Over 450 visitors gathered to witness the dedication and grand opening of the Centennial Addition on Sunday, June 14.
Grand Opening Of WRHS Centennial Addition
By Becky Qualls
Many area residents gathered at the West River Health Services (WRHS)to witness the dedication and grand opening of the Centennial Addition on Sunday, June 14.
Al McIntyre served as the announcer and welcomed all visitors. He also gave a brief history of Flag Day.
Pastor Robert Boxrud gave the invocation and stressed that “caring is often more primary than curing”. He asked for a blessing for “all those who walk as servants within these walls”.
Mike Clayton, WRHS Board Chairman, welcomed the visitors and dignitaries.“It’s very gratifying to see such a large crowd,” said Clayton. “I’d like to welcome our special visitors. We have with us today North Dakota State Legislator James Kerzman, North Dakota State Senator Aaron Krauter, North Dakota State Senator Bill Bowman, South Dakota Senator Ryan Maher, Chip Thomas from the ND Healthcare Association,Frank Kilzer from St. Alexius hospital, Mayor Gary Friez, NDSU Pharmacy Department Associate Dean Cynthia Knotten, and Wanda Dean,Director of External Services.” Clayton also introduced the WWII veterans: Harry Swendsen, Bennie Davidson, Gottlieb Lutz, Vern Stippich, Norm Tommerson, and Charles Uecker.
Betty Svihovec shared some of the history behind the new hospital. “This is a great day,” she said. “It’s a great day for a grand opening as we celebrate the people who work here, the visionaries who started it, and we celebrate living here. Sixty-four years ago, the community came together and the Community Memorial Hospital was opened. Stock in the hospital was sold for one dollar per share. One year later, in 1946, the site just to the north
was chosen and the next year, concrete footings were poured.” Svihovec explained that the passage of the Hill-Burton Act enabled the community to open a 28-bed facility that was dedicated to the WWII Veterans. “In 1950, we had three doctors and 15 employees,” said Svihovec.
“The needs of the community outgrew the building. The community responded with time and money, The Austad Addition was completed in 1969, providing 48 beds. The Howell Addition was completed in 1976 and provided space for radiology, labs, and records. In 1984, we had an obstetrics wing, recovery rooms, physical and respiratory therapy,kitchen, dining room, and chapel.”
In 1989, the community recognized that the hospital had been serving a much greater area. The name was changed to the West River Regional Medical Center and was dedicated to those who had died serving our country.
“We now have satellite clinics, a visiting nurse program, visiting physician specialists, a hospital auxiliary, an ambulance service,wonderfully-trained EMS personnel, an eye clinic, foot and ankle clinic, counseling, and cardiac rehabilitation. How blessed we are.”
The veterans were invited to come forward as the flags were raised. The WWII veterans raised the American flag while the North and South Dakota veterans raised their respective flags.
“We appreciate this recognition,” said Dale Wanner, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in Hettinger. “This is a lasting tribute to all veterans.”
Tom Caldwell, American Legion Chaplain and VFW Adjutant, invited veterans to salute the flags during the singing of the National Anthem performed by McKenzie Stippich.
Letters of congratulations from Governor John Hoeven, Senator Kent Conrad, and Senator Byron Dorgan were shared with the visitors.Gerry Sailer, retired physician, was very instrumental in establishing the clinic in the 1960s.
“In 1966, Dr. Retzer and I built the clinic that sits north of here,”he explained. “The point was to build it by the hospital. At that time, most clinics were built in the downtown areas.
“Facilities in larger areas are faltering. I believe that we are successful because our healthcare team has a sincere belief that rural people deserve quality care just as people in large cities do. They don’t just believe it; they make it happen. Our communities are cooperating to make positive things happen. We knew that more money and easier lifestyles were available elsewhere but our emphasis is on quality of care over personal financial gain.”
Dr. Cathy Houle shared her thoughts about the new facility.
“We’ve been in the new clinic for about two weeks,” she said. “We’re making some minor adjustments so things will run smoothly.
“Ground was broken just over two years ago for this facility.Somebody had a dream to provide big-city healthcare to rural people. They never said ‘No’ or ‘We can’t’. They said ‘Let’s try’.
“You may have noticed that a few of our docs are showing one or two gray hairs. Our up-to-date equipment will help attract young doctors to practice here. Our facility is one of the best-kept secrets in the country. I am privileged and honored to be a part of it.”
Carl Kilgore, lead architect for the project, shared his enthusiasm for the project.“Rural healthcare is incredibly important to our country and this is an incredible model of how to do it right,” he said. “We were able to bring the clinic and hospital together in a single entrance. This is a relatively small addition. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and this project is my crown jewel. I’m honored and pleased to be a part of it.” Verlyn Veal, Fund Development Officer, briefly thanked all visitors for attending the grand opening and for supporting the project.
Jim Long, CEO, made some brief closing remarks.
“I just want to thank Al, the speakers, our Veterans, McKenzie Stippich, the organizing committee, all our volunteers, and all our attendees. Thanks for supporting the project. “People are already asking what’s next. We need to finish the Centennial Addition first. It is functional and ready to be used but not yet 100 percent completed. The rest of the remodeling should be done around February. “I would like to see us have a fixed MRI. I also envision a new nursing home built near the assisted living facility someday. We’ll see what the future brings.” Visitors were invited on tours of the facility and were treated to cold water and ice cream.
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