How Community Medical Center Got Its Name
For over 100 years Community Medical Center has taken care of the population of Richardson County and Falls City. Over the years Community Medical Center has gone by a few different names. When the hospital first opened in October of 1919 it went by “Falls City Lutheran Hospital”, later in 1922 the Falls City Lutheran Hospital came under the private ownership of Dr. C.L. Hustead and the name was changed to “Falls City Hospital”. Falls City Hospital was operated by Dr. Hustead until 1940 when it was sold to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas at which time the name was changed again to “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” Hospital until 1955 when bonds were sold and once again the name was changed to “Community Hospital Inc.” which later became “Community Medical Center inc”.
Where It All Started
In the latter part of June 30, 1917, A meeting was called for by Dr. C. L. Hustead and Rev. J. Matthiesen, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, for any interested persons in considering the feasibility of building a general hospital in Falls City. Upon suggestion of Dr. J. F. Krueger a permanent hospital association was created and numerous ways and means for building a hospital were considered. In the fall of 1917 the matter was brought before the Nebraska Synod of the General Synod Lutheran Church with the result that the Lutheran charter was granted, also moral and financial aid was promised. In the latter part of April and the first week of May 1918, a canvass for the funds was made in the city and the county yielding the sum of $25,000, then another $15,000 was received so the total amount pledged is around $40,000. With the sum in hand the building was contracted for Aug. 19, 1918. The Nebraska Building and Investment Company, Lincoln, Neb. was the contractors and James E. Craddock of Omaha was the architect. The appropriate ceremonies on Sept. 22, 1918, were conducted for the cornerstone of the building being laid while the president of the Lutheran Synod of Nebraska S. H. Yerian officiated. As the building neared completion, dissatisfaction occurred within the board of trustees and among members of the association, because there were objections to certain by-laws made by the Attorney from the Intermission Board. By a special election, the property was voted out of the control of the church.
What Happened Next
After the property was voted out of the control of the church, a sale was to take place under the direction of Maude Howell (trustee) and Jean B. Cain, her attorney, who conducted the sale. The Lincoln Safe Deposit & Trust Co. bought the building for $30,000. Mr. W. E. Barkley of Lincoln is the president of the Lincoln Safe Deposit and Trust Co. He and his wife visited Falls City and the hospital and conducted a conference with Miss Howell, Gust W. Duerfeldt and John W. Towle. The entire proposition was gone over thoroughly and after much discussion, an agreement was reach. Mr. Barkley agreed to sell all the interest of his company in the hospital to a new Hospital Association to be formed in Falls City. He granted 10 years time at 6 percent interest to such an association to pay off the debt. With the sale and agreement clearing up the clouds that have been hanging over the hospital, now hoping for better days for the hospital which has been clearly demonstrated is sorely needed in Falls City.
Two Decades of Care
The Lincoln Safe Deposit Company, of Lincoln, Nebraska would hold the hospital until June 1, 1922 when Dr. Hustead purchased the property from them. Dr. Hustead then completed the building and procced to operate until August 1, 1940. During this two decade period the hospital was equipped with the necessary facilities, including a fully equipped x-ray and laboratory departments. Dr. Hustead also changed the name to “Falls City Hospital” which operated as an open door hospital with an organized staff, and all member of the Richardson County Medical Society and physicians from adjacent medical societies were privileged to practice there. The Falls City Hospital under the administration of Dr. Hustead was the fifth hospital in the State of Nebraska to be accredited by the American Hospital Association.
Our Lady Of Perpetual Help
Father John J. Hoffman, the pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Falls City, sought after a religious community that could operate the hospital successfully, Father Hoffman contacted four religious congregations for sisters, but all lacked the personnel necessary. Father Hoffman informed Bishop Charles J. O’Reilly on March 14, 1920 that the hospital had been closed and solicited his help to find a religious community to take charge of it, information regarding the hospital was sent from Father Hoffman to Bishop O’Reilly in the form of an embellished description as follows “City of over 6,000 population in the most desirable and wealthiest section in Nebraska located on three main lines 100 miles from Lincoln, Omaha and Kansas City. Hospital of 35 rooms, fine new brick building, equipped in every way up-to-date. Located on a whole block in one of the finest parts of the city. Cost of building $127,000, exclusive of equipment. If sisters will consider acceptance, we will submit a very tempting offer intending to make it a memorial hospital. Large Catholic congregation and splendid Catholic sections tributary to the City. Missouri Pacific Railroad Shops and Division with a large pay roll.” While this did not entice any religious community to take charge of the hospital on June 1, 1922 Dr. Hustead purchased the institution.
In his persistent search for sisters, Father Hoffman would enlist the help of Bishop Louis B. Kucera and on June 16, 1931 he wrote “If you should have an opportunity to encourage the Sisters of the Incarnate Word of Normandy, Missouri to accept our hospital, I shall appreciate it very much.” August 29, 1934 some three year later, Father Hoffman informed Bishop Kucera that the hospital could be purchased for a very reasonable price and that the Franciscan Sister from Omaha were going to inspect the hospital. To no avail Father Hoffman found himself once again pleading for Bishop Kucera’s help in February of 1936 to find sisters for the hospital. He stated “The doctors are eager to have religious administer the hospital.” Father Hoffman however did not get the satisfaction of seeing the hospital converted into a Catholic institution as he passed away June 18, 1937. Father Hoffman’s successor Monsignor P.J. Healy as pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Falls City, reached out and requested Mother Mary Francesca, Superior of the Sister of Charity of Leavenworth to purchased the private hospital in Falls City. Mother Francesca expressed an interest and following a visit to Falls City and the hospital on March 20, 1940, Mother Francesca informed Bishop Kucera that the congregation had decided to purchase from Dr. C. L. Hustead the “Falls City Hospital property to allow Dr. Hustead to devote full time to his private practice. The property also came with two cottages. One would be the convent for the sisters and the other would be a nurses’ home. Dr. Hustead agreed to continue his operation of the hospital until about the middle of August to allow the sisters to gather the personnel for operation.
Four Sisters of Charity arrived in Falls City, August 24, 1940. They were Sisters: Ann Raymond, M. Bernard, M. Jeanette, and Rose Victor. It was noted in Sister Julia Gilmore notes: “The day the Sisters arrived no one was on hand to welcome them, no preparation had been made for their coming. However they adjusted to their new environment quickly.” These sisters staffed the fourth Catholic hospital in the Diocese of Lincoln. Its predecessors were: Saint Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, 1889; Saint Mary Hospital in Nebraska City, 1917; and Saint Catherine of Sienna Hospital in McCook, 1921. One month after arriving on September 24, 1940, Bishop Kucera dedicated the building in honor of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” Descriptions of the hospital disagree on the number of patients that could be cared for ranging from 26 to 50 but whatever the correct number should be, in 1940 the census of six patients having been recorded on the day the sisters arrived made them wonder how they would meet operating expenses. The sisters hesitated to use money to buy essential for the first month and even though they themself do not take a salary at the end of their first fiscal year the bank balance was less than five dollars.
Many organizations in this predominantly Lutheran area wished to help the sisters avoid a financial crisis. They initiated a Fund Drive to help the sisters meet expenses and to help with purchasing new equipment. While raising funds was successful it also created a renewed interest in the hospital and as a result (the patient) census increased. Over the 15 years that Our Lady of Perpetual Help was operated there were six different administrators. They were: Sisters – Ann Raymond 1940-1941; Mary Raphael 1941-1945; Mary Alexine 1945-1948; Mary Owen 1948-1953; Kathleen 1953-1954; Mary Domitilla 1954-1955.
Sister Mary Raphael 1941-1945
Sister Mary Alexine 1945-1948
Sister Mary Domitilla 1954-1955
Our Lady and the Sisters were know for the high standards and homelike atmosphere for around a decade then the census began to plummet. Due to government aid, the towns around began to service patients that were served by Our Lady of Perpetual Help Hospital. Mother Mary Ancilla, Superior of the Sister of Charity, informed Bishop Kucera in October of 1954 that she would have to close the hospital due to low patient census. Mother Mary then met with the citizens and doctors and advised them of their intention to withdraw the sisters and close the hospital around March 1, 1955. The citizens insisted the Falls City must keep the hospital and the sisters to operate it, whatever support the sisters needed to keep the hospital running including an addition for future needs was offered. With this gesture of good will, the sisters agreed to continue running for another six months to give all the good people an opportunity to carry out their promises. Unfortunately after no remedy to the problem, the sisters terminated their services at the hospital on July 21, 1955.
(Picture Credit to Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Archives)
Community Hospital Inc. Emerges
After the Sister of Charity decided to terminate their services in July 1955, the community sold bonds and purchased the hospital. The hospital was incorporated as a non-profit community hospital and thus Community Hospital Inc. was born. A Board of Trustees was elected as the governing body. John Lichty, Harry Huston, Roland Owens, Wilbur Prichard, Walter Kottich, Sr., Kenneth Sandrock, Ed Buchholz, Gus Scholz, and Homer Wiltse composed the original Board of Trustees. For the next five years, Community Hospital operated the original structure at which time a decision was made to add twelve beds, new offices, a surgery and obstetrical department. A bond drive was held again by Community Hospital and again it was successful, during this time there were periods when the hospital made a profit and times when it operated at a loss. The first year budget for Community Hospital was $100,000.00 and was projected to have a budget of $2,000,000.00 in 1985.
The original 1918 structure was completely gutted and rebuilt from 1969 to 1970 to allow the building to conform to fire and safety codes. During this rebuild the entire hospital was fashioned with air conditioning as well as moving the Emergency Room from the third floor to the first. There was also a Physical Therapy department added during this time. Up to this point, the hospital sported 39 beds. In 1979, it became apparent that would not be sufficient to handle the patient load. A two-phase building program was decided by the Board of Directors. Phase one consisted of a first floor addition of a new X-ray, Lab, Emergency Room, Dietary department and a new mechanical room to replace all of the existing boilers and air conditioning. Hill-Burton Money was the primary for this phase. Prior to the completion of phase one a successful fund drive was held with a goal of $640,000.00 to finance phase two. Phase two was the addition of a new twenty patient wing with four of those beds being Intensive Care. This wing became the Henderson Memorial Wing in honor of the $140,000.00 bequest from the Robert G. Henderson M.D. Estate. Along with the new wing a laundry and storage area were added as well.