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the organization. She was also recognized for her distinguished service locally by the American Heart Association, where she served as chairman of the board for the chapter.

When she retired in December 2021, Hilda was the senior risk manager in Corporate Risk where she provided risk management services to Atrium Health Cabarrus and later to ambulatory services.

Reflecting on her career, Hilda says she is honored to be part of a corporate leadership team that is committed to driving excellence. She says she is proud of what she has accomplished and her contributions to the community in which she grew up. Her colleagues say she has touched the lives of thousands of patients, providers, and fellow teammates along the way. Hilda says she fondly remembers each one.

“My 57-year career at Atrium Health has been rewarding and has provided many opportunities for personal and professional growth,” Hilda says. “l am honored to have been a part of this wonderful health care system … I will forever miss the many friends, teammates, leadership team, providers and others with whom I have had the privilege to know and love.”

Hilda’s former supervisor, Eddie Bethea, MBA, enterprise vice president for insurance and risk, says her impact on the Risk Management Department has been extraordinary. “It’s her passion, positive outlook, commitment, and devotion that resonate most with those of us who have been fortunate enough to work alongside her,” Eddie said in Hilda’s retirement message. “She is and always has been highly regarded by her teammates, and the support and guidance she has provided to us will be greatly missed.”

Michelle J. Stone, administrative assistant in Corporate Risk Management, agrees. “It's not only all the years that Hilda put into Atrium that is special, it’s the fact that she’s one of the few people I’ve met in my life that truly love their job and the company they work for,” Stone says. “Atrium Health was blessed to have her.”\

Hilda Walker and the N.C. Association for Healthcare Risk Management

Living History

Cabarrus County General Hospital opened as a county-owned property in 1937 with 45 beds and 10 bassinets. In 1997, the hospital was renamed NorthEast Medical Center, which merged with Atrium Health (then Carolinas HealthCare System) in 2007 and was rebranded as Atrium Health Cabarrus in 2019 as part of the system’s name change.

Today, Atrium Health Cabarrus has more than 1500 physicians and more than 900 advanced practice providers covering a wide variety of clinical services; a substantial inpatient/outpatient network; some 380 staff physicians; and more than 4,000 employees.

A Concord native, Hilda experienced this evolution first-hand. She recalls the small-town atmosphere that changed rapidly, and the hospital that grew to meet the changing needs of the community. She also recalls how different the medical field used to operate. “Providers made frequent ‘house calls’ where often times produce from a patient's farm was offered to the provider as payment for services if a patient didn't have insurance or cash to pay their bill,” Hilda says.

She has seen a lot of change over the years, and there have been ups and downs like any occupation. But Hilda is proud to have been able to support the health care leaders who have focused on how best to meet the community’s long-term needs.

Life in the Fast Lane

One of the highlights of her career, Hilda says, included being the first female driver of a miniature race car at a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the early 1960s. Hilda worked part-time at the speedway and was active in the racing community. She was also involved in several local community organizations. So, she came up with the idea for a community race at the speedway and went to work organizing the event.

Her crew chief was the chief of surgery, a member of the facilities department volunteered to be the mechanic and tire changer and a nurse working in quality was deemed the “quality control specialist.” Hilda and the crew even had race day uniforms, “very much like current‐day NASCAR uniforms,” she says.

Hilda says about nine cars raced that day, all sponsored by local employers from the Concord and Charlotte areas. (Her team’s car was sponsored by the hospital.) “It was definitely a fun-filled race day for the race teams, sponsors and spectators,” Hilda says. “No one got hurt (that we know of) and no significant crashes or ‘totaled’ race cars went home that day.” She thinks her team came in first or second place. “We were all having so much fun and side-splitting laughter, it didn’t matter who won!”

Slowing Things Down

Hilda plans to make the most of this new chapter of her life in retirement by spending more time with her husband, children and grandchildren, and to do some traveling. She also wants to hone her piano skills. “I used to take piano lessons but didn’t have enough time to practice,” Hilda says. “My ultimate goal, when I get better, is that you’ll see me in a local piano bar in Charlotte at some point! I’d love to take requests … if only I could get Frank Sinatra to come back and sing.”

“l am honored to have been a part of this wonderful health care system … I will forever miss the many friends, teammates, leadership team, providers and others with whom I have had the privilege to know and love.”