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Paynesville Press - November 22, 2006

Hospital turns 50 this month

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Area Hospital - feted this summer for its 50th birthday - actually turned 50 this month. The Paynesville Community Hospital, as it was known back then, officially opened on Nov. 12, 1956.

The hospital - agreed a group of four retired nurses, who began working at it in the 1950s and the 1960s and combined to labor there for 160 years - has changed tremendously in 50 years and has been a great asset to the community.

Jean Deadrick started working at the hospital in 1956 and remembers making the beds and stocking the rooms before the hospital opened. She spent 14 months as nurse's aide, then went to school to become a licensed professional nurse (LPN), returning to Paynesville in 1959 and working as a nurse until 2004.

"Oh my goodness, much, much smaller," said Deadrick about the hospital 50 years ago compared to the Paynesville Area Health Care System today. "A lot less paperwork."

"It was good," Deadrick said of the medical care back then, "but nothing like it is today because they didn't have the tools to work with. There's so much now - x-rays, scanners, and tests - that they didn't have then."

"The difference between now and then is equipment," said Jan Butler, who started as a nurse's aide in 1963, became an LPN in 1973, and retired in November 2005. "Now we have wonderful equipment."

When she started working at the Paynesville Community Hospital as an LPN in 1959, said Etheline Spanier, who worked full-time until 2002 and then part-time until November 2003, it didn't even have a timeclock. You just stayed until your work was done, she said.

Nurses and nurse's aides did a great variety of work, said Deadrick, even working in the kitchen at night.

"We did everything," agreed Spanier. "We worked in ER, labor delivery, nursery, surgery, intensive care. It was all combined then."

Of course, the Paynesville Community Hospital, originally owned by the village of Paynesville, had only a few dozen employees. Now the Paynesville Area Health Care System - which operates seven clinics, two nursing homes, and two senior living facilities in addition to a hospital - has over 400 employees.

"I remember when I started I knew every employee by name," said Spanier. "Now you can't begin to know all the employees."

By many other measures, the Paynesville Area Health Care System dwarfs its founding hospital. With a budget of $27 million, the Paynesville Area Health Care System spends, in one year, enough to build the original hospital (cost of $445,000) 60 times. PAHCS spends $445,000 in expenses in less than a week of operation.

Since the original hospital was built (46,350 sq. ft.), the main campus of the Paynesville Area Health Care System (now 121,000 sq. ft.) has tripled in size.

"Parking was not a problem," said Deadrick of the hospital in 1956, which was built on the south end of town.

On the other hand, life was simpler then, with less paperwork, and people were very close, said Butler. Nurses even sang to their patients. "It was a vocation. It wasn't a just a job," she explained. "It really was a privilege to care for the people in our community."

When the hospital was built, average hospital stays were much longer, and all the nurses can remember having all the rooms full, beds in the hall, and more in the solarium.

"Now they hardly hit the bed, and they're out, whether they had major surgery or a baby," said Gerry Bowar, a registered nurse who came to Paynesville in 1964, just when the Koronis Manor was opening, and was director of nursing in the hospital for 25 years, retiring in 1996.

Nurses back in the 1950s and 1960s wore heavily starched dresses with starched caps emblazoned with a pin from their nursing school, recalled Spanier. The strict dress code forbid any jewelry for nurses and fingernail polish.

This code gradually changed, she added, as the starched dresses made it hard for nurses to do some of their tasks. "The whole facility has changed to make it more patient-friendly," she explained. "It's a much more personal, home feeling."

Just take the meals, said Spanier, which used to be limited to clear liquid, full liquid, and regular. Now specific patient needs are served by the dietary staff, as well as honoring likes and dislikes.

"What's really nice now is the reputation of the hospital. We are all so proud to have been part of this system as it's built up over time," said Butler.

The former nurses agreed that the community hospital, now 50 years old, has done much to improve the quality of life for Paynesville.

We are "so lucky to have a health care facility like this for a town this size," said Deadrick.

"Just that hometown care that you can't get anywhere else. It's just so important to have a hospital in a small town," said Butler.

"Oh, I would say if you didn't have a hospital here, you wouldn't have much of a town," said Spanier.

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