Small Community Hits a Big Goal with New Hospital

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

SUMNER, Iowa - It's a big week for health care in the small Bremer County community of Sumner.

Beginning Friday, staffers at Community Memorial Hospital will load up equipment, and eventually patients, and move to a brand new $20-million hospital building. It's the culmination of almost five years of planning, fund raising and construction and supporters say it's a big accomplishment in a town of just 2,000 residents.

As moves go, no one is going very far. The new hospital building in Sumner sits just a dozen feet from a corner of the old community hospital that opened January 1, 1950. But administrator Mary Wells it's a big step for the community that sits on the Bremer and Fayette County line. And it's a symbol that says this is a community that's alive and growing.

"We see this as very important to keeping the whole community healthy—not just the health of the health care community. It (new building) will keep our community growing and viable," Wells said.

Wells said a lot has changed in 63 years of medical care and while the old community hospital stood the test of time, it's time had definitely passed. In the existing hospital, patients rooms are small and hallways narrow. It's a multi-level building with steps and elevators.

By contrast, the new building is one level with every one of the 16 in-patient rooms a private room. And there's a lot more technology too. The radiological area has a computerized tomography (CT) scanner and an operating room suite, with digital technology, that wouldn't look out of place in a larger, urban hospital.

Dr. Troy Buchholz, a family practice physician and hospital staff physician, said the new community hospital is also a selling point for bringing new health care providers into the area. That's a problem many small communities face.

"I feel like we can now compete better for a physician to come into this rural community," Dr. Buchholz said.

Hospital administrators tapped an $18-million dollar U.S. Agriculture Department fund to finance construction. But the community also dug deep to support a new hospital. Donations over a year and a half totaled $2.23-million dollars. That's well beyond the original $1.5-million dollar goal. And it works out to a contribution of $1,000 for every man, woman and child living in the small community.

Dave Hennessey, a retired dentist and fund raising co-chair, said his best argument to solicit funds was to remind people of the problems they'd face if there weren't a hospital in Sumner.

"If we didn't have a hospital, they'd have to go that many more miles for immediate treatment—20, 30 or 40 miles. Here, you could be stabilized and then transported with a better chance for survival," Hennessey said.

Hospital administrators expect to move five patients on Sunday morning as well as transferring everything in the hospital's emergency room. The new Community Memorial Hospital in Sumner will officially open for business Monday morning.

The old hospital has stood for 63 years, but it won't stand much longer. Plans are to start demolition in late February and convert the area to more parking.
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