AFTER A CENTURY, HOSPITAL FINDS ITS FOOTING
OBERLIN — If you needed an operation in the 1800s or early 1900s, your doctor put you on a streetcar and took you to a hospital in Cleveland.
Or you took your chance in what became known as “kitchen-table surgeries,” said Dr. W. Jeanne McKibben.
At that time, there was just one other hospital in Lorain County — St. Joseph’s in Lorain. And that’s why prominent Oberlin residents went door-to-door seeking $5 a person to start their own hospital 100 years ago.
The Oberlin hospital that eventually became Allen Medical Center opened very modestly on Aug. 17, 1907, in a two-story home at 21 S. Cedar St.
McKibben, a retired physician and history buff, said Oberlin was ready for its own hospital, but the move wasn’t sparked by any disaster such as the trolley car accident in Elyria that killed nine, injured about 100 and led to the hospital that became EMH Regional Medical Center.
At first, the Oberlin hospital only had eight beds. Room charges were $10 a week and included board, medicine, dressings and the divided attentions of a nurse.
The community has a lot to be proud of for what happened in the 100 years that followed, according to Dale Preston, president of the Allen Medical Center Foundation and the unofficial Allen historian.
In 1925, Allen Memorial Hospital opened at its current location at 200 W. Lorain St. The long white building with 25 beds still remains and hospital additions were built around it, Preston said.
While some community hospitals have withered and died, Allen Medical Center is flourishing as a 25-bed “critical access” hospital, which operates in conjunction with Community Health Partners in Lorain, Preston said.
At its peak, the hospital had 109 beds, but the hospital fell on hard times in the late 1990s. In 2000, the hospital merged with the Oberlin Clinic to become the Oberlin Medical Center. However, by December of that year, the hospital lost $6 million and nearly closed its doors.
“The headlines were, ‘Hospital in trouble,’” Preston said.
McKibben said things were very grim and the hospital was within one paycheck of closing its doors.
A rescue plan called for the city of Oberlin to donate the land to the hospital and defer utility payments for 18 months while Oberlin College purchased the land and buildings for $2 million, then agreed to lease them back to the hospital for $1 a year through 2075.
As part of the plan, Community Health Partners contracted for five years to manage the hospital operations and guaranteed a $2 million line of credit, while the Allen Medical LMH Foundation provided $2.4 million to cover operating deficits.
McKibben credited Community’s Health Partner’s Ed Oley, now president of Community Regional Medical Center, with changes that improved the bottom line.
“He decided to fire the doctors and we were not happy about that,” said McKibben, who lost her own job and joined a practice with other doctors.
Oley also shut down the obstetrical unit to save money so babies are no longer routinely born at Allen.
While the changes shook everyone up, McKibben credited Oley with making the right decisions.
“It saved our hospital; it really did,” she said.
Oley said he’s glad he is now being hailed as a hero, even though the cuts were initially hard for the Oberlin community. He said the hospital never could have survived without the cash infusion from the hospital’s foundation and Community Health Partners.
“When I took over in December of 2000, we had less than $100,000 in reserves and payroll was $300,000,” Oley said.
The Oberlin community understood changes had to be made, even though some were difficult to accept — such as elimination of obstetrics, he said.
“Many people who live in Oberlin were born there,” Oley said.
Most of the physicians who were cut loose had never run their own practices so Community Health Partners retained a business consultant to assist the doctors. In the end, Oley said all the fired doctors still practiced at the hospital except one who retired and another who joined her husband in another state.
Preston said the hospital now averages 20,000 patients a year, thanks in part to a highly-rated emergency room and a $4.6 million surgery center that opened in 2005.
“By far, most patient care is done on an outpatient basis,” Preston said. “This place is hopping.”
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
100th Birthday Party for Oberlin’s hospital
Where: Allen Medical Center, 200 W. Lorain St.
When: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday
Attractions: You can write a note for a time capsule to be opened in 2057. There will also be balloons, face painting, food, cake and give-aways, including a drawing for a plasma TV.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ALLEN MEDICAL CENTER
A surgery team operates in the Oberlin hospital's early days.