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Paynesville Press - August 30, 2006

PAHCS to celebrate 50th anniversary of hospital

By Michael Jacobson

Fifty years ago, the Paynesville Community Hospital was on the verge of opening. The public hospital, then owned by the village of Paynesville, opened its doors in November 1956.

First Hospital To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Paynesville Area Hospital - as the facility is called now - the Paynesville Area Health Care System, a group of local cities and townships that operates the hospital, is hosting an open house on Wednesday, Sept. 6, from 4 to 8 p.m. The celebration will include food, music, guided tours, and other attractions, hosted in the PAHCS parking lot.

"We sure have been fortunate, due to the foresight of an awful lot of people over the years, to have these facilities," said CEO Steve Moburg, who is the fourth hospital administrator in Paynesville.

The Paynesville Area Hospital - then called the Paynesville Community Hospital - opened in November 1956.

Medicine in Paynesville dates back to 1856, when Robert Hoover, a doctor, minister, and farmer settled in the Paynesville area.

Paynesville's first hospital was built by Dr. Pierre Pilon, shortly before the start of the 20th Century. For the next 50 years, hospitals in Paynesville would be private facilities, operated by doctors.

Dr. Pilon would build a state-of-the-art hospital - for the time - in 1913 that would serve the community for many years.

But, by 1953, the Pilon Hospital was on the verge of being sold to the Good Samaritan Society to become a nursing home. And the only hospital in town was the private Myre Hospital, still located on the northwest corner of Washburne Avenue and Mill Street, in a house purchased by Dr. C.R. Myre in 1943.

"There wasn't much conversion, really," said Dr. Ray Lindeman, who moved to Paynesville to practice medicine with Dr. Myre in 1949. "We used the rooms pretty much as they were."

The surgery and delivery rooms were on the second floor of the Myre Hospital, explained Lindeman. After surgery, while the patient was still out, the staff would carry the patient down the stairs to the recovery rooms in the general hospital ward. "Depending on how big they were, two, three, or four of us carried them downstairs," explained Lindeman. "I think a lot of them wondered how they got downstairs."

With no fear of medical liability in those days, "we did a lot of procedures in the house that we wouldn't think of doing now," said Lindeman.

Lindeman, who was drafted into the Air Force and served in 1953-54, returned to Paynesville in 1955, when a new hospital was already in the works, thanks to a federal Hill-Burton grant. As part of the grant, Dr. Myre agreed to close his private hospital when the new hospital opened.

In September 1954, village voters had approved a bond levy - up to $200,000 - to cover the local costs of the hospital construction by a vote of 383-215. Ground was broken for the new community hospital in July 1956, and the hospital opened in November 1956.

At the time it was built, the hospital was on the edge of town and its campus included two full city blocks that were mostly empty. In 50 years, the Paynesville Area Hospital has tripled in size, from 46,350 sq. ft. in the T-shaped original in 1956 to more than 121,400 sq. ft. on its main campus today.

"The city needed a bigger place, a more modern place," said Lindeman of the decision to build a public hospital in Paynesville.

Lindeman, who delivered 3,600 babies in his medical career, delivered the first baby boy at the Paynesville Community Hospital on Nov. 12, 1956, mere hours after the new hospital opened.

Dr. Ernest Aulick started practicing medicine in Belgrade in 1955. From Belgrade, the nearest hospital - with the cheapest rates - was in Sauk Centre, which was a 30-mile drive. If a patient was sick enough to warrant going to the hospital, this meant that Aulick had to leave other sick patients in his clinic while he drove to Sauk Centre and back to make his hospital rounds.

"I was very pleased to see the hospital open (in Paynesville)," he said. Immediately, this shortened his drive to see patients, though they still liked to go to Sauk Centre due to the $6 per day fee, compared to $11 per day in Paynesville, Aulick said.

In the spring of 1957, Aulick moved to Paynesville and began practicing medicine. "I would not have come here except for the hospital," he said.

He's not alone in making the hospital a reason to move to Paynesville, said Lindeman. Most families, when considering a move, consider three things about a community: the school system, health care, and the churches. With the addition of the public hospital in 1956, Paynesville had all three, plus a beautiful lake to attract new residents, said Lindeman.

"That was the seed for Paynesville to grow to what it came to be," he continued. "When it was built, we were the envy of the state."

"What's the line from the baseball movie: '(If) you build it, they will come.' The same thing happened with the hospital," said Lindeman. "We built it, and they came. I suppose that's like any business."

"Health care is really critical to community and economic development," said Moburg.

While the village bonded for $200,000 for the hospital, nearly $90,000 in donations were raised as part of the local share of the costs. Of the fundraising, Aulick said, "That means the people really wanted (the hospital)."

The $200,000 spent by the community to build the hospital now would only provide for a couple days of operation for the Paynesville Area Health Care System, said Moburg.

After the original 27-bed hospital was built, the Koronis Manor (a nursing home) opened in 1964.

In 1983-84, a major remodeling project was completed at the hospital for $2.5 million.

700 Stearns Place was added in 1988, following the hiring of Willie LaCroix as hospital adminstrator.

Then, in 1992, seven government entities - city of Paynesville, Paynesville Township, Roseville Township, Union Grove Township, Zion Township, the city of Regal, and the city of St. Martin agreed to form the Paynesville Area Hospital District. The city officially turned over ownership of the local hospital in October 1992.

The Paynesville Area Health Care System - the trade name for the Paynesville Area Hospital District - now operates the hospital, seven clinics, two nursing homes, an assisted care facility, and a congregate housing for seniors. The district now includes seven cities and five townships.

Nowadays, open space on the main PAHCS campus is limited. Who knew in 1956 that the hospital could eventually use more than two full city blocks? "Well, who'd have thought they'd need a heliport?" asked Lindeman. "They still have room for expansion, but any expansion project now infringes on parking space."

"This is the biggest small hospital I ever saw," said Aulick, who retired in 1997, referring to all the outreach doctors visiting the local hospital, the extensive equipment, and the fine facility. "Lot of stuff here."

PAHCS has great staff pride in the facility and has remained independent for 50 years, meaning decisions about the local hospital are still made locally, said Moburg. "When health care becomes corporatized, I think decisions are made that don't always benefit the patients."

The open house on Wednesday, Sept. 6, is a chance to "help celebrate the community's involvement" in the hospital, said Moburg.

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