In 1900, the Will of John Cross, prominent river city businessman, bequeathed $3,000 for the purpose of constructing a hospital in Iowa Falls. Eugene Stafford Ellsworth donated $14,000 (along with his visionary support) and work on the new building began in April of 1902. At that time city ordinance #205 created a six-member board of trustees with the mayor as an ex-officio member and chairman of the board. The first hospital board consisted of E.S. Ellsworth, J.L. Farrington, W.H. Woods, Z.K. Hoag, William Welden and L.E. Jones. On Thursday evening, September 25, 1902, the hospital was formally opened.
The original hospital was 48 feet wide by 92 feet in length with three stories and a basement. The building also included two porches on the south (now facing what would be Rocksylvania Ave). The hospital also included a physician’s office and waiting room. The first hospital nursing staff consisted of four nurses. The total cost of the project was approximately $20,000.
The early years of the hospital were difficult. People tended to stay home when they were ill and the physicians made house calls. By 1905 the hospital was facing financial troubles and the facility was leased to the physicians. The physicians formed the Ellsworth Hospital Association, which was incorporated with the following members: William Morton, MD; O.H. Pagelson, MD; B.J. Garver, MD; J.L. Chassell, MD; W.G. Morton, MD; B.E. Purcell, MD; L.B. Morton, MD; J.A.W. Burgess, MD; J.H. Sams, MD of Clarion; W.H. Lewis, MD of Alden; A.L. Hoyt, MD of Dows; J.A. Mulnix, MD of Dows; and E.E. Best, MD of Clarion.
The Association was not able to able to find the solution to their financial concerns so the Ladies of Auxiliary of Ellsworth Hospital formed a committee to raise funds for the hospital. The committee members were Mrs. J.M. Rhinehart, Jay Carleton, and Mrs. E.S. Ellsworth, and Harley Taylor. Despite their best efforts the hospital was forced to close on January 1, 1908 due to a lack of funds. A new board was formed and in April 1908 the institution re-opened. The new board members were: Rev. Wm. Hardcastle, president; Mrs. E.S. Ellsworth, vice-president; J.L. Marks, secretary; J.B. Griffith, treasurer; Mrs. J.M. Rinehart; and R.A. Feist.
In 1909 it was announced that the hospital was out of debt. However, year after year the hospital struggled with finances. Various fundraisers were conducted and local citizens donated fruits and vegetables to the hospital so the hospital persevered.
In June of 1935 an election was held to authorize the sale of $60,000 in bonds for construction of a new hospital building. The measure passed on a vote of 1,036 to 200. In October 1935 a government grant of $42,300 was secured. The proposed new hospital was estimated at a cost of around $94,000 sparked a controversy. Frank Foster offered to give to the hospital board a parcel of land 300 x 570 feet on the West side of the city. West side residents formed a petition drive and collected 776 names in favor of the new site. 458 petitioners favored keeping the hospital at its present location. The planning board voted 4 to 3 in favor of the new site. Considerable legal discussions followed. The board and a citizens committee looking into the matter came to an understanding that a popular referendum would be held to select the site. In November 1935 the city council resolved the issue by voting 3 to 1 to remain at the present site. Council members at that time were John Berfield, Fred Hibner, M.O. Hocum, and W.W. Johnson. Contracts were let in November and December of that year. The hospital board at the time of the projects construction was W.K. Armentrout, Chas. Lee and George Tjaden. The hospital staff consisted of O.H. Pagelson, MD, president, J.A.W. Burgess, MD, vice-president, and F.N. Cole, MD, secretary.
The formal opening of the new hospital was held October 20, 1936. The cost of the building and equipment was approximately $94,000. The size of the grounds was 100 x 400 feet. The building contained 13 private rooms, two semi-private (two bed) rooms, two four-bed wards and two solariums; each of which could be made to accommodate four beds. The medical suite consisted of the operating room, obstetric room, sterilization room, work room for nurses and wash rooms for nurses and doctors. Equipment for the new building cost $10,252, not including furniture. The United States Government provided a PWA grant of $42,300 for the construction. A modern kitchen with gas stoves and electric refrigerators made the local news – the hospital cook at that time was Mrs. Anna Fuller. Glass lined pneumatic tubes were installed to carry soiled laundry. An innovation feature added to the building was radio plugs for each room that led to an aerial and a ground wire. Grading and landscaping followed and a retaining wall was built along Rock Run ledge. It was at this time that the hospital was officially named after its major benefactor; E.S. Ellsworth. Another capital campaign was held in August 1947 and $16,264 was raised for new equipment.
In the late 1950’s three young physicians, medical school classmates, moved to Iowa Falls to begin their practice: Herbert Gude, MD, FACS, Robert Dunlay, MD and Thomas Graham, MD. By 1963 records show that the hospital was doing well with a positive balance of $6,539.03. The hospital employed 69 people with salaries accounting for 53% of the hospitals expenses. 254 babies were delivered that year (130 girls and 124 boys). The hospital in patient admissions gave the facility a 69% occupancy rate compared to a statewide average of 67%. Out patient laboratory and X-ray services also were increasing. The board of trustees decided it was time for an expansion project. In 1963 the hospital received a generous gift of $400,000 from the estate of Mr. And Mrs. Oliver Wendall Repp. A general obligation bond was passed in a referendum by a 71% approval margin. An additional $253,000 was received from Hill Burton Funds along with gifts from many other generous individuals. The Repp addition was completed and opened on May 10, 1964. At the same time the 1936 building was remodeled to match the new wing for $70,000.
By the early 1980’s the 1936 building was reaching the end of its useful life. An addition was added that ran perpendicular to the West end of the 1936 building. At the same time the 1964 building was remodeled to conform to current standards necessary for state hospital licensing. The project cost an estimated $4.4 million, which was financed through General Obligation Bonds, a Farmer Home Administration Loan and through the generosity of the people of Iowa Falls. With the addition the number of hospital beds licensed by the state grew to 42.
In 1999 the Burt and Netty Boddy estate provided the hospital with a $1.4 million gift. Using a portion of that gift plus revenue bonds, the hospital erected a $4.3 million professional office building on the northwest corner of the facility. The Professional Building added 27,000 square feet of space for physician offices, a pharmacy, a new out patient specialty clinic, a rehabilitation center and a new psychiatric and counseling clinic. The building helped consolidate several of the hospitals departments and services. During this same period of time the EMH Physician’s Clinic and the Iowa Falls Clinic merged as a partnership with EMH and the Mercy Health Network of North Iowa. In 2004, EMH acquired the Ackley Medical Center and Ellsworth Family Medicine Clinics as Departments of the hospital so that they were eligible for Provider Based Billing. The hospital now employs 168 full time and 75 part time staff making us one of the largest employers in Hardin County. The medical staff is comprised of 14 physicians and 2 ARNPs.
Over the past two decades, the hospital has faced new challenges. A larger number of the patients admitted to the hospital are elderly. Most of these patients are on Medicare. In fact Hardin County has the largest number of residents age 85 and older. Even as people live longer, the health care community in Hardin County and across Iowa and the nation are facing declining reimbursements and increasing costs. Iowa is now 51st in the United States for Medicare reimbursements. Outpatient services are now a primary focus in health care as inpatient stays have gotten shorter and reimbursements for hospital stays have been continually declining. Yet within this new health care environment progress must continue as new technologies and services required for Iowa’s aging population. In 2001 The Ellsworth Municipal Hospital Foundation was created to ensure that Ellsworth Municipal Hospital maintains its pledge to the citizens of the Greenbelt to “care for people in special ways”.