History of Fort Dodge Hospitals


Fort Dodge, as a frontier settlement founded in 1853, managed to attract its first physician just two years later in 1855. 

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Healthcare today, as in the past, is a curious mingling of the practitioner and the facility, of opportunity and need, of technology and resources. Fort Dodge, as a frontier settlement founded in 1853, managed to attract its first physician just two years later in 1855. Excerpts from the diary of Dr. Stephen Berry Olney recount the hardships of the frontier doctor’s life. Though his practice was established in an office with “the first professional shingle hung out in this town,” there would just be an occasional office patient. But, as a frontier physician, he often traveled by horse and buggy to the homes of his patients throughout the county. Olney’s practice flourished in Fort Dodge and Webster County until 1890 with the exception of a period between 1862 and 1865 during the Civil War when he served as a surgeon in the 3rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry.

Olney’s son, Floyd Benjamin, was only four years old when he and his mother joined his physician father in Fort Dodge. Educated in Fort Dodge schools, Floyd became a printer following school and worked for a number of city newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune. Eventually he followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from the Hahnemann Medical College in 1881. Following graduation, he set up his medical practice in Fort Dodge and was one of the area’s best-known doctors for more than 35 years.

In the years to follow the first doctor, many more physicians would come to serve the community, including surgeons, such as: Dr. W.F. Carver, an Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist. Dr. Carver was very instrumental in organizing his fellow physicians to bring better medical care to the area. He and his colleagues worked together to establish a Laboratory in 1905, a facility that all doctors could use. It would be the first of many times in Fort Dodge’s history that the medical community would do what is best for their patients. The stately home and office of Dr. Carver was tore down and replaced with the Carver Building on Central Avenue which would accommodate other doctor practices in the city in the early 1920s.

Were the younger Olney or Dr. Carver here today to recount their experiences, doubtless they would point to the myriad changes in healthcare during the decades of their practices. There was, for example, movement toward caring for the sick and injured in a hospital, a place specifically designed to properly facilitate recovery. Fort Dodge’s first hospital was located in a refurbished Victorian Mansion. About a decade later a much larger and more functional hospital was built – St. Joseph Mercy Hospital –– thanks to the financial support of the community responding to Fort Dodge’s growing healthcare needs.

The Hospital Saga Begins

While the city of Fort Dodge had been settled for over 40 years and several doctors had come to the area, it was not until 1894 when a group of nurses had a vision to provide care for the sick and establish a hospital. At first, the efforts to create a hospital were considered by some to ‘be purely utopian in its character and destine to a short career, because the field for its usefulness was too limited.’ It was not long before local groups such as the King’s Daughters and the Railway Auxiliary Corps shared the vision and began to raise funds.

Formal hospital care actually became available in Fort Dodge around 1900. That year a private group of nurses took over a sturdy brick Victorian Mansion on the corner of First Avenue North and 5th Street. Known as the Haskell House, the building had previously served as a stagecoach stop on the way to St. Paul, Minnesota and prior to that as the home of Presbyterian College.

Before the hospital’s first year came to a close, with the help of several organizations and a few generous philanthropists, enough furnishings, bedding, equipment, and funds were donated to care for the sick and infirm of the Fort Dodge area. Although running water was available in the Haskell House, there was only one bathroom that was used by hospital staff, patients and by the physicians to scrub for surgery. Laundry facilities were limited, so patient bed linens were changed infrequently.

The 18 bed “hospital” consisted of a living room/waiting room on the first floor, a kitchen in the basement, and an operating suite on the second floor. Patients were urged to walk from their hospital beds to surgery, and those who were unable to do so were carried up 22 stairs by the doctors and nurses. In addition to caring for the patients and assisting the doctors, the nurses prepared and delivered all the patient meals to the hospital patients. Staff themselves often satisfied their hunger by eating the left over food on patient trays. There was no residential facility for the nurses at the hospital, and staff slept in the waiting room on the couch or on the floor.

As early as 1903, Abraham Slimmer, a wealthy philanthropist from Waverly, Iowa, donated his home estate to the Sisters of Mercy in the Archdiocese of Dubuque intending that it should be used to build another hospital. The Dubuque sisters were already operating hospitals in Sioux City, Clinton, and the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, St. Joseph’s Sanitarium and St. Anthony’s Home in Dubuque. Hoping that a hospital might be built in Fort Dodge, Slimmer offered the city of a gift of $50,000 for the establishment of a hospital if the city were to pledge a like amount. To the astonishment of some, the offer was not accepted, and for the time being, the matter was dropped.

Though Slimmer’s offer did not materialize in Fort Dodge, he found support for a community hospital in Webster City. He convinced his friend, Jacob Funk of Webster City, to endow the community with a sum of money and a tract of land so that a hospital similar to one in Waverly could be built. The impetus had begun and a 25 bed hospital was planned. Upon its completion it was given to the Methodist Church congregation to maintain. Known as “The Mercy Hospital,” the facility in Webster City was the nearest hospital to Fort Dodge and a haven for the critically ill who could be transferred there.

By 1905 interest in a hospital for Fort Dodge was beginning to stir again, and the Knights of Columbus volunteered to raise funds to build a non-sectarian hospital. The City of Fort Dodge expressed some interest in the concept, but thought a municipal hospital would be a sounder choice. The State Legislature was petitioned to provide the legal authority for a bond issue and tax levy in the amount necessary to build and aid in the maintenance of the hospital, and in time the law was passed.

Despite the progress made in providing a method for financing the proposed hospital, it was clear that all the interested parties were not working together for the common goal. At the same time the bond and tax levy was being pursued, the Knights of Columbus were in the midst of negotiation to procure hospital staffing in Fort Dodge with a community of sisters from Washington, D.C., and with another order from Philadelphia.

In the summer of 1905 the Webster City Mercy Hospital was closed because of insufficient funds to maintain it. In October 1905, the citizens of Webster City made an appeal to Sister Mary Agnes, Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy, Dubuque, Iowa, to accept their hospital as a gift if she would provide the necessary personnel to staff and provide services to the community. In November, the Sisters of Mercy accepted Webster City’s offer, and for the next several years Webster City Mercy Hospital was able to adequately meet the healthcare needs of both Webster City and Fort Dodge. The only progress made on the Fort Dodge hospital project was the $6,000 which had been raised by the Knights of Columbus.

Epidemics Force Serious - Consideration of a Formal Hospital

In the fall of 1907 a typhoid epidemic threatened the Fort Dodge area. Miss Julie Downey, city social worker for the indigent, was faced with caring for seventeen typhoid patients, but there appeared to be no place to provide such care. Her dilemma was that these patients could not be admitted to the Haskell House due to the highly contagious nature of their disease. Seeking the assistance of City Hall, Miss Downey threatened to resign unless steps were immediately taken to relieve the situation. Recognizing the gravity of the emergency, the City Council took immediate steps to prepare a veterinary barn for the patients. The much needed equipment and supplies was accumulated was supplied and the utilities, light, heat and running water, were provided in the makeshift hospital.

This medical emergency in the community created an urgent interest in Fort Dodge for a hospital project. Having observed Webster City’s successful alliance with Mother Agnes, the Knights of Columbus, along with many of the foremost businessmen of the city, re-appointed a committee and charged them with approaching Mother Agnes with a similar proposition that had been reached in Webster City. The new committee was headed by Right Reverend Monsignor Lenihan and was assisted by Doctors Seymour, Bowen and Evans. Hoping for an offer from Abraham Slimmer similar to the offer of a previous time, or for a sizeable sum of money from Jacob Funk, the committee soon faced the reality that no such offers would be forthcoming. It was Mother Agnes who proposed that if Fort Dodge could raise twenty-five thousand dollars and donate a tract of land for the hospital, the Sisters of Mercy would match the amount. The offer was accepted, and for the first time in many years Fort Dodge was on its way to having its first formal hospital.

The drive was launched by the Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce) with the assistance of John Haire, George Mason and O. M. Oleson. The original Board of Trustees appointed included C. F. Duncombe, O. M. Oleson and M. F. Healy. Miss Julie Downey was appointed by the trustees to collect and receive all subscriptions.

By the time half of the amount necessary had been raised, several sites had been proposed. While all were considered desirable, most were unsuitable because of their distance from water, gas, electric and sewer services. The most suitable site was the beautiful grounds on 17th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue South. Patrick Riley, a pioneer resident of Webster County, purchased this property for the sum of $5,000 and donated it to the Sisters of Mercy. The contract for the new hospital was then let to C. E. Atkinson of Webster City. By this time, excitement and community pride were building. A magnificent new hospital was planned at a projected cost of nearly $75,000. Many local residents predicted that it would be one of the finest hospitals in the Midwest.

As the hospital neared completion, Mother Agnes made the decision to open temporary quarters in Fort Dodge. On June 15, 1908, the sisters arrived in Fort Dodge from Dubuque and took over care of patients and operations of the Haskell House.

A School of Nursing was established in 1908 shortly after the Sisters assumed responsibility for the temporary hospital. The School of Nursing prepared a class of well-trained nurses to assist with the care of patients for the forthcoming new hospital.

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital was completed in early 1909 at an actual cost of $89,378.80, of which $39,547.76 was raised by the community. St. Joseph Mercy Hospital was dedicated by the Most Reverend Bishop Garrigan on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1909. The first patients were admitted on Monday of the following week.

The new hospital had no facilities for housing the sisters who staffed it, and during the first few months they used whatever vacant patient rooms were available. Eventually a ward was set aside for use by the sisters. Sister Mary Xavier was the first administrator, with the following assistants: Sister Mary Thaddeus, head of the Nurses Training School, Sister Mary Dorothy, Sister Mary Consuelo, Sister Mary Rita, Sister Mary Julianne and Sister Mary Joseph.

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Opens

The people’s preference for hospital care almost immediately began to affect Mercy Hospital just as it affected most other hospitals in the Middle West. The new facility represented a considerable improvement in hospital conditions. There were surgical, obstetrical and

medical departments, but at first there were no facilities for children. A scarlet fever epidemic during the early years taxed the facilities as did typhoid outbreaks and pneumonia. Surgical cases included hernia repair, appendectomies, treatment of bone fractures and other problems consistent with accidents and injuries. As early as 1912, crowded conditions were experienced regularly, and it was apparent that in the near future additional rooms would need to be added. In 1917 a large private home south of the hospital was purchased to provide accommodations for student nurses. Rooms previously occupied by students were then available for use as semi-private patient rooms at the hospital.

In 1920 when the physicians returned from World War I and re-established their practices, conditions were so crowded that every available room was only used for the extremely ill or injured. For a period of two years, elective cases were postponed. In 1921, another home was built to accommodate the sisters and for the X-Ray and Laboratory technicians who were on twenty-four hour call. By 1923 despite efforts to expand the hospital’s capacity to serve, the need for additional space was imperative. The original bed capacity of Mercy Hospital was sixty. The census, however, often reached between seventy-five and ninety patients.

At this same time, the actual debt of the hospital was sixty-four thousand dollars and carrying this level of debt made it impossible to plan for further additions. A committee of doctors and businessmen appealed to Mother Mary Ursula, Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy in Dubuque. After presentation of the facts, it was apparent that some steps had to be taken to reduce the present debt and obtain an additional loan. Since he had been close to the hospital since its inception, The Most Reverend Edmond Heelan, Bishop of Sioux City, was in complete sympathy with the committee. He cooperated wholeheartedly with Mother Ursula’s proposal, and in June a fund drive was started.

Almost simultaneously, the Lutherans in Fort Dodge launched a similar drive for a Lutheran hospital. It was not practical to have two fund raising organizations operating at the same time, so the Chamber of Commerce decided since Mercy Hospital was already in Fort Dodge, it should be given priority for one year to finish its drive and proceed with the much needed addition. Under the able direction of C. W. Gadd, the amount required to pay for the indebtedness was over subscribed and several thousand dollars was left with which to begin work on the addition. During the winter of 1924, all plans were drawn and completed by William Steele, an architect from Sioux City, Iowa.

The plans Steele presented were for a new three-story addition and remodeling of existing hospital areas. Rooms in the 1908 hospital were remodeled for private rooms, while the new addition was being planned so that private rooms could readily be converted into semi-private wards should the need arise. The third floor contained a new obstetrical department including “lying-in” and delivery rooms as well as the infant nursery. The third floor was also home to the surgical department, which was enlarged to care for the increased volume of surgery. The second floor was utilized for the care of surgical cases, and the first floor housed the administrative office and patient rooms for medical cases. The central area of the ground floor of the new addition had a fully equipped laboratory, a pharmacy, radiology and an emergency operating area. The north end of the hospital housed a sizeable auditorium with seating capacity for one hundred and twenty-five people. This area was also used for classes and demonstrations, as well as for social functions. The south end of the hospital had its own outside entrance to an isolation unit equipped to care for cases requiring segregation from general hospital patients.

Finally, the addition also had a sub-basement with elevator service, janitors’ quarters, and storage space. Opening in 1924, the new addition doubled patient capacity and it appeared that Mercy Hospital was built for the future of Fort Dodge and Webster County.

A Second Hospital Emerges

Fort Dodge had been served by one hospital for nearly a generation when members of the Lutheran churches in the area decided to organize a second hospital they could call their own. As early as 1920, Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike agreed to a plan whereby the Lutheran community would raise half of the $200,000 needed to build a new hospital, with other Protestant congregations committing to the balance. The goal was to provide a Protestant hospital under the leadership of a single church organization with other Protestant congregations supportive of the new hospital through their subscriptions and allegiance.

In 1921, it appeared that the new hospital would be off to a good start when the unexpected happened: “like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, the financial rash dropped on us,” reported the Fort Dodge Messenger. An economic farm crisis hit Iowa in the early ‘20s. Recognizing that it was useless to try and raise funds under the serious financial constraints, organizers instead devoted their efforts to formalizing the organization, writing a constitution and incorporating the new organization under State of Iowa laws. The organization then stood ready to begin when the financial climate was more conducive to fund raising initiatives.

By 1923, momentum was again building to begin the fund drive to raise the $200,000 necessary to build the new hospital. At a May 23rd meeting of the Lutheran Hospital Association, the vote to re-start the fund drive at some time in the near future was approved unanimously by nearly 100 members of the Association. The community appreciated the virtue of the proposition that two hospitals in the city would enhance services offered while providing both Catholics and Protestants with high quality hospital care in keeping with faith and training. Due to the “fraternal support” Protestants had given to Mercy Hospital in its formative years, an expectation for similar goodwill and support existed as plans for the new hospital emerged.

The drive for funds was launched on September 27, 1923 with a $20,000 donation by O.M. Oleson, pharmacist and philanthropist. Doctors of the community pledged another $27,000 to the project, and a community goal of $150,000 was set. The drive quickly reached $137,000 in contributions and pledges, and the Lutheran Hospital Association decided to begin the project by the end of 1923.

By March of 1924 the site for the new hospital had been selected, a 20 acre tract of wooded hillside land overlooking the Des Moines River. The land, owned by Charles Larrabee, was purchased for $500 an acre, and plans were made to run a railroad spur between the site and the nearby Chicago and Northwestern tracks to facilitate building materials being transferred to the site during construction. After completion, the spur would be used to deliver coal that was needed to fuel the hospital’s boilers. Frank Griffith was named architect for the project and selected the gothic design that was eventually used.

Bids were taken on the main structure of the building in August 1924 and Clarence E. Larson was the successful bidder at an estimated cost of $91,960. The Lutheran Association obtained a building permit listing the value of the completed project at $250,000 and work began in September 1924. In November of 1924, the cornerstone was laid in a ceremony witnessed by a crowd of 8,000 people.

Work progressed rapidly on the hospital project until a lack of funds brought it to a halt. Payments were delayed and contractors pulled away from the work awaiting payment for their labor. While additional fund raising initiatives were undertaken, little success was realized during the lean agricultural years of the late 1920s. At one time there were “half a dozen law suits pending and at least a half dozen liens against the incomplete hospital structure.”

After repeated disappointments with local fund raising efforts, a professional fundraiser was called in and given a goal of $100,000. The drive was over-subscribed, raising about

$123,000 and the hospital was quickly completed. It had been eight years since the laying of the cornerstone and twelve years since the first meeting of the Lutheran Hospital Association, but finally the new 105-bed hospital was complete. The new Lutheran Hospital was opened and the first patient was admitted on February 24, 1932.

A report in the January 30, 1932 issue of the Fort Dodge Messenger noted that the new Lutheran Hospital, one of the finest in the area, was designed to accommodate 100 patients. There are 65 private room and suites, some of which have private baths and all are equipped with lavatories. The additional rooms have two to four beds each. The building was constructed so that every room would have natural light and sunshine at some period of the day. Telephone and radio service connections were installed in each room and were available to every patient if desired.

The Changing Face of Healthcare

The decade of the depression (October 29, 1929 – 1939) weighed heavily on Fort Dodge’s hospitals, and particularly St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. The hospital continued to experience a heavy patient load that led to financial difficulties because many patients were unable to meet their financial obligations. At that time, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital was not receiving any reimbursement from prepayment plans and few dollars were available for indigent cases from Webster and the surrounding counties.

Even with the opening of Lutheran Hospital in 1932, Mercy was often short of clinical space as the services of the hospital became better known and understood. The early Fort Dodge hospitals served as a home to the nursing staff. During this period, it was considered inappropriate for young women to live independently away from the hospital, and since nurses were to be available whenever needed, it made sense that the accommodations for them would be provided by the hospital. Each hospital dealt with issues of limited space for patient care and held fund drives to build nursing residence halls which freed hospital space for patient care. Lutheran Hospital completed its nurse’s home in 1938 and Mercy purchased additional land south of the hospital in 1940. Mercy’s acquisition was large enough to construct a new nurses’ residence that would include school facilities – classrooms, a recreation room, a demonstration room – as well as executive offices and a small auditorium. The home housed seventy-five students in semi-private accommodations.

In 1939 and 1940, the Blue Cross Insurance Plan came into existence. This lessened the patient’s financial load and the future looked a bit brighter for the Fort Dodge hospitals. However, with the end of World War II, crowded conditions became more and more prevalent. Medical specialties such as radiology and pathology were emerging fields, and the Fort Dodge hospitals again found themselves strapped for space.

In 1948 work began on a third addition to Mercy Hospital. The six-story structure including the daylight basement was located on the east side of the original building. The new addition provided convent quarters on the top floor, a pediatrics department, and increased patient facilities, raising the hospital’s patient capacity to 175 on a regular basis and 200 in emergencies.

Completed in 1950, additional facilities included a pediatrics unity and the Sisters’ Convent on the fifth floor. On the fourth floor there was a new surgery unit with five major operating rooms, one orthopedic room, a recovery room and a new radiology department. A doctor’s lounge, dressing rooms, sterilizing and workrooms were also available as was space for storage. The third floor was used for medical cases and the second floor for surgical cases. The first floor of the new addition housed the chapel, administrative and purchasing offices, a business and insurance office, two guest rooms, the switchboard office and waiting rooms. Pathology was located on the ground floor along with the doctor’s lounge, the auditorium, coffee shop and private dining rooms. A sub-basement provided space for storage and could be used in case of mass emergencies.

Lutheran Hospital, too, was experiencing space constraints. Overcrowding of hospital facilities led to the addition of the west wing to Lutheran Hospital in 1950. The addition raised the bed capacity to around 240. The addition included three floors, two of which were completed immediately. The third floor was finished seven years later, and two more floors were added, with the interior finishing of the fifth floor postponed until 1967. An administrative wing and new entrance to the hospital was added in 1964 and 1965. Numerous smaller renovations were completed as time went by to accommodate specialized services and facilities.

The Future is Foreshadowed

From 1908 and throughout the next fifty years, the Mercy Nursing School had operated as an independent three year nursing program to educate graduate nurses. By 1959 it had become difficult to staff the nursing school adequately, and a decision was made to discontinue the school after graduating 560 nurses in its half-century existence. During the last decade of service, the school was operated as a unit of the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital School of Nursing at Sioux City. Before the school was closed, there was discussion about instituting a nursing program at Fort Dodge Junior College. This forward-looking idea was realized with the organization of Iowa Central Community College in 1966 which allowed a degreed nursing education program established in 1908 to continue in Fort Dodge.

In 1969, declining support and rising costs led the Sisters of Mercy to withdraw from hospital operations in Fort Dodge. The desire to keep Mercy Hospital operating prompted the formation of a local corporation known as Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital; this association took over operation of the hospital and purchased its assets from the Sisters of Mercy. Among those assets was a 28.9-acre tract of land on Fifteenth Street in the vicinity of Twentieth Avenue North. By 1960 plans were drawn for the construction of a building at this new site at an estimated cost of $3 million.

Merger Talks Begin

In 1964 administrators from Lutheran Hospital and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital began meeting with discussions aimed at room rates, salary schedules and other mutual problems. Over the next few years, many small issues such as improved reimbursement for county patients receiving hospitalization and the sharing of pathology services were resolved. However, the bigger issue of a one-hospital concept was not pursued, largely because the Board of Directors for both hospitals felt that the emotional climate of the community did not support the concept.

In November of 1965, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital began formal long-range planning in an effort to insure a solid future for the hospital. The medical staff, advisory board and administration met and agreed that there was a serious need for a new hospital on a new site. This decision was based on the condition, age and layout of existing buildings in the Mercy Hospital complex. The Board noted that in addition to the fact that the present site did not allow for expansion, the costs of remodeling an old structure would likely exceed the cost of new construction.

On January 12, 1965, upon recommendation of the long-range planning committee, Sister Mary Ruth requested permission of Mother Provincial to hire a hospital consultant to study the feasibility of building a new hospital. In July of 1966, Assistant Mother Provincial and Kenneth Kelley of Hamilton Associates met with the local long-range planning committee. Agreeing that a new hospital building was needed, they recommended meeting with the State Department of Health to determine if federal funds would be available for the project before proceeding. As a consequence of the meeting in September of 1966, the Department of Health reached a consensus that building a new hospital was the only reasonable choice for modernization of facilities. Further, the Department of Health representatives indicated that federal funds would be available pending the priority of applications and funds available. Board members were encouraged to proceed with planning and fundraising activities.

In October of 1966, the Board sought approval from Mother Provincial to proceed with plans for a new facility for St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. In April of 1967, the Provinciality approved hiring consultants to conduct a community survey and make recommendations for current and long-range plans for Mercy Hospital. Recommendations were presented in October of 1967 that supported the new building project. The consultants indicated that ideally and logically, a single hospital would best serve the interests of the community, but they did not think this was feasible now or in the future. One contributing factor was the results of a physician survey in which physicians responded strongly in favor of maintaining both hospitals in Fort Dodge.

At a meeting of the Mercy Hospital Board in October of 1967, a resolution passed urging the Sisters of Mercy to build a new hospital in accord with the consultant’s recommendations. The Board was unable to convince the Sisters of Mercy to proceed with the building project because the Sisters believed the community should decide the future of the hospital.

In January of 1969, a building site in northeast Fort Dodge was identified as an exceptional site for the new hospital. The Sisters of Mercy agreed to approve the purchase of the thirty-acre tract, but were convinced more than ever that a local board should govern St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. After much discussion, ownership was transferred to a local corporation on April 1, 1969 and the hospital was renamed Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital.

It was at this time that the Webster County Medical Society expressed a renewed interest in the concept of a single hospital and requested a meeting with the hospital consultants. Knowing the former recommendations of the consultants, the Mercy Board took the initiative and offered Lutheran Hospital an opportunity to build a new consolidated health complex on the new site. After hearing of the Mercy offer, the Medical Society invited the Executive Committee from the boards of both hospitals to meet jointly to discuss and develop a possible merger. Several meetings took place and after much contentious discussion, negotiations were finally terminated with the suggestion that each hospital pursue its respective plans.

Not long after the change of ownership of Mercy Hospital, the Lutheran Hospital Association celebrated its 50th Anniversary of its founding and members reviewed their original charter. At the time, there was consensus by the members to broaden the base of community involvement in hospital finances and governance. Membership in the association and on the board of directors had been restricted to Lutherans, but new articles adopted in 1969 lifted the restrictions of association membership and provided that up to 40 per cent of the board of directors could be non-Lutherans. In support of this change to broaden the hospital’s base, the decision was made to change the name of Lutheran Hospital to Bethesda General Hospital.

Although the hospitals continued to operate independently, community leaders were quick to recognize the need for change within the Fort Dodge healthcare community. Smaller communities in the surrounding counties were building new community hospitals and competition for patients had increased dramatically. Consequently, both Fort Dodge hospitals were experiencing a decline in the number of patients admitted. With Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital landlocked in an aging facility, community leaders again found themselves engaged in discussions surrounding the merger of the two hospitals.

As an early step toward unification, the two boards jointly formed the Citizens Hospital Study Committee. Members were G.W. Graalmann, commercial supervisor with Iowa-Illinois Gas and Electric Company; Ralph P. Hofstad, president of Felco; Richard T. Lindeberg, President of First Federal Savings and Loan Association; John H. Mitchell, attorney; Dr. Gene Siekmann, pastor of First Presbyterian Church; and Maurice E. Stark, attorney.

The group was charged with answering questions such as: Would a single Fort Dodge hospital better serve the people of this area? Would one hospital eliminate the duplication of costly services? Would one hospital be able to provide the latest techniques and up-to-date training for personnel at a lower cost to the patient? And finally, could a single hospital meet the religious and spiritual needs of patients inclusive of all denominations? Ronald Probasko from the Iowa Regional Medical Program and the Area V Health Planning Council assisted the committee in answering these and many other questions.

While the boards of Mercy and Bethesda had jointly endorsed the unification proposal as early as 1970, the by-laws of Bethesda General Hospital prohibited disbanding the association without a two-thirds affirmative vote of the membership. The Mercy Hospital board of directors voted in favor of a merger in 1972; however, on May 23 of that year, a proposal to empower the Bethesda board to proceed with such a merger was defeated on an 85 to 62 vote of the membership. It was another year before the proposal was again brought before the membership.

On May 30, 1973, the Bethesda General Hospital Association met again to consider a proposal for the merger of Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital and Bethesda General Hospital. During the emotion-filled four-hour meeting, concerns were raised about the ownership and control of the $2.1 million from a bequest from the O.M. Oleson family to Bethesda General. The Association finally voted in favor of the proposal to merge with Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital. As part of the compromise necessary to effectuate the consolidation of the two hospitals, the Oleson Foundation was established and 50% of the funds accrued from the Oleson family bequest were transferred to the Oleson Foundation and the remaining 50% were retained by the new corporation that was name Trinity Regional Hospital.

Building Trust and Cohesion

In May of 1974, Duncan Moore was hired as C.E.O. and administrator of Trinity Regional Hospital to lead the complicated process of consolidating all hospital services to one site. The consolidation process proceeded rapidly and by September 4, 1974, all patient care was transferred to the Trinity Hospital site, at the time, called Trinity West. The Mercy Hospital building, called Trinity East, was used for office space and other ancillary services. The consolidation of all clinical operations to one facility eliminated the duplication of equipment and services, and increased efficiencies and enabled Trinity Regional Hospital to provide a higher level of care to citizens of Fort Dodge and surrounding communities.

Mercy Hospital brought a strong Auxiliary tradition to the merger. Mercy Hospital auxilians, particularly, played key roles as ambassadors for change as they assisted in interpreting the importance of the merger and consolidation to internal hospital audiences and the public. Staff at both facilities experienced apprehension as the first steps were taken following unification. In the public arena, too, old alliances with both hospitals were not readily set aside. Thoughtful advocates for the merger on both sides of existing loyalties understood that the transition to a unified hospital organization needed time and experience together before absolute trust would be established.

With the merger of the two hospitals in 1973, the Mercy Hospital Auxiliary officially became the auxiliary of the newly consolidated Trinity Regional Hospital, thus expanding the field of service to include the entire hospital complex. By 1975, the Auxiliary history had established a Volunteer Blood Bank, a salaried Director of Volunteers and a patient visitor and escort service.

The concern for meeting the growing healthcare needs of the community and region prompted the board of Trinity Regional Medical Center to consider the development of a building expansion program. Federal regulators were demanding that an entirely new hospital be built stating that the buildings did not meet Federal Code Regulations. In April of 1976, after months of study and extensive negotiations, Trinity Regional Hospital announced plans for an addition and modernization program at a total estimated cost of $12 to $15 million.

On December 21, 1976, groundbreaking ceremonies were held. Richard Lindeberg, president of the hospital board, Maurice E. Stark, secretary, and Duncan Moore, C.E.O., turned the first spade of earth. The construction project included two major elements: construction of a new clinical service wing and patient bed tower, both of which were served by a new elevator core. The project also included modernization of existing clinical departments and renovation of existing patient rooms. The project improved the hospital’s ancillary services, increased the number of hospital beds, and improved access to the existing site and facilities. The new $15 million addition was completed and fully occupied in February of 1980. In addition to this project, the first of two physician office buildings were planned. Through negotiation with the Kersten Clinic, the hospital constructed the building that would later become the Fort Dodge Medical Center. Building, located on the eastern side of the hospital, was opened in 1979. At the same time, the hospital made a commitment to build a second physician office building for use by physicians not associated with the Fort Dodge Medical Center and to provide space for new physicians wanting to practice in Fort Dodge. The building projects represented the culmination of plans for the consolidation of the two hospitals. The wisdom behind the consolidation became increasingly evident as Trinity Regional Hospital continued to expand and grow to meet the needs of Fort Dodge and the surrounding communities.

Trinity Explores a Regional Role

As the staff and services of the two hospitals consolidated and a sense of family began to emerge, much of the work in the years following the merger was devoted to melding staff and removing duplication of services and equipment.

In March of 1980, just two and a half months before the formal dedication of the new hospital complex, Duncan Moore, Administrator, announced his intent to leave Fort Dodge. Tom Tibbitts, who had previously served with Moore as an assistant administrator, was named Trinity Regional’s new President and Chief Executive Officer. With his considerable expertise in strategic planning and experience on the Health Planning Council, Tibbitts recognized the Board’s need for a broad understanding of the regionalization process and a firm grip on the challenges of the environment.

In the dynamic healthcare arena of the early 80s, the board of Trinity Regional Hospital believed it reasonable to assume that Trinity’s future would include a broader scope of services and programs and an expansion of inpatient services to meet both local and regional needs. Through a Long Range Planning process which culminated with the adoption of a long range plan in 1982, the Board of Directors determined that a new parent corporation, Trinity Health Systems, Inc., was the most logical way to fulfill the hospital mission and purpose while responding to future demands and pressures. This new parent corporation would encompass Trinity Regional Hospital, the Oleson Foundation, and affiliated health-related entities.

Trinity Health Foundation

In 1983, the Trinity Health Foundation was born out of the long range planning strategy to help sustain and grow the healthcare organization by developing charitable funds to support the hospital’s mission. The Trinity Health Foundation was established as a nonprofit charitable organization made up of friends of Trinity Regional Medical Center who had a caring interest in supporting the mission of the hospital. The mission of the Trinity Health Foundation was to assure that Trinity Regional Medical Center would have the necessary financial resources to meet the healthcare needs of the citizens of Fort Dodge and surrounding region.

Innovative Approaches to Meeting Area Health Needs

The 1980s were marked with a series of strategic initiatives that improved the hospital's ability to meet the growing health needs of Fort Dodge and the North Central/North West Iowa region. With a vision for transforming Trinity Regional Hospital into a regional center for healthcare services, the Board and Administration of Trinity Regional Hospital recognized that growing the physician base and scope of medical specialties would be critical. By sharing resources and expertise, the hospital began partnering with the local physician groups in the physician recruitment process.

Physician recruitment in the 80s proved to be difficult primarily because of a fractured referral base in the region and a lack of cohesion among the medical staff. The leadership at Trinity realized that these two obstacles had to be overcome in order to successfully build a strong foundation for a vital regional health system. In turn, a strong regional health system would be critical to attracting qualified physician specialists and sub-specialists. Anticipating stronger physician outreach to rural clinics in the area, the Board saw this strategy as a way to sustain and advance healthcare services in rural communities.

In 1989, the Trinity Health Systems Board and Administration initiated a long-term strategy for the development of a regional physician network. Rural physicians in the region welcomed the concept of a physician network that would provide them with administrative support for their practices. This was the beginning of a new physician network called Physician Practice Management Corporation (PPMC). Financial support from the Oleson Foundation was extremely important to the development of PPMC because it allowed Trinity Health Systems to purchase numerous physician practices in the region. In turn, PPMC provided administrative support in rural clinics allowing the physicians to concentrate on patient care. Other advantages to the relationship included increased efforts aimed at physician recruitment and retention and the upgrading of clinical and financial information systems to improve operational efficiencies. By December of 1996, 13 clinic sites in the region had joined PPMC.

In January of 1997, Trinity Health Systems acquired the Fort Dodge Medical Center, which added primary and specialty physicians to the organization and provided a foundation to launch the expansion of medical specialty services in the community and region. Realizing the significant changes made through the numerous physician practice acquisitions, the Trinity Health Systems’ Board felt the need to establish a new identity for the PPMC organization. To facilitate marketing and to develop a homogeneous group culture, PPMC changed its name in 1997 to Trimark Physicians Group. Since that time, the success of the new Trimark Physicians Group has been impressive. By January, 2003, Trimark Physicians Group had grown to 61 physicians and 454 employees located throughout 27 clinics in Fort Dodge and 11 other communities in Northwest and North Central Iowa.

As the rural physician network was developing in the mid to late 90s, rural hospitals in these same communities were at financial risk and struggling with declining patient census and reimbursement. Rural communities that had a strong Trimark presence began approaching Trinity Health Systems for support. Recognizing the importance of stabilizing healthcare in these rural communities, the Board of Trinity Health Systems agreed to provide administrative-management services. By 1998, four primary care hospitals in Humboldt, Pocahontas, Sac City and Clarion, became affiliated with Trinity Health Systems.

Trinity Health Systems’ rural hospital network, working in conjunction with area Trimark clinics, had successfully stabilized and advanced healthcare in the rural counties surrounding Fort Dodge by 2002. The Trinity Health Systems’ network of clinics and hospitals became recognized in the state of Iowa as a model for a successful integrated rural health system.

Keeping Pace With Change

In 1983, the entire hospital industry was shaken by Medicare’s change from the traditional fee for service reimbursement system to a Prospective Payment System (PPS) - a method of reimbursement in which Medicare payments to hospitals is made based on a predetermined, fixed amount. The payment amount for a particular service is derived based on the classification system of that service called Diagnostic Related Groups (DRGs) for inpatient hospital services. Regardless of how long or how short the hospital stays, Medicare would pay the provider a single set amount. Effectively, this new payment model was designed to cut health care costs by putting pressure on hospitals to provide cost effective and efficient care within a short time frame. In response to these significant changes, other delivery options were explored. Trinity introduced home health services which provided professional clinical care and support services in the patient’s home. While Trinity Regional Hospital performed well under DRGs, it appeared that all payers (insurance companies) would be moving toward payment systems intended to cut hospital costs. In order for Iowa hospitals to survive, they would have to be able to adapt to this change and implement effective care protocols consistent with cost efficient business practices.

This dramatic change in hospital reimbursement forced a new movement toward outpatient services, and despite reservations from many sectors of the healthcare community, the impact on services for patients and families proved to be positive. Patients could receive the care they needed without a traumatic family upheaval that used to routinely accompany the need for hospital care. While ambulatory care services came on the heels of demands by insurance companies for more cost effective methods of providing hospital care, outpatient surgeries, tests and treatments along with same-day admissions for inpatient hospital stays became more of the norm. This model of care, combined with experienced medical staff, advancing technology and a full range of hospital resources backing up the care protocol became recognized as the model for state-of-the-art medical care.

Healthy Community Model

With a vision of building a healthier community, the Board of Directors of Trinity Regional Medical Center took the initiative to provide financial support for a comprehensive community–based process to improve the health status, well–being and quality of life of the community. In 1999, the hospital launched the Community Action Network, a new initiative of the hospital that defined health in broad, holistic terms. The Community Action Network employed the “healthy communities” model to improve the health of the community and reduce healthcare costs by promoting wellness and healthy lifestyles throughout the community. The concept embraced advancing new ideas, projects and initiatives focused on keeping the population healthier, thereby reducing the need for more expensive hospital services. This “healthy communities” model was based on building relationships and partnerships with other critical sectors of the community, including education, business, human service organizations, government, and the faith community. Prevention and wellness services were expanded and offered in community settings to make it easy and convenient for citizens and families to access the services. Other projects and programs to improve the long-term well-being of youth, families and adults were also implemented. This innovative approach to advancing health and wellness led to Trinity Regional Medical Center receiving the prestigious NOVA Award from the American Hospital Association in 2003.

Change Leads to Growth

For Trinity Regional Hospital, the decade of the 90s was marked by remarkable growth and significant change in the delivery of healthcare services. The Federal Medicare system was under extreme financial duress which inevitably led to reimbursement cuts to healthcare providers. At the same time, the costs of providing healthcare services were skyrocketing in response to increased demand, especially due to an aging population. The trend toward providing more services in the outpatient setting continued in an upward spiral. Programs and services in the areas of skilled nursing, substance abuse and mental health were particularly hit hard by cuts in insurance and Medicare reimbursement. Simultaneously, hospital stays became drastically shorter in an attempt to cut costs. Challenged to identify ways to provide quality healthcare services in an environment of decreasing reimbursement, Trinity’s board, administration and medical staff were continually challenged to identify ways to change healthcare processes and protocols.

In the face of these challenges, the leadership of Trinity Regional Hospital saw an opportunity to broaden the hospital’s influence in the region by taking progressive action to expand services to address the ever increasing demand. With an aging population, orthopedic services were a critical specialty. Complimenting this service area was the heightened need for outpatient rehabilitative services. In 1991, Trinity Regional Hospital purchased an abandoned elementary school in the Highland Park neighborhood in Fort Dodge, and through renovation, transformed the school building into a state-of-the art rehabilitation facility. Highland Park Center became Trinity’s first off-campus outpatient clinic and quickly developed into a “Center of Excellence,” providing comprehensive physical, occupational and speech therapy services as well as sports medicine and other rehabilitative services.

1995 was a pivotal year for Trinity Regional with major renovation and new construction

closely linked to expanded services. The Outpatient Center, a totally new structure, was underway following approval of the Certificate of Need application. The plan called for ground level space to be devoted to a new Outpatient Center, a remodeled Emergency Department and the addition of a fixed base MRI in Radiology. Other selected areas –– the front entrance and the Cafeteria–– were enlarged and modernized. At the same time, an overall facility assessment was conducted allowing the hospital to evaluate vacated space while planning for future use of the new space available as a result of the Outpatient Center project.

In the late 80s and early 90s, obstetrical services were forced to make major changes in the labor/delivery process. Shorter stays became the norm. In 1990, Trinity Regional Hospital made a bold move by investing in the renovation of the fourth floor of the North Tower, transforming it into a modern Labor-Delivery-Recovery-Postpartum (LDRP) obstetrical unit. This new unit with its nine LDRP suites offered a comfortable home-like setting which allowed for labor, delivery and the recovery process in the same room –– a concept embraced by expecting parents. In conjunction with its new “Birthplace,” a new secondary-level nursery was established and a new pediatric wing was opened adjacent to Obstetrics to meet the specific needs of the pediatric patient.

When Trinity’s new Outpatient Center was opened in the summer of 1996, convenience for patients was significantly improved. Its necessity was prompted by explosive growth in outpatient services.

Continually challenged to look for additional ways to reduce costs while improving care and service to the patient, accommodations for enhanced services were underway. Trinity Regional’s administration and nursing management team evaluated care delivery models and proposed a case management model with accountability for improving patient care. Providing a major linkage between patient services, home health care and other community and social services, the model improved communication between caregivers, enhanced patient education and improved patient recovery.

Responding to a rising demand for joint replacement procedures, in 1998 Trinity opened a Joint Ventures Unit that specialized in providing a first-class setting for the recovery and rehabilitation of patients following joint replacement surgery. Under the new Joint Ventures venue, Orthopedic physicians collaborated on implementing an advanced process for total hip, knee and shoulder replacement surgery that improved patient outcomes while reducing patient length of stays.

In the late 90s, Trinity was faced with the challenge of meeting the need for an ongoing expansion of services which would require significant capital investments in new technology and facilities. At the same time, the hospital was facing a need to expand information technology. In March of 1998, with costs for equipment, technology and facilities skyrocketing, the Trinity Regional Hospital board endorsed the exploration of a formal affiliation between Trinity Regional and the Iowa Health System (IHS). On January 1, 1999 Trinity became a senior affiliate of IHS. The Trinity Health Systems (THS) board of directors strongly endorsed the change based on the IHS commitment to make capital available for future growth, to provide leadership and support for information systems and technology, and to offer opportunities to consolidate administrative functions for improved efficiencies.

Having reached general agreements in October, 1998, governing boards of both organizations signed formal documents in December. The affiliation, while not a legal merger, allowed Trinity Regional Hospital to remain a separate non-profit corporation under Iowa law. Both corporations retained ownership of currently held assets. The Iowa Health System pledged substantial resources to the local community and region over time to facilitate expansion and coordination of clinical services.

One of the first joint initiatives between Trinity and the IHS was the diabetes initiative. Diabetic educators from across the system worked to standardize care for diabetics assuring patients seamless access to education, resources and assistance.

With the 21st Century approaching, two additional areas of need were not being met by Trinity Regional Hospital. Comprehensive heart care and cancer services had remained elusive despite the commitment of Trinity’s board, administration and medical staff to bring these needed services to the area.

In 1997 Trinity developed a new partnership with a highly reputable cardiology physician group from Des Moines –– the Iowa Heart Center, P.C. This partnership brought new cardiologists to Fort Dodge and promulgated a plan for the development of a state-of-the-art cardiology center. With health statistics strongly verifying the need for a comprehensive heart program, the Certificate of Need was approved in 1999 and Trinity began building a new heart center that would include two heart catheterization labs and a surgical suite. In April, 2000, the first of the two Cath Labs was opened. The surgical component followed in June of the same year. While Trinity had been confident of the need for heart services, the success of the new heart center was impressive. The quality of care provided by the cardiologists and staff was outstanding and the number of heart catheterizations performed far exceeded all projections in the first year. Responding to the enormous demand for services, the second Cath Lab was opened in the summer of 2002.

With the significant expansion of specialty services provided to a broader seven county region, the board of directors voted to change the name of Trinity Regional Hospital to Trinity Regional Medical Center in the 2000.

Expanding Critical Services Continues

Just as early leaders of the hospitals in Fort Dodge invested in meeting the healthcare needs of the population, the board of directors of Trinity Regional Medical Center continued planning for meeting the growing needs for advance medical care in Fort Dodge and the region. Following their investment in heart care services, the board of Trinity realized that providing comprehensive cancer treatment services was a critical need. In 2003, with the goal of bringing quality health care to the people with cancer, Trinity Regional Medical Center officially opened the Trinity Cancer Center, providing chemotherapy and support services. Seven years later, Trinity received approval to add radiation therapy services to its center to achieve its long-awaited dream of providing comprehensive cancer care.

With the need to add more space to accomplish future growth and enhance patient comfort and convenience, the board of the medical center invested $32 million in a new building addition. In November of 2008, Trinity Regional Medical Center opened the new “front door,” to the hospital with an 80,000 square foot addition that serves as the home to a new ambulatory surgery center, several outpatient services, and a new obstetrics unit. In 2016, Trinity Regional Medical Center expanded its emergency room facilities to meet the continually growing need for emergency services. The $5 million expansion doubled the space, adding more examination rooms that offer greater privacy and building other clinical space for expanded emergency and outpatient services.

The impressive new facilities starting in 2000 up through 2016 have provided Trinity Regional Medical Center the opportunity to expand and reorganize outpatient services in a way that enhanced operational efficiencies and improved patient satisfaction, and positioned Trinity to meet future healthcare needs.

The Legacy Continues

Since 1900 when the first hospital was established in Fort Dodge and every decade since, forward-looking leaders sought to anticipate and meet the healthcare needs of current and future generations. The first 120 years of hospital history is a testament to the physicians, nurses and other medical staff who were dedicated to providing high quality medical care, serving Fort Dodge and the surrounding communities. This long tradition of caring continues today as the medical professionals and leaders of Trinity diligently strive to meet the healthcare needs of the community and region while responding to the ever-changing healthcare environment.

Hospital History Timeline

1894 – Haskell House

1909 – St. Joseph Mercy Hospital

1932 – Lutheran Hospital

1969 – Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital – Prior to merging with Lutheran Hospital, a local corporation would purchase St. Joseph Mercy Hospital from the Sisters of Mercy and rename it Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital.

1969 – Lutheran Hospital becomes Bethesda General Hospital.

1974 – Trinity Regional Hospital – Fort Dodge Mercy Hospital and Bethesda General Hospital merge forces to provide more efficient and effective health care to the Fort Dodge area.

1982 – Trinity Health Systems – With a vision to become the preferred provider of Northwest Central Iowa, Trinity’s leaders determined a new parent corporation was the most logical way to fulfill the hospital’s mission and purpose while responding to future health care demands. Trinity Health Systems would encompass Trinity Regional Hospital and the Oleson Foundation. In later years, it would include Trimark Physicians Group, the Berryhill Center, Trinity Foundation, and Trinity Building Corporation.

1989 – Physician Practice Management Corporation (PPMC) – The beginning of a new physician network. By 1996, thirteen clinic sites in the region joined PPMC.

1997 – PPMC changes name to Trimark Physicians Group – By 2003, Trimark Physicians Group had grown to 61 physicians, 27 clinics, and 11 communities throughout Northwest Central Iowa.

1998 – Trinity Health Systems’ network expands as they partner with critical access hospitals in the region.

1999 – Partnership with Iowa Health System – As costs for equipment, technology, and facilities continue to skyrocket, Trinity Health Systems’ board strongly advocates a formal affiliation with Iowa Health System. By becoming a senior affiliate, Trinity Health Systems has improved opportunities and efficiencies for future growth, leadership, and support for Information Systems.

2000 - The board of directors voted to change the name of Trinity Regional Hospital to Trinity Regional Medical Center to reflect the significant expansion of specialty services provided to a broader seven county region.

2003 - Trinity Regional Medical Center opened the Trinity Cancer Center, providing chemotherapy and support services. Seven years later, Trinity received approval to add radiation therapy services to its center to achieve its long-awaited dream of providing comprehensive cancer care.

2008 - Trinity Regional Medical Center opened the new “front door,” to the hospital with an 80,000 square foot, $32 million addition that serves at offers a new front entrance to the hospital and serves as the home to a new ambulatory surgery center, several outpatient services, and a new obstetrics unit.

2013 – Iowa Health Systems changes its name to UnityPoint Health – As Iowa Health Systems expands past the borders of Iowa, a new name was needed, a name that reflected the way its hospitals, physicians, and home care entities were transforming health care delivery through patient-centered coordinated care. Trinity Regional Medical Center’s name was changed to Unity Point – Trinity Regional Medical Center.

2016 – Unity Point-Trinity Regional Medical Center expanded its emergency room facilities to meet the continually growing need for emergency services. The $5 million expansion doubled the space, adding more examination rooms to offer greater privacy and building other clinical space for expanded emergency and outpatient services.

Friendship Haven


420 Kenyon Road

In the early 1920s, periodic efforts to create a “senior home” in Fort Dodge drew increasing support, but no funding.

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In the early 1920s, periodic efforts to create a “senior home” in Fort Dodge drew increasing support, but no funding. In 1946, incentives of 25 acres and $75,000 sparked grass roots fundraising, construction and the opening of what would ultimately become Friendship Haven.

This phrase is quoted from the organization’s founder, Rev. Dr. Clarence Wesley Tompkins, a motivational and dynamic leader and Friendship Haven’s first executive director in 1947, a position which he held for 25 years. “Dream No Little Dreams” has been a guiding vision of Friendship Haven since its humble beginnings in a cow pasture more than 60 years ago. Land from the Fort Dodge Betterment Foundation, a lead gift from Mrs. O.M. Oleson, a brilliant leader Rev. Dr.Clarence Tompkins and tremendous community support made the dream for a senior home in Northwest Iowa a reality.

1950 Residents move into the East Building
1951 Friendship Haven Memorial Foundation is established
1955 Residents move into the West Building — Heritage Apartments
1959 Chapel on the Hill opens
1965 Dr. Tompkins’ dream of a geriatric health center becomes reality
1977 The first 11 of 52 town homes are occupied
1983 The Laura Epple Tompkins Special Care Unit for dementia opens
1987 The Herbert R/ Bennett Wellness Center opens for therapy
1996 Dr. Tompkins passes away on August 8. Introduction of Adult Day Services and Home Health Care
2000 Friendship Haven celebrates its 50th Anniversary — more than 5,000 residents since 1950.
2004 Building on the Dream Expansion project opens with completion of The Gardens Assisted Living, Celebration Center and Wellness/Aquatics Center
2005 Kenyon Place opens
2009 The Catalyst Rehabilitation Program launches
2010 Second Family offers in – home services and care management
2012 River Ridge Apartments opens to offer assisted living
2013 Simpson Health Center opens its doors
2013 Dedication of Tompkins Celebration Center, Tompkins Drive and Historical Display
2014 Schmoker Adult Days Services celebrates a free-standing building on campus
2017 Journeys at Friendship Haven opens the doors for enhanced memory care service



Kersten Clinic


1250 5th Ave S

Dr. Kersten decided to found the clinic because he “recognized the community’s need for more doctors and specialists”.  Three of his four sons were physicians and had returned to the community to practice and would join him in the new clinic to open their medical practices and help recruit additional physicians to Fort Dodge.

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The Kersten Clinic was founded in July, 1952, by Drs. E.M. Kersten and J.J. Weyer. Located at the corner of 5th Avenue South and 13th Street, the clinic first opened for patients on July 7, 1952. Two other doctors joined them that week, Dr. John Kersten (son of Dr. E.M. Kersten) and Dr. John Baker.

Dr. E.M. Kersten was born in 1892 in De Pere, Wisconsin, a suburb of Green Bay, the youngest of ten children. His father was Dr. A.M. Kersten. After attending school schools in Green Bay, E.M. enrolled in Marquette University’s Medical School and graduated there in 1913 at the age of 21. After receiving his medical degree, E.M. began practice with Dr. Albert M. Farrell in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, where he remained until 1916 when he moved to Fort Dodge.

Dr. Joe Weyer practiced medicine in the Fort Dodge area from 1932 until his retirement at age 70. He was born in Livermore, Iowa to Mary and Peter Weyer. His father died when Joe was only three months old, leaving his mother to raise three children on her own. Joe supplemented family income while going to medical school, sometimes working seven hours a day in addition to keeping up with his medical studies.

Dr. Kersten’s practice was interrupted by World War I. He had enlisted in the Army while still living in Wisconsin, and when war was declared in 1917, he was called into service. He eventually served in France.

Following WWI, Dr. Kersten returned to Fort Dodge and entered into medical practice with Dr. F.E. Seymour. They had offices in the Snell Building. Later, he had an office in the Carver Building until the founding of the Kersten Clinic.

According to E.M.’s son, John Kersten, it is presumed that the main reason Dr. Kersten decided to found the clinic was because three of his four sons became physicians and “he recognized the community’s need for more doctors and specialists.” The new Kersten Clinic was organized in 1952 when their new clinic building built.

An article in the June 30, 1952 Fort Dodge Messenger and Chronical states: “Completely modern in design, exterior of the new building is of dark red Roman brick with a flat roof, making possible the addition of another floor at a later date. Dimensions of the clinic are 100 by 50 feet. The clinic is completely air conditioned, with thermos pane windows on all sides. Acoustically treated walls and ceilings make street noises nearly inaudible. For the convenience of patients, the clinic has a completely equipped pharmacy and parking facilities.”

With the continued growth of physicians and patients, the Kersten Clinic needed more space. In 1964, a two story addition to the Clinic was built. The new addition extended 75 feet along 5th Avenue South and was 47 feet in depth. The addition was comprised of a ground floor and a basement.

The Kersten Clinic grew into a multi-specialty medical clinic. There were a number of medical specialists located in the Kersten Clinic: Surgery, Radiology, Psychiatry, Internal Medicine, Dermatology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Family Practice and Urology. At its peak, the Kersten Clinic included 21 physicians and 42 staff members.

When the two Fort Dodge hospitals merged in 1973, all the clinical services for the new hospital system were consolidated on the campus of Trinity Regional Hospital. In 1977, the hospital began construction on a $15 million expansion and modernization program of it facilities. Through negotiation with the Kersten Clinic, the hospital constructed a new medical clinic building to accommodate the Kersten Clinic. The building, located on the eastern side of the hospital, was opened in 1979. This move allowed for the consolidation of medical services on the expanding medical campus of Trinity Regional Hospital. This move also significantly enhanced convenience for patients.

A few years later, the clinic’s name was changed to Fort Dodge Medical Center. The former Kersten Clinic building on 5th Avenue South was leased to Arrowhead Area Education Agency (AEA). AEA later purchased the building and is still operating in that same location.

In 1989, the Fort Dodge Medical Center was purchased by Trinity Health Systems and became the anchor clinic for the new network of physicians called the Physician Practice Management Corporation (PPMC). In 1997, PPMC’s name was changed to Trimark Physicians Group. This network of physicians had grown to 61 physicians and 27 clinics in 11 communities throughout Northwest Central Iowa.

The anchor behind the growth of physician services serving Fort Dodge and northwest –central Iowa began with the vision of two Fort Dodge physicians back in 1952 when they decided to open and build a new medical clinic - the Kersten Clinic.

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O. M. Oleson and his wife, Julie Haskell Oleson, began a long and admired tradition of philanthropy in Fort Dodge. Combining their assets for the good of the community, O. M. and Julie Oleson were strong advocates for the advancement of the city and healthcare. O. M. Oleson was elected to the Lutheran Hospital Board of Directors on June 4, 1926 and retained that position until his death on February 8, 1944. O. M. Oleson was instrumental in the establishment of hospital care in Fort Dodge. He assisted with the fund drive to build Mercy Hospital in the early 1900s and served on the original Board of Trustees. He was also provided a lead gift for the establishment of a new Lutheran Hospital and was a vital force in the opening of Lutheran Hospital. He was credited with saving Lutheran Hospital from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. Upon their deaths, the Oleson left a very significant financial legacy to Lutheran Hospital.

The Oleson Foundation was formed in June of 1973 for the purpose of administering the funds accrued from the original Oleson family bequest of $2.1 million to the Lutheran Hospital Association. As part of the compromise necessary to effectuate the consolidation of the two hospitals, 50% of the funds accrued from the Oleson family bequest were transferred to the Oleson Foundation and the remaining 50% was retained by the new corporation. Herman Larson, Merlyn Groot, Gerald Hanson, Richard Carlon, William Dahlberg, J. J. Johnson, Emil Bahls, Dennis Skow, M.E. Kraushaar, M.D., Earl Fredrickson and Franklin Larson were the original Board members of the Oleson Foundation.

The funds were managed separately for a number of years until the Board of Directors for Trinity Regional Hospital and the Oleson Foundation agreed that the funds should be brought back together and managed by the Oleson Foundation. Although separate accounts were maintained, eventually all funds were transferred into one Oleson fund. By 2005, due to prudent investment management of the funds, the Oleson Foundation grew to over $8 million.

Foundation activities included financial support of chaplaincy programs, and programs and activities sponsored or directed by Trinity Regional Hospital, including equipment and building needs. Significant financial support provided by the Oleson Foundation assisted in the development of a strong rural physician network (Trimark Physician Group) that help stabilize and advance healthcare in a seven county region serve by Trinity Regional Medical Center.

The Oleson Foundation has shown admirable judgment in its selective support of the various health projects and activities, both directly and indirectly related to operations of Trinity Regional Medical Center. Such projects and activities have contributed greatly to the health and well-being of residents of Webster County as well as those in surrounding counties. The Oleson Foundation personifies and preserves the legacy of O. M. and Julie Haskell Oleson and their desire to improve the lives and well-being of the people of Fort Dodge and the community they loved so dearly.

The Oleson Foundation was merged into the Trinity Health Foundation in 2007 to improve administrative efficiency and eliminate duplication of foundation activities.

Oleson Foundation


O. M. Oleson and his wife, Julie Haskell Oleson, began a long and admired tradition of philanthropy in Fort Dodge.