On September 8, 1997, Dannevirke's Community Hospital was opened after turbulent time of protest against the closure of our 180-bed hospital.
The Friends of the Hospital had been working very hard to maintain the status quo and save the old hospital on the hill and at the height of the protests, the hands around the campaign made national news.
"It was a very tense time for our community and some weren't happy, but a year on from the opening of the new community hospital, everyone, especially those in Dannevirke, were very happy," Tararua Health Group chief executive Sharon Wards said.
"I was talking to Prime Minister Bill English just a couple of weeks ago and he remembered opening the hospital and how we led the way as a model for rural health in New Zealand.
"This is a model of primary health care which has certainly stood the test of time, but it's not been without its challenges."
At the time of its opening the Dannevirke Community Hospital was described as an excellent example of a rural community establishing innovative partnerships with health professionals and key stakeholders ensuring essential, appropriate health services were provided in the community.
"There's so much to be proud of."
Sharon had come from the dairy industry and management consulting to her role as manager of the new hospital in July 1997, when the building had been designed and was being built.
"We were a leader and it's been with pride that I've spoken at conferences, making people realise how special this hospital is."
The now Tararua Health Group chief has gone from managing a hospital staff of 45 to leading a team of 130 health professionals in Dannevirke and Pahiatua.
Her role has been a leadership one, with Chrissy Sheed and Kylie Hoskin both having significant contributions to management and leadership over the years.
Chrissy was hospital manager for five years and Kylie had a leadership oversight for two.
"I've really appreciated their considerable contribution to the success of the hospital," Sharon said.
The hospital was a place we should all be proud of, Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis said.
"The Dannevirke Community Hospital is another Tararua success story where our resilience has led to innovation.
"We created a stronger model fit for the 20th century which enhanced the health and welfare of our communities.
"We need to remember to take a breath and celebrate our achievements and success.
"This is truly one of these moments we should be proud of and thankful for the hard work and dedication of those with the foresight and determination to have made it all possible."
Sharon said it had been a privilege to lead staff who worked so hard and committed themselves to the community.
"It's a credit to the culture that so many are still working there.
"I always say if we look after the patients as we would our parents and grandparents, we won't go wrong. This is an inspiring team.
"I've had the privilege of sharing the start and end of life and sharing that with families.
"There's so much satisfaction for everyone that we've made a difference."
While admitting there had been lots of tears and laughter along the way, Sharon said there had been some pretty special moments in the past 20 years.
"I think I'm a local now and this role has made a huge imprint on my heart."
Tararua Health Group had the job of delivering primary health care across the district and with its budget and staffing levels it was one of our district's largest organisations, second only to Fonterra.
"This is the biggest geological area served by MidCentral Health and I'm proud a fairly significant part of rural New Zealand now has an integrated and multi-disciplined health service and there's more innovation ahead.
"I've had some fabulous support from the DHB and PHO and they're letting us get on with it. "
Sharon said the way things were done would probably be different in the future.
"But at the core of it are people who do their best for the community.
"Now, with all the stresses and pressures we're facing it's up to the community to get in behind us and they will. This community has never let us down."
Ask Sharon if she'll win the battles ahead and she gives you a steely look and answers quickly.
"Of course we will. There's always plan B and for every challenge and barrier there is a way around, over or through it.
"And the dedication of my staff, no matter what, they still keep coming.
"I've a good team behind me. This is an organisation which cares about people, but also an organisation which cares about itself."
But, Sharon admits, there have been some wacky moments, including nearly setting off the fire alarms at the hospital when she baked a birthday complete with 80 candles.
Sharing a wee dram of whiskey with patients, with their doctor's okay, isn't unknown for the chief executive either.
"It's those little, unique things which mean a lot," she said.
"We've had seeing-eye ducks, ponies and guinea pigs and they're all described as seeing-eye dogs. This is a unique service. We care, that's why we do this.
"I think the hospital has touched the lives of a lot of people.
"I've raised my children through that hospital and a very big part of me will always be around there."
Technology will influence how the Dannevirke Community Hospital delivers care in the future, while the traditional caring approach will continue.
"For services such as renal dialysis and cardiac care, we'll find a way to do it," Sharon said.
"It'll be about giving younger health professionals across all of the scopes a wide, open door to create that future."
About the hospital
• Eight GP beds, including palliative care
• A midwife-led maternity unit
• Digital X-ray services
• Ultrasound services
• Within the Tararua Health Group, specialist nurses, nurse practitioners and a highly qualified team
• Every five weeks the mobile surgical bus arrives at the hospital