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Contributions to hometown prove to be lifesaving 

At 82 years old, Michael Onderdonk concluded his 33 years of service on the board of the Washington County Hospital and Nursing Home on a soaring note as he watched community members gather around a new helipad.  

Onderdonk stands outside of the state capitol after his induction into the Alabama Senior Citizen Hall of Fame in August 2022.
Onderdonk stands outside of the state capitol after his induction into the Alabama Senior Citizen Hall of Fame in August 2022.

Onderdonk officially resigned in late March of 2024. One of his last contributions while on the hospital board was assisting in the organization of the hospital's new helipad. The helipad is in front of the new free-standing emergency department at the Washington County Hospital and provides quick, quality medical assistance to patients.  

The helipad was first utilized on December 17, 2023. Warren Baker was admitted to the Washington County Hospital that day, where he was diagnosed with a blood clot. Because of the severity of his condition, he needed immediate treatment and was flown to Mobile Infirmary. There, he was able to get the treatment he needed. Since the first flight, the helipad has been used more than six times, bringing a life-saving asset to the rural community. 

The helipad project officially began in March 2023 and was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and Alabama Department of Transportation Aeronautics in December 2023.   

Along with the installation of the helipad, Onderdonk worked on getting the newly built emergency room “up and running,” updating pre-existing buildings, and expanding operations at the hospital. Since 2021, projects such as the construction of Legacy Hall, the expansion of the “free-standing” emergency room, and the addition of a new CT scanner have allowed patients to get the best quality care possible.  

A helipad sits in a clearing
The WCHNH’ s newly built helipad in Chatom, Alabama, is proving to be a lifesaver.

Onderdonk was well suited for a seat on the WCHNH board because of his personal injury law practice in Washington County and surrounding areas.  He practiced alongside his associate Ed Turner, at Turner, Onderdonk, Kimbrough, and Howell P.A. law firm, for more than 40 years.  

During those years, he served as an attorney for the Washington County Department of Human Resources, Washington County Commission, and the Washington County Board of Education.  

The firm’s way of practicing law was clear-cut, according to Onderdonk. He said, “I took anything that came through the door that I felt like I could handle. If we couldn’t handle it, I’d help them get somebody who could.”  

Beyond the precision of his work as an attorney, he focused on the overall wellness of his community.   

Tatum Turner, an attorney at the Turner, Onderdonk, Kimbrough, Howell P.A. law firm, said, “Mike was my law partner, but more importantly he is a good friend. Mike was a meticulous lawyer who was very patient with his clients.”   

Over his professional career, Onderdonk attended various conventions and seminars, his favorite being a head injury seminar in Colorado Springs, Colorado. With Pike’s Peak having regular head trauma victims due to snow skiers, this was an ideal place to host a seminar. There, he was able to make connections in the medical field and study personal injury cases, which opened the door to further access to healthcare in his hometown of Chatom.  

His contributions to improving health care in Washington County go far beyond his service on the WCHNH hospital board. He was the guiding force behind the creation of an emergency medical response team. The only existing emergency service vehicle in the area before then was the “Load and Go” ambulance owned and operated by the pastor of Fairhope Baptist Church, Bobby Smith, and his wife, Betty Smith.  

To fill a critical gap found in many rural areas, Onderdonk began organizing Trans-med, which was the first fully equipped, county-wide emergency ambulance and rescue service in Washington County.   

A station was constructed to house two ambulances and a rescue unit in the county seat of Chatom, as well as a rescue unit in neighboring communities, Millry and Epworth.  

The first Emergency Medical Technicians to service Trans-Med were mainly full-time providers for the Mobile Fire Department who drove 67 miles from Mobile to Chatom on their time off to work for the Trans-Med service.  

To provide medical first responders within county lines, EMT weekly lessons were taught at the Scott House, a site donated to the town used to host events. These lessons were able to “get homegrown country kids involved in learning how to be EMTs,” Onderdonk said. 

Volunteers interested in becoming an EMT were able to learn more about the job free of charge.  

The Trans-Med service ran for 12 years, with an estimated total of 8,000 emergency runs. The location of Trans-Med in Chatom still serves as a location of EMS care now as part of the ASAP (A Superior Ambulance Provider) EMS of Alabama network.  

The success of the Trans-med service was rooted in Onderdonk’s ability to see a need in the community and fill that need. He set no limitations on his service, stating, “I didn’t see things as necessarily something that I couldn’t become involved in because I didn’t know what I was doing. I saw it as an opportunity to know something about it.”  

Onderdonk’s daughter, Michelle Onderdonk, said she is proud of her father’s contributions to Washington County. She said, “Daddy has always told us that service to humanity is the greatest work of life. I think his life has definitely been a testament to that statement.”  




Tags: Chatom

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