COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A small group gathered at Valley Healthcare System in Columbus Tuesday morning to hear from outgoing President and CEO Sarah Lang and her successor, Dr. Asanté Hilts. Lang has worked in her outgoing role for over 28 years. Hilts’ first day in her new role will be Jan. 17, says a Valley Healthcare press release.

Virginia Dickerson, vice chairperson of the board, welcomed everyone to the event and introduced outgoing Valley Healthcare System President and CEO Sarah Lang, who she said was from West Virginia.

“I was invited to a reception when she was hired for this, and I became a board member at that time,” Dickerson said. “And it’s really been a wonderful learning experience, and she is such a smart woman … She knows health care.”

Lang said she was proud to say she was a coal miner’s daughter and said that was where she got her tenacity and drive. She said she had been reflecting over her years at Valley Healthcare System.

Above, Sarah Lang, the outgoing president and CEO of Valley Healthcare System, speaks at the podium.

“I can truly say I’ve been blessed, and I truly have a testimony,” she said. “This has been a mission for me. But that mission and that blessing is not just to me. I pray that as we all reflect back that we say we have been a blessing to others.”

Lang said what is now Valley Healthcare System in Columbus started out as The Community Health Center of South Columbus. Then it was South Columbus Community Health Center.

“And then, finally, the board said, ‘We’ve reached beyond South Columbus, and we’re a part of the Chattahoochee Valley Region,’” she said. “And we changed it then to Valley Healthcare.”

She said that for many years, Valley Healthcare System was called the best kept secret in the valley.

“With all the work that we had done, we were still not very well-known,” she said. “But again, I pray that that has been broken. That secret is out, and the work that we do, whether it’s from family medicine, behavioral health… Recently, we opened our X-ray radiology units here.”

Lang said Valley Healthcare System had built a new facility in Talbot County and expanded services there.

“We’re trying to recoup our services in Harris County,” she said. “We have a school-based health center. We have the mobile unit that takes dental out into the community. We are on track for another mobile unit, this time vision care, into the region. All of these services is because people like you said to me and to our board, ‘We need to reach out. We have patients. We have family members. We have children that need your help, that need your support.’”

She said Valley Healthcare System’s staff was looking forward to working with Hilts.

She said she believed she would stay busy and that she was on a lot of boards in the community.

Lang introduced Board Chairman Cecilio Gill, who said it took nearly a year to find someone to replace Lang.

He said he calls Hilts “Mini Sarah” and that she comes from upper New York State.

“And she’s been with the board, as well,” he said. “Has done some great work with Valley.”

Hilts was the next to speak.

“I hope that the hugs that were given this morning before we started and the hug that I just gave to Cecilio is indicative of the family support that we have throughout Valley Healthcare,” Hilts said. “And that’s why this transition is exciting, because it gives me really good peace of mind.”

Hilts said that when Lang announced her retirement, Lang approached Hilts to ask her if she’d like to take her place. At the time, Hilts said the timing wasn’t right for her.

“And many of you know that I have been serving as the district program manager for the West Central Health District for Georgia Department of Public Health,” she said. “And I love the organization that I work for. And that has given me the opportunity to serve on the board with Valley Healthcare for over four years now.”

Hilts said Lang has been a friend, mentor, and great partner to work with.

“She’s passing the passion on that I already have inside of me, and I’ll be able to continue it here at Valley Healthcare,” she said.

She said she attended University at Albany, where she completed her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate degree in community health. She said she moved to Columbus with her husband and three daughters.

“So Sarah said that she’s been working toward the mission, and we can’t say mission complete yet because we really want take Valley Healthcare across the Chattahoochee Valley,” she said. “We want the hidden secrets that are now in Talbotton and in Harris County to become known the same way that we’re known in Columbus.”

Hilts said she was excited about the staff she would have.

“When you’re entering a new position, a new organization, one of the riskiest things is who are you going to work with?” she said. “But I’ve already had that preview being on the board, being able to see our staff and build strong relationships with them. So I’m excited about joining hands with them and continuing the Valley Healthcare mission.”

Hilts has over 13 years of experience in the community healthcare industry. The press release says she is the co-chair of the Mayor’s Health Commission “and has led the launch of the Cure Violence Columbus program to prevent gun violence.”

She is a board member for Columbus Family Connections, Mercer University, Columbus State University and Three Rivers Area Health Education Center. She serves on the Muscogee County School District COVID Medical Panel and the Enrichment Services Vaccine Equity Steering Committee. Hilts also mentors and trains students from various universities.