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Bemidji Minnesota Community Guide


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Hospital and Medical Services
Pat Kelly

Hospital services have been a part of Bemidji since the lumberjack days of the 1890's. In those early days when Bemidji consisted of one store, a small post office and six homes, the Benedictine sisters of the motherhouse in Duluth leased the second floor of the Nangle Store at Third Street and Minnesota Avenue and equipped it for temporary use as a hospital which they named St. Anthony's.

The hospital, which could accommodate 24 patients, was often referred to as the "Lumberjack Hospital" since the sisters helped finance their project and provided much needed service by going into the woods to sell hospital insurance tickets to local lumberjacks. The tickets, which at first cost $1 and later increased to as much as $7.50, entitled the purchaser to ward accommodations and medical, surgical and nursing care for one year. This arrangement eventually led to an assessment being held out of the holder's paycheck, and finally ended when Minnesota passed its Workmens' Compensation Laws in 1913.

Saint Anthony's Hospital, Bemidji Minnesota
Saint Anthony's Hospital.

The sisters did make one exception in the "insurance policy", namely that injuries arising from the use of intoxicating drinks or fighting were excluded from hospital benefits. This turned out to be a wise ruling, since at one time in those early years, there were some 40 saloons in Bemidji.

Within half a year after the sisters arrived in the village, they founded their small hospital inadequate for local needs. They decided to expand and purchased land for a sum of $1,000 at the north end of town on the shores of Lake Bemidji at Eighth Street and Dewey Avenue. There on the site of the present Baker Park Congregate Housing Complex, they moved into temporary quarters in a cottage until the new hospital could be built.

Since funds were scarce, the project was built in stages. One wing was completed in 1899, but business was so booming that some patients had to be placed in outside quarters. An additional wing was added to the hospital in 1900.

Saint Anthony's Hospital with additional wing, Bemidji Minnesota
Saint Anthony's Hospital with additional wing.

The new hospital was a three-story frame building standing on a stone basement, 80-by-90 feet. It had a total of 60 rooms, including bath, reception room, operating room and dining room, with a total capacity of about 50 beds. Cost of the building was estimated at around $18,000. The furnishings, equipment and other necessities added another $12,00 to the burdening debt.

By 1910, the hospital was again too small. Not only the rooms and wards but even the halls were filled with patients. As a result, a drive was launched for another addition to the structure. A "tag day" in Bemidji was held with tags sold as 10 cents or whatever a donor might be willing to give. The event netted only $684, but about this same time, St. Michael's Hospital in Cass Lake was closed. Building material from that dismantling was used for the expansion of St. Anthony's.

The new addition, which opened in the winter of 1910, consisted of eight private rooms on each of three floors and brought the capacity of St. Anthony's to about 75. Business was brisk in the following years. At one time during the flu epidemic of 1918-19, the hospital accommodated 104 patients.

In May, 1922, Bemidji citizens were shocked by an abrupt announcement that "the hospital is to be closed." The division of the sisters' motherhouse between Crookston and Duluth had resulted in a reduction of both the personnel and financial resources available for the local hospital. Also, a new heating plant projected to cost approximately $30,000 was being demanded by State of Minnesota inspectors. The hospital was closed June 1, 1922.

Two years prior to the closing, a group of men of the Lutheran congregation had organized to form the North Central Lutheran Hospital Association with the purpose of building another hospital in Bemidji. With St. Anthony's closed, a campaign to sell stock in that association was triggered when a boy with a ruptured appendix died before reaching the closest hospital in Brainerd.

Lutherans, who on that particular day were holding a lutefisk supper, decided to do something. Ladies of the church brought a new 1922 car, packed their noon lunches and canvassed the area for funds. The response was very generous, and in August, 1922, St. Anthony's hospital was purchased by the new association for $25,000 and named Lutheran Hospital. There was no direct affiliation between the hospital and the church.

The satisfaction of the association was soon turned to dismay on January 28, 1929, when defective wiring in the attic ignited a fire which spread through an elevator shaft and quickly enveloped the building. All 24 patients were safely evacuated, and local citizens quickly gave aid by opening their homes for care of patients. Later patients were transferred to the Detention Home in Nymore, and in the fall moved to a temporary hospital in a red brick, three-story house still standing on the Corner of 10th Street and Beltrami Avenue.

The association was undaunted. With the help of civic groups, a new drive for funds was started, additional stock was sold and arrangements made for a loan. Insurance or $20,000 on the old building and $5,000 on its contents helped the cause.

Lutheran Hospital, Bemidji Minnesota, built in 1929, south wing added in 1938.
Lutheran Hospital built in 1929, south wing added in 1938.

In the fall of 1930, a new three-story fireproof structure was built. Open house was held December 13, 1930. The main floor consisted of five private rooms, two double rooms, two four-bed wards and a sun room. Later one ward was converted into an operating room, and the sun room into a ward. The boiler room and a laundry were in a separate building connected by a tunnel. At that time, the largest number of patients in the hospital at one time was 30, the smallest three, the average census being 16.3. There were four bassinets in the nursery. Nine physicians were on the medical staff and 14 employees on the hospital staff. The third floor of the building was completed in piece-meal fashion between 1930-38 to create modern operating room facilities.

Like the old St. Anthony's, the new Lutheran Hospital was soon overcrowded. In 1938, the first addition was added to the south of the original structure giving added patient rooms.

In 1952, the Lutheran Hospital Board of Directors composed of five officers and 10 directors, recognized the need for even greater expansion in order to keep pace with the rapid growth of the community. Plans were made but rejected after much deliberation.

In 1954, they were convinced of the urgent need to build, and in January, 1956 became the recipient of a $29,300 grant from the Ford Foundation. By August, 1960, the addition was completed giving much needed facilities for a medical staff that had grown to 14. The capacity was now 88 adult beds and 22 bassinets. The name of the hospital was officially changed to Bemidji Hospital in 1960.

Bemidji Community Hospital built in 1929, additions in 1938 and 1960.
Bemidji Community Hospital built in 1929, additions in 1938 and 1960.

Work began on another important addition in 1963. The Bemidji Nursing Home, founded in 1946 in a large house on 15th Street and Irvine Avenue by the Lutheran Church, went out of business in 1958. The board of the institution turned its assets over to the hospital. In 1963, with expansion and modernization needed, the hospital sold the house and began construction of a new wing on the hospital. The 58 bed nursing home was opened and dedicated in September, 1964 with seven patients moving from the former home.

By mid-1960, the hospital, crowded with new technology and even whole new
departments, was once again bursting at the seams. In 1968, a long range planning committee was formed and suggested building a new hospital on a new site. The present hospital lacked room to expand to meet the needs of a growing community.
Hard pressed financially, the hospital board put the idea aside until 1972 when the Long Range Planning committee was reactivated. and the recommendation made to build a new 98 bed hospital. Again, finances made such a project infeasible. In April, 1975 a survey by the Minnesota Department of Health cited serious deficiencies in the hospital's physical plant. A year later the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals granted only a one year accreditation primarily because of physical plant deficiencies.

Bemidji Community Hospital 1960.
Bemidji Community Hospital 1960.

Faced with the inevitability of a significant building project, the Hospital Board recognized the need for more community involvement, and, in December, 1975, re
placed the North Central Lutheran Hospital Association with a community hospital type of organization, the Bemidji Community Hospital Corporation. The new corporation made association membership available to all adults in the hospital's service area.
Hospital consultants again studied the hospital's financial picture, and, in September, 1976, reported that an 87-89 bed hospital project was within the hospital's financial capability.

In November, 1976 after an extensive search, an option was taken on a 150 acre site of land on the northwest edge of Bemidji in Northern Township. A certificate of need application was filed and unanimously approved by Agassiz Health System Agency Board.

Funding for the new $8 million hospital was obtained from a Farmers' Home Administration loan, the sale of industrial revenue bonds and a community fund drive.

Ground was broken for the new Bemidji Community Hospital August 29, 1977. Move-in was October 29, 1979. The new hospital had a medical staff of 25 and more than 350 employees.

Baker Park Congregate Housing, Bemidji Minnesota
Baker Park Congregate Housing

The opening of the new hospital was a new beginning for the corporation in many ways. From 1979-82 the medical staff increased to 30, all departments experienced significantly higher volumes and the patient load held at 70 to 80 percent capacity.
With a $1.7 million loan from the Housing and Development Agency the old hospital was converted to congregate housing for the elderly. The housing unit was named Baker Park.

Looking to the future, the Board developed a long range plan with the pressing needs for additional beds and increased space in the new hospital a top priority.

The corporation now consisted of the hospital, nursing unit and a foundation formed to administer the land surrounding the hospital and manage grants and donations.

The need for a new corporate structure became evident. Efficient and effective management in a multi-corporate structure had grown more complicated. Governmental and social problems affected health care management in every community. Also, the need to protect the corporation's assets and problems related to reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid patients affected the decision to reincorporate.

In December, 1981, a new corporation, the North Country Health Services, was formed. The subsidiary corporations were North Country Hospital, North Country Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, NorthCountry Housing and North Country Health Services Foundation.

North Country Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Bemidji Minnesota
North Country Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

By spring, 1982, the certificate of need process for a major addition on the new hospital had begun. The certificate was approved in January, 1983.

Construction on the expansion and renovation was completed in 1985. The project included:

A 14,000 square foot office building connected by walkway to the hospital and the adjacent Bemidji Clinic.
The addition of approximately 21,000 square feet to the hospital.
The remodeling of approximately 11,000 square feet of space in the existing building.

The project included a new Physical Therapy, Intensive Care Unit and Outpatient Surgery and expansion of all support departments.

Several new departments were added in 1985-87 including Home Care and Hospice. A for-profit entity, Bemidji Medical Equipment also became part of the Corporation and a building was added adjacent to the hospital in 1989 to accommodate this business.

Peak Performance, an outpatient physical therapy business was added in 1992.

North Country Hospital, Bemidji Minnesota
North Country Hospital

Ground was broken in 1992 for a $12,000,000 hospital expansion/remodeling project and planning was begun for renovation of the nursing center. The hospital expansion project was completed in 1994 and included six new operating suites, an outpatient unit, a new emergency department capable of handling the over 17,000 emergency patients seen annually, a new 8 bed intensive care unit and a comprehensive rehabilitation unit emphasizing physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. In addition, the radiology/ imaging department was completely renovated and expanded to accommodate upgrades in imaging technology.

As a regional health care center serving over 55,000 people, the hospital now offers Magnetic Resonance Imaging, angiography procedures for diagnosis of vascular problems and state of the art CT scanning technology. Also Bemidji's first renal dialysis center was added during this expansion project. Financed with the help of foundation fundraising in the community, the dialysis center handles up to 18 patients.

The nursing center project was also completed in 1994 and includes a new business office reception area, social service offices, modification of the access to Baker Park Housing and a new rehabilitation department.

The hospital also moved in a new direction in the 90's with the purchase of two physician practices, Northern Medical Clinic - Bemidji and Northern Medical Clinic - Walker.

Through all the years of growth and change from the Lumberjack Hospital to a
regional health care center, the corporation's mission has remained constant - to meet the needs and expectations of the people of north central Minnesota.


Arts Community
Rosemary Given Amble

In the 1940's under the tutelage of Tillie Talley, art professor at Bemidji Teachers College, a group of budding artists and craftsmen practiced their talents in the basement of the Bemidji Clinic building. Then, for lack of space, the group moved into the basement of the E.E. Kenfield home. This art colony grew primarily into a crafts group and, at about the same time, Claudine Mattison was organizing the Northern Artist Association for painters and sketchers.

When the Carnegie Building was vacated in 1979, the city turned it over to a group of dedicated artists calling themselves the Bemidji Art Center Association. On the building's seventieth birthday, May 1980, the Art Center opened its doors and in June they listed the building on the National Registry of Historic Places. Since then, the Art Center Gallery has been open 10:00-4:00 Tuesday through Friday and 10:001:00 on Saturday. Besides teaching children's art classes, bringing artistic touring groups to the community, they have eleven months of continuous exhibits, ranging from shows by the Northern Artist's, Indian Artists, photographic displays, Children's Artwork, Carvings, Quilting, & others. At least once each season there is a show by Bemidji's professional artists.

Arts Center on 4th Street and Bemidji Avenue.
Arts Center on 4th Street and Bemidji Avenue.

Gallery North was organized in 1990 through the Northern Artists Association. As a cooperative group, their members assist each other in marketing their various art forms. Many of them are also regular participants in Bemidji's July "Art In The Park".

Local art connoisseur, Helen Gill convinced the board that art displays similar to those in New York City's Greenwich Village can just as well be enjoyed in Bemidji. Since 1967, local and visiting artists have displayed and sold their products to Bemidji's local and tourist art enthusiasts. Since 1985, this popular show has been on Minnesota's list of 25 best special events of excellence. More recently, the Art Center's November show schedule has included the "Peoples Art Festival".

Presently the Bemidji Arts Center houses the Region 2 Arts Council, who dispense Region 2 and McKnight Funds grants for art sponsorships, production activities, development of arts organizations and artistic productions. The other tenant is the Headwaters Community Music Center, where dedicated faculty provide the study of stringed instruments, piano and choral music for all ages.

Music has been a part of Bemidji since 1899, when a Boys' Band was organized to entertain the public. A band stand was built at the waterfront in 1900 for their concerts and was an important part of the Library Park until its demolition in 1990. Groups having used the facility include the Elk's Band of the 1920-30's, Mr. Rigg's Boys' Band of 1923, the Bemidji Kiddies Legion Drum and Bugle Corps under the direction of Gertrude Sherwood Ness 1935-1942, Elmer Benson's Women's Band during World War II, and Bemidji Community Band from the 1940's to 1990's.

Bandstand on Third Street dock, Bemidji Minnesota
Bandstand on Third Street dock.

Originally, this group was sponsored by Bemidji's Park Board, and members received salaries of $1.00 per practice, $2.00 per performance, and $3.00 if a solo was played. Such old timers as Angus Vandersuis, Fletcher Grimbleby, Joe Plummer, Happy Halverson, Bill and John Bender, and Pat Kirk played under the direction of Mr. Hess. Talented youngsters, sent to them by high school band instructors, were invited to join them in their weekly practices and concerts in Library Park. When this band discontinued, those same high school band directors, Elmer Benson, Earl Kern, and Ted Thorson and Tom Swanson from the college band departments volunteered their energies to bring rousing band music to Bemidji.

From the community's beginning, choral music has also been a part of Bemidji's history. Each and every church had their choirs, and each spring through the direction of college music professors like Carl Thompson, talented vocal musicians have sung the Handel's Messiah or other Oratorial numbers.

Those vocalists who preferred different musical styles joined the Men's Barber-shoppers or the Sweet Adelines, both of whom have produced winning quartets in the men's "Timber Tones" and the women's "Two Chimes Two". "The Jubilation", an octet of women, was invited to sing the Star Spangled Banner at a Twins' game. Irvin Nordquist, Joe and Mary Jo Vene, John Collins, Carl Baer, Jim and Kristi Miller are among many soloists who have delighted us with their vocal talents.

Recently, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse has invited our musically talented and professional performers to return home and share their talents in a "Home For The Holidays" presentation on the day after Christmas.

Continue to Bemidji History Page 6

 


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