By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
One hundred years ago a request by a Kokomo doctor to the Sisters of St. Joseph resulted in the first hospital opening in Howard County.
That facility, today’s St. Joseph Hospital, has embarked on a yearlong celebration of the milestone.
In 1912, Kokomo was a city of approximately 20,000 people. When accidents occurred, many people died from a lack of access to a hospital. Dr. Edgar Cox asked the Sisters of St. Joseph in Tipton to open a hospital.
Photo Gallery: Click here or on the photo below to see the St. Joseph Hospital over 100 years
The first fundraising effort in Kokomo resulted in a donation of 10 cents, but eventually the Sisters raised enough money to purchase the homestead on East Vaile Avenue, which officially opened Feb. 6, 1913, as Good Samaritan Hospital. It had 12 beds.
“We were in the infancy of organized health care,” Kathy Young, president of St. Joseph Hospital, said of the first hospital in the county. “We were on the innovative train in terms of a community of our size that provided organized health care.”
In the 1800s and early 1900s, Young said people were treated at home. In some cases, doctors would operate small clinics with just a couple of beds.
“Certainly we were at the forefront of giving people the option of being treated at a hospital,” she said. “There was more therapeutic care where people could be helped. It wasn’t just comfort care.”
A second fundraising drive was started immediately, and the Sisters were able to raise $20,000 for a new facility. They moved into a new 60-bed hospital in 1914 in the 600 block of East Vaile Avenue.
Sandy Herman, marketing director for St. Joseph, said as soon as the Sisters opened the homestead in 1913, they knew more space would be required.
A second hospital was opened in Kokomo in 1925, built by the Ku Klux Klan. The group was opposed to being cared for in a Catholic hospital. It closed five years later as a financial failure.
By 1935, the Sisters had outgrown the Good Samaritan facility and successfully bid on the Klan facility. The funding came from a $17,000 bequest of patient Henry Fisse Jr. Fisse had been turned away from the Klan hospital because personnel thought he was penniless.
The Sisters opened St. Joseph Memorial Hospital on May 17, 1936, as a 50-bed facility staffed by 39 doctors.
Young said, since that time, the hospital complex has grown to five different buildings, the oldest constructed in the 1940s.
Through the next half-century there were many improvements made to the hospital, including several expansions.
By 1990, the Sisters of St. Joseph determined the complexity of health care made it difficult for them to operate the Kokomo hospital and Mercy Hospital in Elwood, Young said. Ownership was transferred to the Daughters of Charity in 1994.
“Our mission is the same,” Young said. “To meet the needs of the community with the highest quality. We have brought the highest levels of technology to the local community.
“Caring and compassion is still our mission,” she said. “It makes us different from other health care providers.”
Young said the hospital has a master facility plan for the next two decades, as St. Joseph begins its second century of service to Howard County.
“I don’t see us making big, bold moves,” she said. “We will adopt our buildings to provide the best care. We will expand our health care to neighborhoods to keep people from having to drive a mile or two to get to a health care facility.”
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