In 1882, Dr. D. W. Robinson, a recent graduate, was enroute by train to the Pacific Coast in quest of practicing medicine there. However, his life was about to take a twist. He was misled by the railroad folder and found himself stranded in Pierre at the end of the railroad, without any means to travel west. After explaining his situation to an elderly man at the train station he was told, "You come down to my hotel, and I'll find you some patients."
With that, he laid the foundation of his career and that of the state's central foremost medical center. It was a primitive site for a hospital and it lacked basic furniture and equipment. Robinson performed operations on kitchen tables, ironing boards, and floors.
At that time, Pierre was desperately in need of a school. The community fathers approached several orders of Sisters in an attempt to get a school opened. The fathers' requests were rejected time and time again. These Sisters had no desire to open a school in such a bleak and desolate area. Eventually the Benedictine Sisters of Yankton were approached. They believed they were to meet the challenges God gave them, and they agreed to go to Pierre. With $20 to their name, the five Benedictine Sisters arrived in Pierre by train on August 31, 1899.
God did indeed present the Sisters with challenges. The Park Hotel, built 15 years earlier, was chosen as the new school site. Since the Hotel's existence, it was unoccupied for several years. The occupants had taken almost everything with them when they left. During these vacant years, the only "guests" of the hotel were various animals and birds. "What a sight, enough to discourage the Sisters," Sister Alphonsa stated. "Nothing was in the house -- no beds, no dishes, no furniture. Dust, dirt, and spider webs were the decorations. We started to scrub and clean to have a few rooms ready when Sister Catherine, our Superior, would come."
"The people brought cots from town. From a pile of rubbish in the backyard, we salvaged spoons, forks, knives, pitchers, and plates. These we scoured and used." It was so filthy from the critters and river sand that they could not tell the color the woodwork. However, the Sisters refused to be discouraged. The Mother Superior was coming in a few weeks, and they did not want her to see the "school" in its current state. These five brave Sisters began working to clean the Park Hotel up as soon as they arrived. The physicians of the community met and determined that the need of a hospital was greater than that of a school. The morning after the Sisters arrived, the physicians met with them and insisted that they change their plans. The Sisters complied and the physicians brought with them a patient.
Mary Woods was the first baby born at St. Mary's on December 9, 1899. The first operation, on January 16, 1900 was performed on the first operating table donated by Dr. Robinson. For the next decade, pneumonia, typhoid fever, and small pox were prevalent. The south wing of the hospital was used as an isolation unit. Although the staff worked diligently at preventing diseases and treating patients, they weren't able to keep diseases at bay. Three of the Sisters died of typhoid fever in 1905 and pneumonia consumed Dr. Robinson five years later. Dr. T. F. Riggs had been practicing at St. Mary's a year before Robinson's passing. He and five other physicians continued to lead the pioneering spirit for central South Dakota. After years of studying at Johns Hopkins University and the Mayo Clinic, Riggs had returned to his homeland to devote himself to his people. "I belonged to this state and its people by birth," said Riggs. "I just came home."
Riggs is commended for upholding the Moral Code of Medical Ethics and for attributing to the accreditation of St. Mary's Hospital, as St. Mary's was among the first hospitals in South Dakota to become accredited in the 1920s.
Over the years there has been many building projects. In 1930 the new hospital was built with 100 beds. In 1951 an addition for an LPN school was added. This was the first school specifically for LPNs in the nation. Some graduates of this school went on to get RNs, Masters and even Doctorate degrees. Maryhouse Long Term Care Facility was built in 1953. The new building was built across the street from the old hospital in 1981, including the sky way to connect the two buildings. In 1988 ParkWood Independent Living Apartments was built. St. Mary's Healthcare Center's $12 million expansion was completed in January, 1999. This expansion (the northeast building) allows for better patient care, parking, and privacy. The new expansion includes: Emergency Room & Entrances, Ambulatory Care Unit, Admissions, Switchboard, a new Lobby, three large waiting rooms, Surgery & Recovery Room, Business Office, Gift Shop, and the R&SVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) Office. On the first floor of the northwest building is the Laboratory and Radiology. The new OB unit is now located on the third floor of the northwest building. This unit features Labor, Delivery, and Recovery rooms designed to feel like home.
Modern technology and medicine have come a long way in the last century. Cures for diseases have been found, medicine is readily available to treat illnesses, and cell phones, pagers, and computerized equipment make it possible to communicate immediately. St. Mary's continues to provide quality health care and to stay on the cutting edge in advanced medical technology in serving the people in central South Dakota.
In 1996 St. Mary's made the decision to join Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) based in Denver. CHI is the largest Catholic, not-for-profit healthcare system in the country. CHI and St. Mary's share the same core values: Reverence, Integrity, Compassion, and Excellence. As Pierre's largest privately-owned employer, our facility believes in supporting the surrounding community.
In 1999 St. Mary's Healthcare Center assumed sponsorship of Gettysburg Medical Center, which now includes a licensed 10 bed critical access hospital, Oahe Manor, a 60-bed long term care facility that includes a Dementia unit and Oahe Congregate Living Complex, an independent living facility featuring 12 one bedroom apartments.
In 2004, the latest addition was completed. St. Mary's added on to the North building, allowing all in-patient care to be located in the main building. Respiratory Care, Pharmacy and Kidney Dialysis were moved to the third floor of the North building. Transitional Care and Rehabilitation Services were placed on the new fourth floor of the North building. Both floors were designed and decorated to help our patients feel more at home. By using carpeted floors, beautiful artwork, and unbelievable views of the city and Missouri River, we hope to provide a calming affect for our patients.
Throughout the years St. Mary's has been committed to providing charity care to support various community benefits and services. A CHI Initiative, Healthy Communities, helps us determine community needs and led to the establishing and strengthening partnerships. Capital University Center (CUC) is located on St. Mary's campus and offers university classes, including a two year nursing program. A new building will house CUC on St. Mary's campus in 2008.
St. Mary's continues to forge community partnerships to create services that serve a need in the community, including a community crisis room for persons experiencing a mental crisis, the Central SD Child Assessment Center, which serves alleged victims of child abuse, neglect and drug endangerment and by providing funding for prevention and treatment coalitions such as PierreObics a community wide health campaign that encourages people to find small ways to add extra activity to their daily lives.
Today, Avera St. Mary's Hospital consists of: 60-bed acute care hospital accredited by Joint Commission, Maryhouse Nursing Home -- long-term care facility with 82 beds, 23-bed Transitional Care Unit, ParkWood Independent Senior Living Apartments -- 59-unit complex for seniors, and Gettysburg Medical Center. St. Mary's is affiliated with Clinics and Home Health Services in Highmore, Murdo, Onida, and Presho.
St. Mary's...providing quality care for over 100 years.