Funeral services for the founder and past chief executive officer of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation will be held today (Wednesday) at Whitesburg First Baptist Church.
Lois A. Baker, 79, of Whitesburg, died after a long illness on June 27 at Letcher Manor Nursing Home, where she was a patient in the rehabilitation unit.
Mrs. Baker attended Stuart Robinson High School, Fugazzi Business College in Lexington and the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Before helping Mountain Comprehensive Health become one of the country’s most successful rural health providers, Mrs. Baker worked in the coal business and operated a furniture plant.
She was president of Baker Coal & Land Co. in Roxana from 1959 to 1963 and became president of Letcher Manufacturing Co. Inc. in 1963.
“She had an opportunity to apply for some federal contracts for making furniture for the military,” son L.M. “Mike” Caudill, who succeeded his mother as CEO of MCHC, said of her time at the furniture plant. “To be able to serve those (contracts), she called upon her father, Bill Adams, who was a contractor, to build a small factory at Jeremiah.”
The business expanded in 1968 when the government contracts increased from $1 million to $2 million. A larger facility, in which 125 people were employed, was built on the Natt Combs farm above Isom.
As a result of her involvement with Letcher Manufacturing Co., she was named Small Businessman of the Year by the Small Business Administration in 1968.
“She competed in a man’s world as an equal and she was successful in several diff erent forms,” said Caudill.
Mrs. Baker became CEO of not-forprofi t MCHC in 1971.
“The person over it at that time failed to get the company going and was ousted and she was hired,” said Caudill. “With the help of (U.S. Rep.) Carl D. Perkins they were able to keep it from being defunded and got a $1 million grant in 1971 and in 1972 the first clinic started.”
The first clinic was at located in Wooten on the Perry/Leslie County line.
“Structurally it was a trailer left over from a government program that was set up and secured together and a common roof put over them”,” said Caudill.
MCHC now operates five clinics located in Letcher, Perry, Harlan and Owsley counties. MCHC employs about 250 people and provides services to more than 27,000 patients each year.
“Her vision was to be able to provide affordable, quality health care to the citizens and visitors of this area,” said Caudill. “She wanted to do this with local people. She worked hard to make sure that every qualified person from the mountains had the opportunity to become a doctor.”
Caudill said Mrs. Baker was a very active player in the development of the health delivery system, not only in Letcher County but on the state and national level.
Caudill wants his mother to be remembered “as an icon in the health movement in Kentucky and the nation that has taken place over the last 30 years.” Caudill said his mother taught him “to not be afraid to dream but to be practical and realize reaching your dreams means hard work and perseverance.”
“She always had a vision and she never lost that vision,” said Anna Craft, superintendent of the Letcher County Public School District.
“She was always a pioneer in everything and never afraid to tackle something,” said Craft. “You never heard her say no when it was going to benefit this community. In a small community, we all help each other.”
During her lifetime Mrs. Baker served on many board and committees. She was a founding member of the Letcher County Planning Commission and a longtime member of the Letcher County Schools Education Foundation. Under her direction, MCHC donated $100,000 to equip a chemistry laboratory at Letcher County Central High School.
“She was a lady of vision,” said Craft. “She was a special friend and a friend of education.”
In 1991, Mrs. Baker was appointed to the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Admissions Committee, and through the position was able to help a number of qualified but often overlooked mountain students gain admission to the UK medical school.
She was appointed by former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson as a member of the Kentucky Board of Family Health Care Providers and as a member of the Morehead State University Board of Regents in 1991. Mrs. Baker became vice chair of the MSU board in 1992.
She was a member of the Appalachian Regional Hospital Board of Governors, Comprehensive Health Planning Council Board of Directors, National Association of Community Health Centers, American Public Health Association, National Rural Primary Care Association, the National Coalition of Black Lung Clinics and the Kentucky Primary Care Association Board of Directors.
In 1994 Mrs. Baker was appointed to the Letcher County School District’s Improvement Committee and the Hazard ARH’s advisory council.
Congressman Harold ‘Hal’ Rogers appointed her to the White House Conference on Aging in 1995 and to the board of directors for the Center for Rural Development in 1996.
Mrs. Baker was a member of the board of directors of Pikeville Methodist Hospital from 1999 to 2003.
She was president of the Letcher County Chamber of Commerce from 1987 to 1990. In 1989, she became the second female member of the Whitesburg Rotary Club. She became chairman of the Letcher County Library Board of Trustees in 1992.
Mrs. Baker was elected to the Whitesburg City Council in 1997.
She became an honorary Kentucky Colonel in 1968 and was inducted into the Mountain Heritage Hall of Fame in 1987. She was inducted into the National Association of Community Health Centers Inc.’s Grassroots Advocacy “Hall of Fame” in March 2005, and was inducted into the UK College of Public Health Hall of Fame in 2006.
In 2001, Mrs. Baker received a special recognition award from the East Kentucky Family Practice Residency Program in recognition of her outstanding commitment to the education of future doctors in rural Appalachia.
The National Rural Health Association named MCHC as an outstanding rural health practice at the 23rd annual national conference in New Orleans, La., in May 2000.
The daughter of the late William R. “Big Bill” and Janie Wright Adams, Mrs. Baker is survived by her husband, former Whitesburg Mayor Nathan Baker; three sons, Wade Baker, Mike Caudill and Rick Caudill, all of Whitesburg; a daughter, Lisa Adams of Whitesburg; a brother, Doug Adams of Morehead and Whitesburg; seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and three nieces.
Mrs. Baker was preceded in death by a son, Robert Scott Baker, and a brother, Dr. James A. Adams.
Funeral services are set for today at 2 p.m. at Whitesburg First Baptist Church. Burial will follow at the Green Acres Cemetery. Letcher Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, donations are encouraged to be made to the Letcher County Schools Education Foundation.