For 35 years, Arlene Hewitt has been a fixture at Alexandria Hospital and in the community. At the end of this month, she will say goodbye to the Inova system, but not to the city.
When she moved to Alexandria in 1967, she went to the city’s Department of Welfare looking for a job because that’s where social workers looked first.
“I went to see Barbara Watkins, the head of the Department of Welfare, and she sent me to the hospital,” Hewitt said. “She sent me to see Buck Ridgely at Alexandria Hospital and told him that he needed to hire me because my background was as a medical social worker, and she was tired of her staff doing the hospital’s social work. He offered me $7,000 a year, which was $500 less than I had been making in Massachusetts. When I told Barbara that, she told me to wait by the phone. Five minutes later, Buck called back and offered me $7,500.”
Hewitt was the hospital’s first social worker and wrote her job description as she went. “I wrote the social work manual and designed my job because no one quite knew what I was supposed to do,” she said.
Twenty years later, in 1987, when she changed positions, she had a staff of 10 social workers, a full-time secretary and other professionals working for her. “By that time, we covered every department in the hospital, and the staff was available on weekends,” she said.
IN 1987, she became the coordinator of the Senior Membership Program. This program targeted people over 55 and offered discounts for services both in the community and at the hospital, made professional medical staff available to members, had a newsletter that provided health-care information to members and even planned trips. When Alexandria Hospital became part of the Inova system in the late ‘90s, the Senior Membership Program became part of the senior program at the system’s headquarters and is administered from there.
After the merger, Hewitt became director of community outreach. “I was involved in working with organizations and city agencies on a wide range of programs,” she said. “I was involved in organizing the immunization for infants program, in which we increased the rate of infant immunizations by 100 percent. It has been my job to ensure that the hospital is a team player, to help coordinate programs and to be a resource to agencies in the area of health.”
Steve Meyerson, who is now the director of development for Inova Health Systems, was Hewitt’s supervisor at Alexandria Hospital for 10 years.
“She has been tireless in her efforts to ensure that the hospital has a presence in the community and that those in the community know that they have someone to contact for assistance when they have a question related to hospital services or health care,” Meyerson said. “During her many years of service, she has been instrumental in directing programs such as our Employee Assistance Program, our senior citizens’ programs, infant immunization programs and working with many agencies on teen pregnancy prevention.”
MAYOR KERRY DONLEY has known Hewitt for 15 years. “Through her work at Alexandria Hospital, now Inova, she has been part of their community relations program and as such, is intimately involved in a number of collaborations between the hospital and the city which have been quite successful,” he said. “She certainly played an important role in the infant immunization drive and as a liaison to the Alexandria Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.
"She was instrumental in helping the hospital and the city obtain funds from the Virginia Healthcare Foundation for our teen pregnancy prevention efforts. She has also been very active in terms of her role with the Chamber of Commerce. We will all miss her drive and dedication. She has a tendency to grab an issue and won’t let go until we all achieve some positive result. We will miss the close community ties that she has brought to her role at the hospital.”
As for Hewitt, as she leaves, she is proud of what she has accomplished. “Our father left my brothers and me a legacy — always do the right thing. All of the awards and honors make me feel that I have done the right thing,” she said.
Although she is leaving the hospital, she plans to work part-time, either for one organization or as a consultant to many. And if she doesn’t find something that she wants to do, "I’ll volunteer my time for one of the many organizations that I have served over the years and spend time with my husband and grandchildren,” she said.