After months of planning and many years of hoping, Gundersen St. Joseph's officially broke ground on Oct. 18 for their new 64,000 square foot hospital and clinic.
It was standing room only as over 200 community members converged at the site of the new facility on Water Avenue to be part of the historic event which was broadcast live on Facebook.
Guests were welcomed by Gundersen St. Joseph's mascot, Joe the Bald Eagle, and handed a commemorative spirit level, a keepsake for this very special day. Guests were also asked to sign pebbles as a "guestbook." These pebbles will be placed in a vase and displayed in the new facility as recognition to all who helped break ground.
The proceedings began with a welcome by Jim Mlsna, chairman of the Board of Directors for Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital and Clinics. Mlsna gave an emotional speech which talked about the difficulties the organization faced before the affiliation with Gundersen Health System. Mlsna also noted that the staff has worked hard to over-come challenges and are now recognized as one of the top 20 critical access hospitals in the nation for quality.
Mlsna then introduced Danni Gearhart, CEO of Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital and Clinics, who recognized the support from the community, local and regional elected officials, present and former St. Joe's staff and those who "came before us." "These groups have been the life and have provided the inspiration and passion for Gundersen St. Joseph's since our Hospital was first built. This passion burns as bright today as it did 65 years ago," said Gearhart. "You may have heard me talk about making positive "ripples" in the community. Your support – the community's support – of this project provides the biggest ripples of all. These ripples impact care well beyond our walls. Your support will make a difference for healthier patients, healthier staff and a healthier community."
Gearhart was followed by Scott Rathgaber, MD, CEO of Gundersen Health System, who echoed the dedication of the staff who has "kept this place alive and kept the quality high" which has allowed them to invest in a building that "matches the excellence of the people who work here." Rathgaber also spoke to the system's dedication to "providing [patients] the services they need where they live." "This new facility symbolizes our commitment to future generations who aren't even here yet… and the health of our communities."
Dr. Rathgaber was followed by David Prechel, a local businessman and co-chair of the campaign steering committee tasked with raising funds to support the construction project. Prechel provided an update on the status of the capital campaign. "We started with the employees of Gundersen St. Joseph's," Prechel began. "So far, the staff have raised over $99,000," to which the crowd responded with applause. Prechel continued by identifying groups that had contributed to the campaign including St. Joseph's leadership, St. Joseph's Memorial Foundation, St. Joseph's board of directors, St. Joseph's medical staff and members of the campaign steering committee. "Today I'm proud to stand here and say we've reached $1.4 million so far," Prechel concluded, to applause from the crowd.
Prechel then invited John Weger, chairman of St. Joseph's Memorial Foundation, to recognize donors who had pledged over $50,000. This included the Hillsboro Lions, David and Nancy Prechel and the St. Joseph's Memorial Foundation. Weger also payed homage to the late Lloyd and Elsie Glebe. Lloyd Glebe was a resident in the nursing home who passed away in March 2007. Upon his passing, Glebe left a significant gift to the St. Joseph's Memorial Foundation with the wish that it be used for the building of a new facility. Weger announced that Glebe's gift was used to purchase the property to the east of the current facility and that it was "so fitting that the ground we're about to break is the ground that his gift made possible."
Mlsna then invited former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson to say a few words. Gov. Thompson gave a passionate speech about his love of rural healthcare and the "tremendous need in rural hospitals like St. Joe's." Gov. Thompson mentioned that he had three children born in Gundersen St. Joseph's hospital and described the hospital as a "beacon of hope and opportunity." "I believe in this hospital and I believe in rural health," said Thompson. "And I believe that we're going to have a great hospital and a great lake!"
Ground was broken by leadership of Gundersen St. Joseph's and Gundersen Health System followed by members of the board of directors, St. Joseph's Memorial Foundation, elected officials, staff and community members.
Those in attendance included community members, past and current clinic and hospital staff and leaders, and local and regional elected officials.
About 15 minutes after the end of the celebration, crews began surveying the site and excavators were delivered the day after.
The project is expected to take 18-24 months with an additional six months for demolition of the current facility which was built in 1953.
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