Recounting the History of a Community's Hospital

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 01/12/2014 - 03:14

In 2010, the Saline hospital closed its inpatient facility and in 2012, its surgery center. In April 2014, the 24-hour emergency room will close and radiology services will be reduced. The hospital, a proud monument to the generosity and public spirit of Saline’s citizens, is fading out of existence.

Saline Community Hospital opened in 1959 and was truly a product of the people. All the planning and fundraising was done by local volunteers and all funds were gifts from the community.

The Hospital's Origins

An architect's drawing of the new hospital was published in the Saline Reporter on August 27, 1958, while construction was underway.

According to the Oct 19, 1950 Saline Observer, the Saline Community Hospital Association was established as a non-profit organization, on September 18, 1950. To meet the need for improved medical facilities, the group set out to build at 25-bed hospital. Before the year ended, they purchased land at the end of West Russell Street.

It took nearly a decade of planning and fundraising to bring their dream to fruition. People from Saline, Manchester, Bridgewater, Milan and the area townships all chipped in money. Almost half of all funds raised came from the city of Saline.

As seen in stories by the Saline Reporter, many prominent citizens such as Carl Curtiss (of mansion fame) and Dr. Harold Miller (a major force in guiding the hospital project) were early contributors. Corporations providing money for specific rooms included R & B Tool Company, Bridgewater Lumber, Citizens Bank, Saline Savings Bank, and Universal Die Casting. Four churches pooled resources to fund an obstetrics ward. Even the Saline High School Band funded a room.

Completion of the hospital was delayed a month when a last-minute anonymous donation provided money to enlarge the obstetric ward by six beds.

“There it stands, as beautiful as the first crocus in spring,” the Saline Reporter announced in an Aug 5, 1959 article. “To Saline area folks, it doesn’t need a name; it is just THE HOSPITAL, and every stick and stone of it is ‘ours!’”

The new hospital was “the culmination of a decade of hard work by hundreds of dedicated people,” said hospital association president, Bill Brittain, as recorded in the Reporter.

Because of its small size, the hospital struggled to stay in the black. Ten years after opening there was pressure to expand, according to newspaper accounts from 1968 and 1969.

So in subsequent years it did expand, increasing to an 82-bed facility in 1974 at a cost of about $3 million. This expansion was also built through community effort and funding.

Even hospital employees donated significant funds for this growth. Area corporations also gave. In 1973 Hoover Ball and Bearing Company donated $100,000 to a hospital expansion fund drive, the largest single contribution at the time.

In 1991, Saline Community hospital underwent a merger, eventually becoming part of the St. Joseph Mercy Health Care system. Growth continued, though the local community lost some of its control. Further changes included an $8 million renovation in 1993 and the addition of the community health pavilion in 2009.

This photo collage is on the wall in the volunteer room at Saline Hospital. It represents early efforts to promote the hospital. The balding man, center of bottom left, is Arthur Heininger. In the center photo is Judy Ivan the original head of the nursery. Upper right, William Meister of Hoover Ball & Bearing Co., a significant contirutor, talks to one of the doctors. In the lower left is Harold Gage, long-time Saline barber, who was on the fund raising committee.

Closure

Not only was the hospital a product of the community but it also felt like family to those who worked there.

“The hospital was like a second home to me,” said Dorothy Bredernitz, a former employee and long time volunteer at the hospital.

It is therefore not surprising that many Salinians are upset with the steady diminution of the facility.

“It’s a wonderful small hospital. People are very sad to see what is happening,” said Bredernitz.

In April, the emergency room will be closed and replaced with a 12-hour urgent care facility and radiology screening by appointment will cease. St. Joseph Mercy administrators say that these closures were necessary for financial reasons.

As a result of these changes, “approximately 40 full-time and part time positions and 20 contingent employees will be affected,” said Laura Blodgett, spokesperson for Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. The hospital will assist these in relocating.

“In addition to the Urgent Care, the Community Health Pavilion will remain as a resource for education, nutrition and preventative health services,” said Blodgett. “Lab draw services and general diagnostics/x-ray will continue as well. Physical therapy and occupational therapy are currently under evaluation.”

Blodgett also said that St Joseph Mercy Health System is considering eventual relocation of the urgent care operation to another site in Saline.

Bob Conradi's picture
Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.