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SOME HOSPITAL HISTORY
By Catherine Stortz Ripley
March 17, 2016

CAPTION: A $41 million hospital and medical office building opened in 2014. The facility employs more than 300 people.


C-T File Photo / Butch Shaffer

While looking at the existing $41 million medical center complex in north Chillicothe, it may be difficult to imagine that Chillicothe's first hospital began in a small house a few blocks northeast of St. Columban's Catholic Church. St. Mary's Hospital, believed to be Chillicothe's first hospital, was completed in the late 1800s and was started by the Sisters of St. Mary. "Livingston County History," published by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in 1981, stated that Sisters of St. Mary had visited Chillicothe previously requesting donations for a hospital in St. Louis and Father Hugo, pastor of St. Columban's Catholic Church, had convinced them there was a need for a hospital in this city. They purchased a lot at Eleventh and Broadway for $2,334. The first patient was admitted on May 17, 1889.

History of the hospital is told in the book, Past and Present of Livingston County, published by A.J. Roof in 1913. "The consummation of this work was made possible by the liberality of the citizens of Chillicothe, without regard to religious belief, many non-Catholics being reckoned among the most liberal benefactors of the institution," the author stated. "Such was the beginning of St. Mary's Hospital. Begotten in mercy, and born of charity, it stands a monument of practical Christianity. The sisters have proved themselves worthy of the confidence reposed in them by their generous benefactors." Fundraisers were held for the hospital in its early years. A newspaper article published in 1891 announced how the "phonograph company" of the city would give a benefit concert for the hospital, telling attendees to 'drop a nickel in the slot.' In 1913, Roof reported that the hospital formed "quite an imposing building, perfectly equipped with all modern improvements, for the convenience of patients." The location of the institution was excellent, being situated in "the highest and most healthy part of the city."

St. Mary's Hospital was a charitable institution. "All are welcome within its sacred precincts, the poor and needy, as well as the rich," Roof stated in his book. "It is conducted on the broad principles of Christian charity, which extends to Jews and Gentiles, as well as to those within the fold." In June 1915, the hospital was sold to T.C. Beasley, and one month later, the hospital was deeded to Drs. H.M. Grace and A.J. Simpson, for $5,000, and from that time on was known as the City Hospital.

Two additions were made to St. Mary's in the 27 years it was operated by the Roman Catholic nuns. Eventually, two wings were built at right angles to the main building, one of which housed the students of the School of Nursing, which trained there. Nursing was one of the few professions open to women at that time. After Dr. Simpson's death, Mrs. Simpson and Dr. Grace donated the entire facility and its grounds to the City of Chillicothe. With the help of a bond issue, a new three-story brick hospital was completed in 1937 on an adjacent lot just north of the old frame structure. In 1954, two new wings were added to the brick structure.

The financial structure of the Chillicothe hospital was greatly improved by a trust fund left to the institution by Mr. and Mrs. Ira Hedrick. Mr. Hedrick died in 1953 and his wife, Minnie, in 1956. The Hedricks were prominent Livingston County citizens. Ira Hedrick, the only son of Andrew J. and Ella Hughes Hedrick, inherited 2,000 acres of prime land south of Utica at his father's death, according to Constitution-Tribune files. He had attended Avalon College in Avalon, Missouri, and the University of Missouri at Columbia and returned to Chillicothe in the late 1890s to work at the Sipple Clothing Company. He met Minnie Kesler, who was a student at Chillicothe Normal School (which later became the Chillicothe Business College). After a short courtship, they were married at the farm home of her parents in 1897. They had one daughter, Ella. Ira had been working at the First National Bank, but after her birth, they moved back to the farm south of Utica, where he raised Angus cattle. He acquired more Livingston County land until his holdings were over 5,000 acres. He was also on the Board of Directors of the Citizens National Bank. Ella married Allbritain Lawson who had grown up on a nearby farm. She died in childbirth in 1922 along with the baby, James H. Lawson. The Hedricks eventually left the farm and moved to the large brick house at 910 Clay Street. Their will specified that some of the money left for the hospital was to be used to pay expenses of indigent patients, but stated that none should be for obstetric cases.

Adjoining property to the Chillicothe Hospital was acquired in 1972, and with the help of money from the Hedrick Foundation, an entirely new multi-million dollar 80-bed hospital was built and officially named Hedrick Medical Center. Portions of the old building were remodeled to serve as doctors' offices and conference rooms and was later known as the Hedrick Medical office building. During the 1980s, the hospital was the recipient of a million-plus bequest from the estate of Buel Williams, who was also a Livingston County farmer. A number of improvements have been made with money from his estate. In 1991, the hospital opened its new $1.1 million intensive care unit, featuring 5,000 square-feet for a central nursing station and six new patient rooms. Five years later, construction began in the south wing on a new $575,000 obstetrics department. Several improvements were made to the facility throughout the years.

In 2012, ground was broken for construction of a new $41 million state-of-the-art hospital and medical office building near the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 65 and Missouri 190. Construction was completed in 2014. The facility was built with no new taxes. Instead, the new hospital is being paid for through lease payments made by Saint Luke's Health System, existing hospital trust funds and through charitable foundations. Additionally, Saint Luke's makes annual lease payments to the city. Chillicothe's hospital facility operates today with an employment of more than 300 people and generates an annual payroll exceeding $20 million.

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