The original Hand County Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1948. The project was initiated in 1944 and ground work began in 1946. The building was completed in 1947, and was dedicated February 13, 1948.
Rates for the new hospital were set at $9.00 for a single room; $6.50 for a double; nursery, $1.00; major surgery, $15.00; minor surgery, $10.00; fracture room, $10.00; delivery room, $10.00; and baby laundry, $4.00.
Resident physicians were Dr. Merrill W. Pangburn and Dr. John C. Hagin.
The emergency room, x-ray room and an isolation room were located in the basement. There were 10 patient rooms on the first floor (medical and surgical) and five rooms on the second floor (for moms and babies).
For Miller and the surrounding community, the new hospital was a “blessed event.” Reasons cited for the new hospital included the geographical location and lack of nearby city facilities. The Miller Press reported, “Something impelled the people of Hand County to vote 4 to 1 for the hospital, not once, but a second time as well. Something prompted many of its citizens to dig into their private pocketbooks to help finish the job.”
Dr. Jim DeGeest, who was a physician at HCMH from 1957 until 1996, said, “I remember when the ground where this hospital was built was an orchard.”
He and nurses who worked in that hospital recently discussed many memories, including the first ambulance. “The first was a yellow-sided school bus,” DeGeest recalled. “Then we used the Reck Ambulance, driven by Jack Reck of Reck Funeral Home.”
Actually the “ambulance” was the funeral home’s hearse, but it was used many a time for emergency sick calls.
The hospital was the scene of many births, surgeries, deaths and wonderful recoveries over the years, and it was renovated three times.
New hospital facilities were added in 1969.
And now the hospital is going through building expansion, with entirely new and improved patient facilities, and renovation of the “second” hospital area for therapy and related patient services.
According to those who remember, the move was made from the old second-story hospital located in the “Opera House,” where the Coss parking lot now stands. Although Miller had doctors from its infancy, no hospital facilities existed until after the First World War and the flu epidemic. Then some public buildings were converted into a “substitute hospital” that had no doctors and sometimes only volunteer nurses.
Doctors Port McWhorter and Whitlock, back from military service, set up a hospital that they located on the second floor of the old opera house, and it served until Hand County Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1948.
The hospital opened for business February 18. Three nurses helped move the patients from the “opera house” hospital to the new hospital–Charlotte Schaefers, Joyce Gussler and Evelyn Froning.
Froning, a graduate of Sioux Valley School of Nursing, worked at the hospital until 1963.
The first baby born in the new facility was a girl-named Jay Seybert Smith, born to Mr. and Mrs. George Smith of Miller, at 4:45 p.m. on the 18th. The second baby was a girl born at 12:30 a.m. on the 19th, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Laverne Faust.
Those who gathered to “reminisce” said the first surgery was performed February 18, an appendectomy. “There were a lot of appendectomies, and a lot of tonsil-adenoid surgeries,” said Dr. DeGeest. When the hospital first opened, 10 appendectomies were performed in two days.
And many other types of surgeries were performed, when few patients were referred to “specialized” physicians.
Anita Fremark began working at HCMH in June 1955. She worked full time until her children were born, and as they grew older returned to work. She usually worked the 3-11 p.m. shift, and was a special duty nurse for critical patients, as at that time there was no “intensive care.”
Dr. DeGeest, a Hand County native, received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota. After working five years in Goodhue, Minn., he returned to his hometown to set up practice in February 1957. He says he retired in 1990, came back, and retired “again” in 1996.
Over the years he performed many surgeries, delivered many babies, pinned many hips, set many bones. “I had good results with hip-pinning,” he said.
In the early days of operation, a house was available for nurses to stay. Delores Ames, who received her RN from the Methodist Hospital in Mitchell, stayed at the nurses’ house, and was prepared to start work September 1, 1957. However, an explosion in Highmore on August 27 brought her to work that day.
Firefighters from Miller as well as Highmore were fighting a fire when the explosion occurred, burning several firefighters. It is an indelible memory for any who were involved in their care…including Fremark, DeGeest and Ames.
Eight were treated, including two men from Highmore and six from Miller; four died from their burns. “We brought in many people, anyone who had nurse’s training from the community. Many volunteered,” Ames remembers.
DeGeest commented, “Some of those I’d known for years. But after the explosion, I couldn’t recognize them.”
All consider that event an incident of immense proportion, and “the” medical disaster that will be long remembered. The men were not transferred to burn centers; they were cared for round the clock at HCMH.
A happy highpoint was the birth of triplets on May 5, 1959, when Annette, Yvonne and Lucille were born to Mr. and Mrs. LeRoy Ratzlaff of Highmore.
Bev Cain, Carol Winsell and Rita Beaner all received their RN degrees from St. John’s School of Nursing in Huron. Cain began work in June 1969…and she is still working full time.
Winsell began as a nurse’s aide in Miller. Her husband Tom was in the Navy and she worked in several hospitals where he was stationed, including in Illinois and California. Once they returned to Hand County, she began working at the hospital in 1980. “I worked the next 27 years, then I was off for two years, and now I’m in my third year back working as a nurse,” she said.
Rita Beaner started at HCMH in July 1969, and she still works for the hospital she loves.
The 1947 building is scheduled for demolition in mid-September, to make way for more parking. But before it comes down, a “memory tour” will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23. Everyone is invited to take the tour, enjoy refreshments, take a look at pictures and other displays, and share memories. Planners would also welcome baby pictures of persons born in the old hospital.
The Ratzlaff triplets from Highmore will provide musical entertainment. There will also be a few memory teasers…identify the medical equipment no longer used, etc.
Helping with the tours will be former staff…office staff, nursing staff, doctors…who will be happy to share a memory or two with visitors.
Memory planner Sandi Winter commented, “Many people have ties to this hospital. Births, deaths and other events that happened here mean a lot to them. We hope people will stop by and walk through this building one last time.”
A comment was made that, “Back in the ’60s or ’70s a couple of County Commissioners wanted to close Hand County Memorial Hospital. What a mistake that would have been.”
Today, with new patient facilities, healthcare in Hand County remains vital, necessary and aimed to serve the needs of area residents.
It’s been that way for many years. Take a step back on the 23rd to see the advancements since 1948…as well as the history the first hospital building holds.