By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN When St. Mary’s Hospital and Home became a reality 50 years ago, it was a historical and proud moment for the town of Winsted.
The facility was one of the first of its kind in the state to combine a home for seniors and a hospital offering quality care for both the sick and the elderly.
“The plans that they had at that time, in 1960, were truly visionary,” St. Mary’s Care Center Administrator/CEO Andy Opsahl said. “They even included cottages on the campus for seniors to live, providing a continuum of care, and it was all made possible by the community.”
To celebrate its golden anniversary, St. Mary’s Care Center has planned an open house and lunch, Saturday, June 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The menu includes pork sandwiches, chips, pickles, cake, and kegs of rootbeer.
The open house will give the community the opportunity to take a look at the many changes that have been happening to St. Mary’s.
There will be a slide presentation that outlines where St. Mary’s has been and where it is right now.
Although St. Mary’s Hospital has been closed for more than 20 years, St. Mary’s Care Center continues to provide health care to fit the needs of today’s general population.
“We still have that continuum; it just has different names,” Opsahl said.
With the rising cost of hospital services, the care center is taking on many of what were once routine hospital procedures and therapy, and assisted living has replaced the older version of the nursing home.
When St. Mary’s Home first opened in 1960, Helen Guggemos of Winsted described it as a retirement home where most residents were able to care for themselves.
“Fifty years ago, the rules were so different and admission to a nursing home was much easier,” Guggemos said.
Most of the residents living at the nursing home were ambulatory, she said, and “If your spouse was ill and had to be in a nursing home, they were able to accept you as a resident, too.”
She compared it to walking into Linden Wood Apartments now.
There isn’t too much Guggemos doesn’t know about the many changes that have occurred at St. Mary’s, having worked there for almost 40 years.
She began in 1960, as a registered nurse. In 1973, she was promoted to director of nursing in both the hospital and the home. From 1982 to 1986, she served as director of patient care services at both the hospital and the home. She was director of operations in 1989, before the hospital closed, and was St. Mary’s Care Center administrator from 1991, until she retired in 1998.
“The whole concept of having a hospital and nursing home was forward thinking,” Guggemos said. “The idea was that the nursing home would give constant revenue to help with the ups and downs of the hospital,” Guggemos said.
The idea to build a hospital in Winsted began at a Winsted Civic and Commerce meeting in 1956.
Soon after a committee was appointed to look into a hospital, the idea of adding a nursing home became part of the project’s objective.
It was through the enthusiasm and dedication of a number of community leaders that financial support for the $1,250,000 hospital and home was attained.
Getting the Benedictines of St. Paul Priory to agree to operate the hospital and home Dec. 1, 1956, was a major part of making the project successful.
The Benedictine nuns did research, touring other hospitals and homes in the state, to get ideas for Winsted’s. They also met with the architects on a number of occasions, going over the plans for construction.
In the summer of 1957, 13 acres of land were purchased from Martin Hertzog, of which Hertzog donated half of the value of the property.
A groundbreaking took place October 1958, and St. Mary’s Hospital and Home opened Monday, May 2, 1960.
When the facility first opened, the hospital capacity was 25 beds, and the home had room for 40 residents.
The hospital included an emergency operating room, a regular operating room, central sterilizing and supply room, x-ray, and laboratory suites, doctors and nurses’ lounges, and an obstetrical suite.
“There were 27 beds, plus pediatrics at the hospital when I came in 1961, and we were busy,” Alvina Fiecke of Winsted said. “We had patients in the halls and a pediatric crib in the med room because we had so many patients.”
Fiecke was hired as head nurse at St. Mary’s by Mother Marcelline, a Benedictine nun who was prioress of St. Paul’s Priory at the time.
Mother Marcelline had gotten Fiecke’s name from two of Fiecke’s aunts, who were Benedictine nuns, also at the priory, and eventually talked Fiecke into coming to Winsted’s St. Mary’s.
Before coming to Winsted, Fiecke, currently a volunteer at St. Mary’s Care Center, had been working at the University of Minnesota Hospital, where she had worked for six years. Five of those years she worked as head nurse.
“I had worked with all of these heart surgeons and the doctor who did the first heart transplant. They were all residents when I was at the U.”
“It was quite a challenge to come here and work as head nurse at St. Mary’s,” Fiecke said. “I was working surgery there (the university) and I came here and it was emergency, OB, pediatrics, and everything.”
Fiecke recalls more than 17 nuns who ran the hospital. In addition, there were excellent doctors, nurses, and aides, and “everyone was just great to work with.”
When St. Mary’s Home first opened, there was room for 40 residents. It was in a section of the upper level on the east side of the facility.
On the lower level, which is now the center’s home for residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s, there was a laundry area, therapy, and lots of storage space, Guggemos recalls.
“There was also a suite for the chaplin, who had two rooms at the nursing home; and the sisters lived in the wing facing the adult training center, where the chapel lounge is now,” Guggemos added.
There were several reasons St. Mary’s was considered special from the beginning, according to Guggemos.
One reason was the staff.
“I thought we had an amazing staff. Some of them are still there. Very, very dedicated people,” Guggemos said.
Another thing that made St. Mary’s special was the opportunity the residents had to attend religious services offered by different religions.
Even the location of the facility was an asset, according to Guggemos, because it meant family members didn’t have as far to go and could visit more often.
In 1978, the complex was purchased by Health Central of Minneapolis.
“That was done because the sisters couldn’t fill anymore of the major positions (at St. Mary’s) that they had. There were just a few sisters, and some of them worked in the nursing home,” Guggemos said.
While Guggemos was director, in charge of both the acute and long-term care, sometime in the ‘80s, she said admission criterias and expectations were needed to justify placement and reimbursement for individuals.
Residents had to be evaluated for their physical and emotional needs.
“They (government) determined how much the facility was going to get paid to take care of an individual,” Guggemos said.
By the late ‘80s, the hospital business was declining, while St. Mary’s Home had increased to 95 long-term care beds.
Guggemos talked about the time just before the hospital closed in 1989.
“We struggled so much,” Guggemos said. “We were struggling because we weren’t having enough acute care patients at the hospital and the doctor couldn’t send just anyone to the hospital anymore.
“People wanted the best of care when they got hurt and we didn’t have all of the bells and whistles that the radiology department did in the bigger hospitals, like say, Waconia, so we triaged them here and sent them out to another hospital.”
It was something that happened to many of the small-town hospitals at that time, according to Guggemos.
“One thing I am so grateful about was that health care workers (at St. Mary’s when the hospital closed) were so needed during that time that all of the staff were able to get jobs right away,” Guggemos said.
There was constant change being made to the nursing home during the time Guggemos was in charge, as well as changes she sees happening today.
Many of the changes are in the kind of space provided, with upgrades to technical advancement in equipment to provide for the needs of the time.
“We knew the nursing home would evolve. We knew it had to evolve because it was so important to have rehabilitation for many residents and it’s why they have a big therapy department right now,” Guggemos said.
“People are thinking outside of the box providing new ways to provide services at a lesser cost.”
Guggemos added, “I just think Andy (Opsahl) is doing a wonderful job and he is a very sharp businessman, who is looking at different ways to help keep the nursing home up to speed and make it viable.”
Currently, at St. Mary’s Care Center, there are 70 beds, with four of them for short-term stay rehabilitation. The lower level, designated for people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, is called the Garden Level and is home to 25 residents.
Major renovations to the infrastructure, as well as rearranging the building’s floor plan to better serve the needs of the resident population took place in 2008.
The relocation of the physical therapy area was part of the renovation changes made to the care center, with the addition of new ceiling track systems to help patients support themselves during therapy sessions.
The center has also added eight new private resident rooms, four of them with private baths.
Besides renovations, modifications to the residents’ routines allowing them to sleep longer in the morning and wake up on their own have had a positive effect on staff and residents.
The center’s day begins at 8:30 a.m. with a calmer environment. Residents are offered six meals during the day, as late as midnight for the individual that likes to stay up later.
Another improvement was incorporating electronic charting, called Point of Care documentation, to record resident information. The data is entered into a computer in a timely manner, making it easy to read, and doctors can key into it and even work from their homes.
St. Mary’s Care Center has received numerous grants in just the last three years, which has allowed it to upgrade its equipment.
A new call-light system, equipment used for therapy, and 30 ceiling lifts are just some of the new additions to St. Mary’s.
“We are way ahead of the industry,” Director of Nursing April Anderson said. “We give tours to other nursing homes (in Minnesota) coming to look at our equipment because it is state-of-the-art.”
The upgrades and renovations have made it a “wonderful” place for employees, like trained medication aid Mary Ann Baumann, to work.
Baumann has worked at St. Mary’s for 45 years, beginning her career in the dietary department when she was still in high school.
“I love St. Mary’s. It is such a great place work,” Baumann said.
“I go to work and feel that I am part of something special. Many of the residents are here for years and they become part of the family and they become part of your life,” Baumann said.
“I have such a good feeling at the end of the day when I leave.”
When Baumann first began working at St. Mary’s, she remembers the nursing home being used by some residents as a place to retire.
“We never used to have people with feeding trachs or IVs which is common now,” Baumann said.
It’s the whole person Baumann sees taken care of through St. Mary’s health care system. “There is speech therapy and occupational therpay, and religious services, and family resources like social services available. The nursing home takes care of the whole person, both mind and soul,” Baumann said.