“Dallas County Hospital has seen many changes over the last 60 years, but one thing that will never change is the caring and dedicated physicians, nurses and staff. Dallas County Hospital looks forward to continuing to provide personalized, high-quality healthcare to the communities we serve for the next 60 years and beyond!”
— Matt Wille, CEO of Dallas County Hospital
One hundred years or 60 years — both are milestones in a long health care history in the greater Perry and Dallas County areas and beyond for Dallas County Hospital (DCH).
A month-long celebration to mark the two anniversaries is being planned for August, according to Jenny Hornsby, the hospital’s public relations manager.
Times and details are still being worked out, but during August there will be a DCH birthday party with cake served to the public and a coloring contest, the unveiling of the 60th Anniversary Quilt, DCH Anniversary Cookbooks for sale and a health fair during the August Friday Fest.
But first, back to the beginning.
The first 40 years
The 100-year mark goes all the way back to the King’s Daughters Hospital, the very first hospital in Perry. The hospital was the concept of the Alpha Circle of the King’s Daughters, a women’s group started by the wife of a Methodist minister in the 1880s. The group’s focus was to serve others. The members did so by raising $25,000, enough money to build the hospital. The land on Willis Avenue was donated by a local banker.
The 28-bed hospital was known for offering top-notch medical care from the time it opened in April of 1914. Historical accounts report the hospital had one of the best surgical suites in the state. The first surgery was performed on May 7, 1914, by Dr. Mower and Dr. Ross. The first baby was born in July of that year. As early as 1915, the Iowa Medical Association Journal recognized the hospital as a registered school for training nurses.
Although the hospital cared for thousands of patients over the years, the one patient King’s Daughters is most often associated with is Marvin Ivan “Buck” Barrow, brother of Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame. Buck Barrow died on July 29, 1933, five days after he was shot in a gun battle with law enforcement near Dexter.
The facility served the area population until the demand for medical services outpaced the size of the hospital, and until the hospital building failed a state inspection.
Dallas County Hospital is born
The concept of a county hospital came into focus after a renovation of the King’s Daughters Hospital was done in 1948.
Even with all the renovation, the building did not pass an inspection and was deemed dangerous and not fit to be inhabited, according to the “History of Perry Iowa,” written by the late local historian Eugene Hastie. State inspectors said the building was outmoded and dangerous in case of fire.
The idea of a county hospital grew among residents, and they voted in 1950 to build the hospital.
The newly-constructed Dallas County Hospital was built along 10th Street in the location where it still exists today and opened in August of 1984. Twenty-one patients were moved from King’s Daughters to the new hospital by four ambulances. Agnes Pond, 84, was the first patient to move in.
Room rates were set at $9 for a bed ward room, $12 for two-bed ward room and $15 for a private room, according to history provided. In June, the hospital board announced the first doctors to practice in the hospital: Dr. L. A. Utterback, Dr. Royer, Dr. Gustafsen, Dr. Siegel and Dr. Royer.
The first baby to be born in the new hospital was Mary Margaret King, daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Gerald King of Perry.
Once the new hospital was built, King’s Daughter’s hospital was purchased by the Lutheran Association and turned into an elderly care facility now known as the Perry Lutheran Home.
The Lutheran Home expanded, and in 1978 the original King’s Daughters Hospital building was demolished.
Long-term memories, current work
Medial service in many forms has continued to grow and change over those 100 years.
Hospital employees revenue cycle manager Deb Sheeder, emergency room nurse Barb Welch and purchasing technician Teresa Mulder — each with more than 30 years of employment at the hospital — shared their thoughts on how the hospital and its services have changed over the years.
Joining the women in the conversation are Clinical Director Donna Vandehaar, who has worked at the hospital for nine years, and Chief Financial Officer Sandra Christensen, who has been at the hospital for 16 years.
Technology takes over
“Technology has changed tremendously,” Sheeder says. “Technology has affected claims, doctor’s notes, the labs, transcriptionists, doctors, radiologists and more.”
Nurses and doctors often take notes on computers rather than on notepads or what was once thought of as a typical chart. Professionals who once transcribed medical notes are now really editors. That’s because the dictated notes from doctors and nurses are transcribed by computers as they read or say the notes into the computer.
“We’ve been doing claims electronically for the last 10 years,” Sheeder says. “What we are doing is different, but it isn’t particularly easier. There weren’t as many staff members as there are now, and more outpatient billing is taking place.”
Mulder says she has seen many technology changes as well.
“It used to be that all the purchasing of supplies was done by handwritten notes. We also had to keep track of everything by hand. Now, everything is ordered and tracked by computer,” she says.
Everything for the hospital, except for food in for the kitchen, goes through Mulder’s office.
Medical technology and medical changes
Technology and advancements in medicine have changed the hospital experience dramatically. Welch talks about some simpler changes, such as the manual blood pressure cuff and old mercury thermometers. Now blood pressure is taken with a digital blood pressure cuff, and the thermometers are LED.
Temperatures are still sometimes taken by mouth, but more often a temperature-reading digital device is swiped across the forehead or placed in the ear.
Welch also talked about the charting and how much more quickly medical information is made available to nurses and doctors in the emergency room. However, the computer charting is not yet done in the emergency room, which is more focused on the immediate problem.
“There is a learning curve, not only for us, but for patients as well,” Welch says. “Everyone should have a medicine list available when they see a doctor, or even handy in case of an emergency.”
“It does seem that sometimes working on a computer while working with a patient may seem impersonal to people, but they also get used to it,” Welch says.
Hospital stays drop in number and length
Welch noted that patient recovery and medical practice has changed dramatically. Vandehaar agreed. For example, cataract surgery meant a one-week stay in the hospital with the patient flat on his or her back, with their head held still by sand bags, she says. Now, cataract surgery is done on an out-patient basis with the patient going home in a couple hours.
It used to be that doctors had to be called into the hospital when a patient was brought to the emergency room.
“Now our local doctors take turns being on site 24-7 during the week, and we have an emergency room service that provides weekend emergency room physicians,” Welch says.
Having an ER doctor on site is so much better for the patient.
“Sometimes (a doctor) coming from just three blocks away wasn’t quick enough,” she says.
Focus turns to patient experience
A big turn to outpatient services and specialty clinics continues, as the number of hospital stays decreases. While the King’s Daughters Hospital had 28 beds, today there are just five more.
Surgeries are less invasive than they used to be, in part because of technology and in part because of what doctors have learned about recovery, Vandehaar explains. She oversees the nursing staff, as well as the laboratory, radiology, pharmacy and more.
She also noted that what qualifies a person to be hospitalized and how long a person can stay has changed.
“People do get better faster in their own surroundings,” Vandehaar says.
Christensen emphasizes how care has become more patient-focused.
“It used to be we didn’t talk about patient satisfaction or quality of experience at all,” she says.
Along with that is the growing transparency of the medical field.
“We give patients the costs of what they are going to have done before they ever have it done,” she says. “The industry as a whole is becoming more transparent.”
Now, she says, patient satisfaction scores of hospitals are put out to the public.
The hospital currently has more than 20 specialty clinics, and hospital staff expects that to grow.
Strong balance sheet
Christensen notes that the hospital has historically had strong balance sheets and currently has no outstanding debt.
VandeHaar says she sees continued growth in community involvement and education. For example, there is a group of people who gather at the hospital to do stretches, walk and hear health news and information.
“Community education is growing, and I believe that growth will continue,” she says.
Support in the community has been strong and continues today through the Dallas County Hospital Foundation created in 1954. According to the DCH website, the Foundation was created to help the hospital meet the needs of all of the area people through quality health care. The Foundation seeks gifts from individuals, families, corporations and service organizations and uses them to assist the hospital in treating people who can’t afford medical treatment, and to help the hospital purchase needed equipment.