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History of Gundersen St. Joseph's

The History of Gundersen St. Joseph's

1911 - 1949 | The Hansberry years

The first hospital in Hillsboro was established in 1911 by P. H. Hansberry, MD, in the Novy building located in downtown Hillsboro. Only a few rooms were established in the hospital where he practiced with his brother, James S. Hansberry, MD. By 1915, a larger hospital was needed, and Dr. Hansberry purchased a large home on South Water Avenue at the junction of High Avenue – a facility which later became known as Hansberry Hospital. In 1916, Dr. Hansberry hired Clara Schute, a recent graduate of the St. Francis School of Nursing in La Crosse, who became the hospital superintendent.

Additions were made to the Hansberry Hospital in 1925, including a new operating room, several patient rooms and an administration office. Further expansion took place in 1946 with even more patient rooms added, along with a new office and reception hall.

In 1947, Dr. Hansberry died at age 70, and Clara Schute took ownership of the Hansberry Hospital. Reverend C. J. Smetana, pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, and John A. Cesnik, a Hillsboro businessman, began talks with organizations, and by July 2, 1949, the Franciscan Sisters of Rice Lake, led by Mother M. Alphonse, Mother General of the order and superintendent of Rice Lake's hospital, purchased the hospital and renamed it St. Joseph's.

1950 - 2008 | The era of the Sisters

In 1950, an advisory committee, chaired by John Cesnik, was formed to promote construction of a new hospital. A funding drive was initiated and directed by Thomas H. Sweeney with the goal of raising "$125,000 by popular subscription." Along with Mr. Sweeney, members of the fund advisory committee included R. E. Quinn, Nick Rockweiler, Lyle H. Hart, E. V. Hofmeister, Edwin W. Shear, Father Frank Lestinsky, and W. E. Wolters.

In 1951, the federal government approved the project to build a new hospital and granted $125,000. The construction project was estimated at around $400,000. Other funds for the project included $50,000 from Vernon County; a loan of $175,000 from the La Crosse Catholic Diocese through the Rice Lake Sisters; and $125,000 through local pledges. Ground was broken August 7, 1951.

On July 27, 1952, the cornerstone of the new St. Joseph's Memorial Hospital was laid, inscribed with a simple motto, "PAX ET BONUM," Latin for "Peace and Goodness," the motto of the Rice Lake Sisters. Construction of the new St. Joseph's Memorial Hospital was complete in 1953, and the hospital was formally dedicated on March 19, St. Joseph's Day. The dedication plaque reads: "This hospital is dedicated to the memory of those men and women who served and died for their country in times of war to preserve democracy for our nation, and it pledges the care of the sick, injured and aged, regardless of race, color or creed." The old Hansberry Hospital was remodeled as a nursing home.

The Rice Lake Sisters withdrew from the hospital in 1956. Hospital operations were then transfered to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of La Crosse, who agreed to manage, operate and supervise St. Joseph's Memorial Hospital. Sister Mary Gregory (floor supervisor), Sister Jean Marie (administrator/anesthetist), Sister Josara (laboratory and imaging technologist), and Sister Leone (food supervisor) comprise the original four FSPA Sisters assigned to St. Joseph's.

The Franciscan Sisters continued to manage St. Joseph's Memorial Hospital through the late 1950s and 1960s, building an addition of a modern, 20-bed nursing home and hiring the first lay administrator, William Green, in 1970. The Franciscan Sisters continued to support various departments until the year 2000 however their governance continued until 2008.

1970s - 1980s | Further expansion of services

The organization continued with expansion in 1971 when 44 beds were added to the nursing home. Further expansion began in 1976, with the addition of a new laboratory, ambulance entrance, physical therapy space, OB, surgery, administrator's office and lobby. Remodeling of the wing formerly housing the sister's living quarters and the Hillsboro Family Health Clinic was completed by 1981, providing facilities for cardiac rehabilitation, social and mental health services, natural family planning, community health resources center, personnel department and conference room.

1993 | The Cornerstone of Care

In 1993, a program of further expansion and remodeling began with the "Cornerstone of Care Campaign." The campaign was co-chaired by Dr. Jeffrey and Barb Clark and the Honorable Wallace and Mary Brady and consisted of members of St. Joseph's Memorial Foundation and many volunteers throughout the surrounding area. The campaign successfully raised over $500,000 for expansion and remodeling of a new surgical area, obstetrics department, imaging, rehab services, outpatient area, hospital and ER nurses' station, main lobby and a family waiting area.

1997 - 1999 | A focus on community care

In 1997, the Behavioral Health Unit opened in July providing much needed support to patients with mental and behavioral health issues. In October, St. Joseph's Wellness Center opened in the house next door offering alternative medicine options to the community. To further accommodate the needs of the community, St. Joseph's hired John Jones, M.D., and began its own clinic, located within the hospital, on Dec. 1. Primary care continued to expand in 1998 when a second physician, Dr. Francis Joseph, was hired on July 6 to work in St. Joseph's Clinic. On July 9 the facility's name was officially changed from St. Joseph's Memorial Hospital and Home, Inc. to St. Joseph's Community Health Services, Inc. On October 17, St. Joseph's Clinic was dedicated.

In 1999, the Behavioral Health Unit was closed and the Wellness Center became an independent practice. In August, a second clinic was opened in Elroy with newly hired physician Dr. Warren Williams as medical director.

2000 | Critical Access Hospital designation

In 2000, St. Joseph's Community Health Services, Inc. achieved Critical Access Hospital (CAH) designation, allowing for cost-based reimbursement for services rendered. The following year, St. Joseph's Board of Directors authorized the recruitment of physicians and the reopening of obstetrical services. Three family practitioners who provide obstetrical services were added to the medical staff, and Elroy's clinic expanded. New outreach services were implemented in 2002 with the addition of cardiology, and St. Joseph's Community Health Services opened a clinic in Wonewoc.

2010 - present | Gundersen affiliation

In 2010, Deb Smith was selected to lead St. Joseph's as their CEO. In 2011, St. Joseph's Community Health Services began the affiliation process with Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center of La Crosse, forming St. Joseph's Health Services, Inc. Under Smith's leadership, Gundersen St. Joseph's experienced substantial growth and the addition of new services, setting the organization up for financial success and beginning the journey to building a new facility. By 2013, the affiliation process was complete and the organization changed its name to Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital and Clinics. Deb Smith retired in 2016 and Garith Steiner, former CEO of Vernon Memorial Healthcare, was appointed interim CEO.

Steiner played an integral role in preparing the organization to build a new hospital facility and in hiring a new CEO. On March 13, 2017, Danni Gearhart was announced as the new CEO of Gundersen St. Joseph's. She officially took the reins on April 10 and continued the process of building a new facility. Garith Steiner moved into a new role within Gundersen Health System as administrative VP of Affiliated Critical Access Hospitals and Clinics and continues to provide mentorship and guidance to Gundersen's regional hospitals.

On November 24, 2017, Gundersen St. Joseph's hosted the Gundersen Health System board of trustees and presented the proposed new facility project with the hope of having approval by January 2018. On January 30, 2018, Gundersen St. Joseph's announced "It's Happening!" as the Gundersen Health System board of trustees formally approved the plans for a new facility.

Next: About our relationship with Gundersen Health System

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