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St. Joseph's Hospital: Celebrating 100 years of service

The original St. Joseph's Hospital, seen in this undated photo, stood where the existing emergency room parking lot is today. Back then, the hospital was built miles from downtown, which was located south of the railroad tracks. This was the basis of numerous complaints one winter during a North Dakota blizzard.

From an empty building with no electricity, equipment or staff to a fully-equipped critical access facility, St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center has come a long way in 100 years.

Staff and others will be celebrating the centennial, beginning with an open house March 29, said Dennis Cannon, hospital spokesman.

The original $100,000, 40-room facility was built by Bishop Vincent Wherle of Bismarck in 1911 on borrowed money and with no sisters to staff it, officials said.

Six Swiss nuns -- Sister Lauda, Sister Clementine, Sister Philiberta, Sister Richardis, Sister Secundia, and Sister Auxentia -- arrived in Dickinson on March 22, 1912, to run the hospital at $8 a month salary.

They did not have time to learn English before coming to America and the hospital had nothing but debts.

Health care has changed dramatically since St. Joe's admitted its first patient April 4, 1912, said Reed Reyman, St. Joseph's CEO.

He added people would check themselves in to rest after vacations in the early days.

"Everything was done in the hospital and you were here for weeks and weeks at a time," said Michelle Hinrichs, chief nursing officer. "There wasn't really a lot of regulations back then. Nowadays, everything is highly regulated, whether its patient care, what you do in the finance world, what you do with your building."

Reyman said a snowstorm shortly after the hospital opened brought many complaints from Dickinson residents.

"The people in the community were so upset because it was so far out of town -- the hospital was -- and they had to walk all the way from downtown to get here in a blizzard," Reyman said. "They wanted to know why we needed so much land and why we built so far out of town."

The city was built up around the railroad tracks and south at the time, he added.

The original hospital stood where the parking lot of the emergency entrance is now. A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the oldest part of the existing facility in 1950.

There have been several other additions since then, the last one being in 2000.

Groundbreaking for a new hospital on the west side of Dickinson is set for June 2014, Reyman said.

"If it was up to myself and the local board, with the way things are changing, we would like to do that sooner," he added.

The existing hospital will likely be sold and Cannon said there has been some interest in it, but that the buyer must follow guidelines.

"It still has to fall within the same parameters of how it was originally established," Reyman said. "It has to be for the betterment of the community. It should be related to health care, care for the poor, charity care, those types of things."

With the colorful history the hospital grounds hold, moving across town will be bittersweet, he added.

"A third of our employees have worked here more than 20 years," said Denise Lutz, executive director of human resources.

Staff has more than 3,000 combined years of experience, she added.

"We're all working to make the next 100 years better than the first 100 years," said Bill Schneider, chief financial officer.

Events will be planned every month or two in celebration of the centennial and a closing celebration will be held Aug. 14, Cannon said.