A Century Of Community Health Care


"On this opening day, we dedicate this building and all its equipment to the service of relieving pain and restoring health and vigor, to the sick and injured.  But in a deeper sense, if possible, let us, one and all, dedicate ourselves to an unselfish service for the support and maintenance of this hospital, to the end that it may become a blessing to the people of Hillsboro and surrounding community."

Those were the words spoken 100 years ago today by Judge Amos Miller to open a new chapter in Hillsboro health care.

On Feb. 22, 1916, Hillsboro Area Hospital opened its doors and has been "relieving pain and restoring health and vigor to the sick and injured" for a century since.

The idea of a hospital in Hillsboro was actually conceived on March 3, 1905, at a meeting of the Women's Relief Corps when 18 members pledged one dollar each to start a hospital fund.  According to history recorded by the late Tom Bliss and compiled by Dorothy Bliss in "Hillsboro, A History," Susan Pease pledged the first dollar and Hattie Klar the second.

The Women's Relief Corps soon garnered public support and formed a hospital association, and for nine years, funds were raised at benefits such as oyster suppers, old-time dances, roller skating events, movies, membership solicitations, home-talent shows, and cash contributions.

In April 1914, plans for a three-story hospital designed by East St. Louis architect A.B. Frankel were approved, along with a construction cost estimate of $20,000.

The project came in well under bid.  Local contractors Johnsey & Nichols were awarded the construction project for $12,888 and Brooks & Martin were awarded the heating and plumbing bid for $2,480.  By that time, the hospital association had secured $19,890 in cash and mostly pledges, so construction began on School Street, anticipating a July 4, 1915, opening day.

That proved to be a problem.

By July 1915, more than $21,200 had been pledged but less than half of that–$10,100–had been collected.  Construction was halted due to $1,600 in outstanding bills, and the hospital board had to wait for more money to be raised to furnish the rooms and buy needed equipment.

Individuals and organizations sponsored furnishings at a cost of $100 per room.  Among those who did so were, of course, the Women's Relief Corps, and also the Odd Fellows Lodge, History Club, Mrs. J.E. Rutledge, Self-Culture Club, Ladies Reading Circle, Dr. H.K. Fink, Citizens of Donnellson, Employees of Schram Glass Co., American Zinc Co., Mrs. William Vawter, Presbyterian Ladies, Methodist Ladies, Mr. and Mrs. G.H. Hughes, Employees of Southern Illinois Light & Power Co., Mikado Orchestra, and Mrs. J.K. McDavid.

Finally, the hospital was ready and Washington's Birthday, Feb. 22, 1916, was chosen for opening day.  Judge Miller, who delivered the quoted speech for the ceremony, was president of the hospital board.  Other board members were secretary Harry S. Hargrave, C. A. Ramsey, Mrs. J.B. Truitt, Mrs. Eugenia Helston, Mrs. T.J. McDavid, J.R. Challacombe, J.J. Frey, and J.P. Brown.

An invitation to opening day appeared in The Hillsboro Journal the previous week, on Feb. 15, 1916: "The Hillsboro Hospital will be opened on Tuesday, Feb. 22, which is Washington's birthday.  The new hospital building will be open from one o'clock in the afternoon until nine o'clock at night for the people of Hillsboro and Montgomery County to inspect.  Everybody is cordially invited to be present to see the new hospital as this will be the best opportunity the public will ever have to inspect the entire building."

The 20-bed hospital opened with a staff of eight.  Mr. B. Bye, "a trained male nurse from Norway," according to the Bliss history book, was hired as the first hospital superintendent after Judge George Cooper, whom he had cared for locally for nearly five years, had died.  Bye resigned a short time after the hospital opened and he was succeeded by Miss Ota Denton, who was paid $50 a month.  In addition to the superintendent, the operating nurse was paid $45 a month, two other nurses each made $40 a month, and two maids, a cook, and a janitor completed the staff.

The first patients to enter the hospital were charged from $10 to $15 per week–that's per week–for rooms; the $15 charge was for a corner room.  Beds in the hospital wards ran $8 per week.

Eleven physicians were practicing in Hillsboro when the hospital opened: Dr. Louis S. Brown, Dr. George A. Clotfelter, Dr. Will Douglas, Dr. E. Turner Douglas, Dr. Ed Douglas, Dr. R.A. Hamilton, Dr. Z.V. Kimball, Dr. A.W. Lindberg, Dr. M.L. Moyer, Dr. Homer A. Seymour, and Dr. E.H. Herman whose office was in Taylor Springs.

James J. Slater Jr., the first baby born at the new hospital, was delivered by Dr. E.T. Douglas on April 6, 1916, about six weeks after opening day.  The baby was the son of a ticket agent at the Big Four railroad depot in Hillsboro.  The final baby born at Hillsboro Area Hospital was 87 years, one month, and 24 days later–Rebecca Nicole Ermovick, delivered by Dr. Brian Cady at 3 a.m. on May 30, 2003.

Six days after the hospital opened, on Feb. 28, 1916, a Kortkamp coal miner, William Pack, 25, was the first person to die at the hospital following gall bladder surgery.

In the hospital's first five months, 80 patients had been admitted, seven babies were born, and 43 surgeries were performed.

Over the next 60 years, the 20-bed hospital on School Street grew to an 80-patient health care facility with nine different additions.  Just six years after it opened, a three-story annex was added to the east end of the hospital for $15,000 to add beds for patients and other facilities.  The original contractor, Johnsey & Nichols, worked with Williams & McClellan, brick masons, on the addition.

Over the years an addition was added to the west end of the building, a new administrative wing was built at the entrance-way, a separate laundry building was constructed and later enlarged with a kitchen and dining room added on top, and a two-story solarium was built above the ambulance entry in 1958.

A New Hospital

Times change.  In November 1971, the hospital board began contemplating the possibility of a new hospital after they were informed by the state that the existing building on School Street could no longer pass safety standards because its basic wooden construction posed a fire hazard.  By the beginning of 1972, the hospital board led by Harold Sitton appointed a building and planning committee consisting of Martin Mauer, Ralph Heck, Richard Hopper, Walter DeWerff, and Earl Sorrells, as well as Sitton, hospital administrator Walt Duzan, and director of nursing Arlene Sammons.

One of the committee's first tasks was to decide whether or not the community would financially support a campaign to fund a new hospital.

"The hospital board of directors, headed by Harold Sitton, a seasoned community booster with years of dedicated civic service behind him, enlisted Bernard Rappe to spearhead the fund drive," according to the Hillsboro history book.  "Rappe did an excellent job and spared no effort in developing a team to accomplish established objectives."

No small task, considering The Hospital Building and Equipment Company of St. Louis, the architectural firm tasked with designing the new hospital, estimated a cost of the project at $2.3 million.

The fund drive began with a major donation.  Don McDavid and his mother, Alice McDavid, contributed land from their farm on the east end of Tremont Street for the new hospital.  The chapel inside was also a gift from the McDavid family.

On Oct. 23, 1975, the new 100-bed hospital was dedicated at its current location on the south side of East Tremont Street.

On The Grow

In the past 12 years, the hospital has remained on the grow when it comes to facilities.  In December 2003, Tremont Ridge, a $3.5 million assisted living facility, opened on Tremont Street a few blocks west of the hospital on ground situated very near where the old hospital was first built in 1916.  The facility opened with 28 assisted living suites and less than a year later added 10 cottage suites.

Two years later, in October 2005, Fusion Fitness opened as an affiliate located on the hospital campus.  The 32,000-square-foot wellness center features an indoor pool, indoor walking track, half-court gymnasium, exercise and fitness equipment, and is home to an outpatient physical therapy department.

In the fall of 2008, construction began on a $7.2 million 12,180-square-foot addition to the north side of the hospital that would house an updated and expanded emergency room and comprehensive imaging center, as well as a new home for the Specialty Clinic.  The addition also included new classrooms where health care education is taught in cooperation with Lincoln Land Community College and the Hillsboro School District.

That construction project earned Gold Certification by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a rating system for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of green buildings.

Unselfish Support

Looking back at the words spoken by Judge Amos the day the hospital opened on Feb. 22, 1916, "let us, one and all, dedicate ourselves to an unselfish service for the support and maintenance of this hospital, to the end that it may become a blessing to the people of Hillsboro and surrounding community." Over the years, several volunteer organizations have helped the hospital fulfill its mission to "become a blessing."

More than 60 women met at the Challacombe House on Oct. 20, 1950, to form the Hospital Auxiliary.  In the 24 years before the hospital moved to Tremont Street, the auxiliary raised more than $100,000 for items such as visitors' chairs, light fixtures, nursery supplies, a defibrillator, room divider curtains, cardiac monitoring equipment and air conditioning in the surgery unit and obstetrical department.

Using fundraisers such as Tag Days and their wildly popular Holiday Bazaar, in years past the auxiliary has also funded a blood bank refrigerator, new television sets for patient rooms, remodeled a birthing room, and they continue to provide scholarships to medical and nursing students.

Over the years, volunteers have also worked as Gray Ladies, Medical Alert Volunteers, Candystripers, Care Volunteers, and in the Gift Shop.

Since its inception on Nov. 15, 1988, the Hillsboro Area Health Foundation has raised money to provide needed hospital equipment.

Over the past 17 years at their popular Valentine Gala alone, the foundation has raised nearly $1 million to provide help with the construction of Tremont Ridge and Fusion Fitness, among other philanthropic activities.  Together with the foundation's annual purse auction, the event continues to provide scholarships for medical students who intend to return to Hillsboro to practice.

HAH Today

From the 20-bed hospital that opened 100 years ago today with a staff of eight, Hillsboro Area Hospital has grown over the last century to 214 employees with an annual payroll of $8.8 million.  According to a study completed in 2014, the payroll together with $8.1 million a year spent on goods and services like medical supplies, electricity, and food for patients, plus another $1.4 million in capital spending all totaled generates another 184 jobs for a total economic impact of $44.2 million per year.

Hospital employees have the potential to be long-term employees.  Of the current staff, 15 have worked at Hillsboro Area Hospital for more than 30 years.

A 22-year long-term employee is president and CEO Rex Brown, who came to work at the small, rural Illinois hospital 22 years ago, on Dec. 12, 1993.

After earning a business degree from the University of Wisconsin and a master's from George Washington University, Brown came to Hillsboro after working as chief operating officer at a 300-bed hospital in Wisconsin.

"It looked like a great opportunity to make a difference," Brown said of his role at Hillsboro Area Hospital.  "I found a wonderful medical staff, an engaged board, compassionate caring employees, and Hillsboro is a wonderful place to raise a family."

Under his leadership, the hospital embarked upon projects such as Tremont Ridge, Fusion Fitness, and most recently the ER and imaging addition.  Hillsboro Area Hospital invested in 3D mammography equipment before any hospital in Springfield had.  Under Brown, the hospital has won awards for pain management, been recognized as a leader in fall prevention, and won awards for employee satisfaction including recognition as a top workplace by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The people who provide medical care and those who support them day-in and day-out are the heros of the hospital, according to the CEO.

"I feel privileged just to be on the team with the people I work with," Brown said.  "Earning their trust is what excites me most.  It's a great group of people."

He is joined at the hospital in the administrative office by Vice President of Financial Services Terri Carroll, Vice President of Patient Care Services E. David Harrison, and Senior Executive Assistant Linda Weiss.

Hillsboro Area Hospital directors and supervisors are Director of Human Resources Sharon Clark, Ambulatory Services Supervisor Glenda Darst, Director of Case Management Angela Dugan, Patient Accounts/HIM Manager Susan Ellsworth, Imaging Supervisor Trinity Flowers, Supervisor of Outpatient Rehabilitation Jessica Frerichs, Plant Operation Manager Chris Kester, Lab Supervisor Shannon Micnheimer, Nutritional Services Supervisor Cheri Rapien, Director of Surgical Services and Co-Director of Quality Initiatives Theresa Rapp, Pharmacy Director Amy Rupert, Environmental and Linen Services Supervisor Deehan Rives, Emergency Department Supervisor and Co-Director of Quality Initiatives Chris Henson, Support Services Manager Geoff Trost, Tremont Ridge Resident Coordinator Ceressa Waldrup, Information Nurse Sarah White, and Director of Inpatient Services Dawn Mascher.

Members of the hospital board of directors are Chairman David Imler, Patty Clarke, Brian Knodle, Greg Holcomb, Dr. Doug Byers, Earl Flack, Julie Jenkins, Dr. Ben Cady, Lindsay Wagahoff, Michelle Ondrey and Jordan Ruppert.

Into The Future

What challenges does Hillsboro Area Hospital face on the first day of its second 100 years of "restoring health and vigor?"

According to the president and CEO, physician recruitment, wellness services, staff professional development, and mental health services are on the agenda.

"The next area is wellness services and health education," Brown said.  Included in those services are an increased focus on prevention of chronic illness, and an effort to educate youth and young adults on health, nutrition and available resources to keep healthy.  "Every group is effected by health education and wellness," he added.

The hospital will also be tackling the problem of increased substance abuse in the community and will study the need for increased mental health services. Making sure there are plenty of quality medical professionals into the future is another immediate focus.

"We need to find more primary care physicians, and access to specialists," Brown said.  "We recognize that we will be engaging with our community to make that happen."

Finally, the hospital will continue to invest in training and education.

"Our staff–that's what keeps us moving forward," Brown said.