Cass County’s hospital is celebrating its half-century mark this month.
For 93-year-old Else Curd, a Harrisonville resident and former hospital employee, it’s hard to believe how the Cass Regional Medical Center has evolved over the years.
More than 75,000 patient visits are experienced annually at Cass Regional, and the hospital has grown to employ more than 475 individuals, making the organization one of the largest employers in the county.
In honor of their 50th anniversary, the hospital is inviting the public to a reception and open house 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, in the rotunda.
During the celebration, Cass Regional CEO Chris Lang, 48, said the hospital will reveal a history wall, a collection of snapshots and stories from the hospital’s history.
Refreshments and medical screenings will also be available.
“As we celebrate our first 50 years, we look forward to carrying on the legacy that was handed down to us by the dedicated community leaders, employees, volunteers and trustees who have continually sought to improve access to medical care for the people our region,” said Lang, who has been with the hospital for 10 years. “We appreciate the community support. Without it, we wouldn’t exist. We will continually try to step up our game over time so that the local facility can be the facility of choice for the community we serve.”
Following World War II, Curd and her family moved to Harrisonville in 1946, just prior to the opening of Harrisonville Memorial Hospital located near the square.
“Of course, we were just as proud of that hospital as we are of this one today,” Curd said. “Two of my children were born in that hospital. That was back in the day when you stayed 10 days after you delivered. Now, it’s more like a drive-up window -- you come in and deliver, and then you go home.”
The “Harrisonville hospital,” as it was often called, met the community’s medical needs for more than a decade, but by the late 1950s, the dream of a new, modern hospital, valued at $1 million, had begun to take shape. By the summer of 1960, the hospital board and members of the medical staff decided to submit a $400,000 bond issue to the people of Cass County.
The bond issue was approved, and was supplemented with a $50,000 commitment from the Memorial Hospital Association, a matching Hill-Burton Act federal grant and private donations.
The county court appointed a new hospital board and construction began at 1800 E. Mechanic Street in February 1962.
Curd joined the hospital staff in early 1963 in the business office. She recalled that construction was well underway at the new hospital when she started.
In April, the newly-named Cass County Memorial Hospital was completed, and later dedicated with great fanfare as nearly 4,000 people attended the dedication and open house. Just days after the celebration, patients were transferred to the new hospital.
“Patients had their breakfast at the old hospital, and then they were transferred by ambulance to the new hospital and that’s where they had lunch,” Curd said.
Curd recalled that hospital had more room for patients and was able to provide more services. It was during that era that nurses still wore starched, white uniforms and caps.
“You could hear them rustle as they walked down the hall,” Curd said.
Back then, admissions were done in the front office using special forms and a typewriter.
After the hospital was completed in 1963, the facility served the community for 20 years before it needed a facelift.
“I never thought we would outgrow that,” Curd said.
The hospital approved a revenue bond issue to modernize the hospital, and $2.5 million was generated for the construction project that included a new intensive care unit, additional medical/surgical rooms, increased outpatient care areas, an enlarged emergency department, physical therapy, medical records, a new dining room and a community room.
In 1984, Curd retired after a 21 year career, as a supervisor. That year, the hospital was renamed “Cass Medical Center” to reflect its expanded scope of services, and employees began using computers as part of their work.
In as early as 2001, hospital leaders had begun to discuss a major construction project to renovate and expand the facility again, or to build an entirely new hospital.
The 1963 facility had served the region for nearly 40 years, but was not easily adaptable to accommodate changes in medical technology and the delivery of health care services that had occurred over time. Hospital leaders decided to build a new hospital.
“When I interviewed here, I saw a diamond in a rough -- a lot of people with an interest in seeing the needs of their community were met. What it needed was a little spit shine and polish,” Lang said.
In 2007, hospital and community leaders broke ground on the current facility, 2800 E. Rock Haven Rd., two years later. The hospital underwent another name change during this time, when it was renamed to “Cass Regional Medical Center” in 2008.
The hospital now maintains a 21-bed medical/surgical unit, a 4-bed intensive care unit and a 10-bed behavioral health unit on its campus.
“I never thought I would see anything like this in Harrisonville,” said Curd, who began volunteering at the hospital a few years after her retirement. She works eight days a month in the hospital’s gift shop as a member of the hospital’s volunteer auxiliary.
The hospital no longer delivers babies, but over the last two decades, it has expanded to include family practice clinics in Archie, Drexel, Garden City, Harrisonville, Peculiar, Pleasant Hill and Kingsville in Johnson County.
“When I first moved to town, we had five family physicians in town and every single one of us delivered babies. Now, nobody does,” said Richard Price, 59, who has been a member of the hospital’s medical staff since 1981.
The hospital hasn’t been in the baby delivery business since 1993, and is optimistic to see the practice return to Cass County in the future.
In other changes, Price said there are many obstacles facing medical doctors in looking into the future, from digital record keeping to the adaption of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.”
Lang agreed, stating that there significant conversations occurring at both the federal and state level that will impact how hospitals serve their communities in the future.
“Healthcare is continuously changing,” Lang said.