Early attempts to establish a hospital in Rochelle were short-lived. In 1913, A.W. Chandler, M.D., established community healthcare with the opening of Lincoln Hospital, located in an apartment building on 13th Street. The hospital served the area until 1924 when Dr. Louis Petritz purchased it and became the owner/director. He served as director of Lincoln Hospital’s operation for several years but had to close its door due to bankruptcy at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1930.
Rochelle was without local hospital service again until March of 1931, when Mrs. Marie Talcott reopened and operated the Lincoln Hospital once more. With the onset of World War II in 1939, Mrs. Talcott found it increasingly difficult to maintain operation of the hospital and had to once again close its doors and convert it back to apartments in 1942.
The City of Rochelle, under the mayor’s leadership, reopened Lincoln Hospital later in 1942 as Rochelle City Hospital. This time, the hospital was under city management in an effort to facilitate and enhance community healthcare and establish a permanent hospital for the area.
The operation was greatly stabilized and improved under city management. Still, the existing facilities were inadequate and outdated for providing healthcare to the community. During World War II, any construction materials had to be obtained through the Federal Office of Price Administration. Despite many “red tape” delays, the city’s officials and leaders persevered until they finally received approval for a new hospital building. Land for the present hospital site was sold to the City of Rochelle for $1 by Amelia McConaughy, a well-known community leader. Construction on the new hospital began in early 1945.
Due to the population growth in Rochelle and the changes in healthcare needs and technology, the Rochelle City Hospital needed yet another expansion in 1963. Unfortunately, Rochelle City Hospital’s revenues did not often match its expenses so city officials levied a hospital tax upon area citizens to help subsidize the hospital’s operations. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well in the community and was under much debate. Due to the additional burdens on city officials created by this debate, the city council decided to reduce the number of the hospital’s Board of Trustees to five (down from nine). This new board was faced with several immediate concerns:
• A new, considerably larger, up-to-date facility with state-of-the-art medical equipment was desperately needed.
• After the opening of the “new hospital” in 1946, area residents increased their usage of hospital services, thereby increasing demands placed upon the City Clerk. The clerk managed the hospital’s finances and could no longer juggle his regular duties along with those created by the hospital.
• A new system of hospital management was also needed because Rochelle’s government officials needed to be relieved of their duties with the hospital’s operations.
• Since there was so much debate on the hospital tax, a new, more equitable means of financing hospital operations needed to be determined. A 1963 survey sent to the hospital’s patients indicated that more than half the patients were coming in from outside the city limits! These patients were not, in fact, contributing to the support of the hospital’s operation, even though they were using it.
In September 1963, 200 women went house to house getting signatures for petitions to form a hospital taxing district, to include Alto, Ashton & Reynolds Townships in Lee County, as well as all of Dement, Flagg, Lafayette, Lynnville, Pine Rock, White Rock and parts of both Monroe and Scott Townships in Ogle County. This survey also indicated a 30% increase in population from 1950 to 1960 and an increase in laboratory procedures. From 1958 to 1962, X-ray procedures, outpatients and Emergency Room usage had also increased. At the time, there were no full-time doctors staffing the Emergency Room. Instead, all doctors were on a rotating call system to staff the Emergency Room as needed.
The debate over taxing districts grew even more heated than the original hospital tax. Both sides of the issue attempted to show the arguments in support of their perspectives in the local paper, and there were many letters to the editor. Although most people indicated that they didn’t think a new hospital was needed, they were definitely in support of the expansion and hospital improvements. In 1964, the tax district proposal was overwhelmingly defeated.
The hospital still had a problem though. Plans to improve the hospital could not be abandoned, yet the tax district proposal had been rejected and the City of Rochelle wished to be divested of its management of the hospital. The decision to form a private, not-for-profit corporation with community residents as “owner” was suggested. Attorneys and other hospitals were consulted. Representatives from Rockford Memorial Hospital were invited to attend public meetings and explain the function and success of their not-for-profit system of operation.
After much review, the decision was made to establish a private, not-for-profit hospital corporation in Rochelle in 1964. The Rochelle Community Hospital Association was thus formed and became a legal entity on February 26, 1965. The newly formed association developed a Board of Trustees that would unite to work toward one common goal. The Board of Trustees consisted of 33 outstanding community leaders who had “fought” on both sides of the hospital district referendum. They united their talents, energy, and resources to assure the successful operation and viability of this venture, which would be for the common benefit of everyone in the community.
The Rochelle Community Hospital Association went to work to develop solutions. The first was to transfer ownership and management of the Rochelle City Hospital from the city to the association. Since the new association had no funds in its treasury, the city was understandably concerned about the stability of the impending ownership and its ability to provide local citizens with adequate healthcare.
At one meeting, a concerned member of the board casually stated, “I would give $1,000 for a start, but I don’t have my checkbook with me tonight.” Another board member, a banker, picked up a paper napkin and told the other board member, “Here, put your money where your mouth is. Write your check on this, and I will honor it at the bank.” True to his word, the “check” was honored and the deposit made to the Rochelle Community Hospital Association the next day.
Still, city officials requested some guarantee that adequate healthcare and operations of the hospital would be provided. In response, three local citizens took this responsibility upon themselves and personally signed documents underwriting all the hospital’s operating costs for the first three months after the ownership transfer. Obviously, failure was not an option!
On May 1, 1965, the City of Rochelle officially sold the Rochelle City Hospital to the Rochelle Community Hospital Association for $1. The hospital was named Rochelle Community Hospital.
The biggest problem facing this “new” hospital was its need for immediate expansion and improvement. With virtually no money in its treasury other than the three months of guaranteed operating costs, the new not-for-profit corporation needed to raise several million dollars for construction. The 33 members of the board organized a massive community fundraiser, begun in 1966 and continued into 1967, within the originally proposed tax district. They were seeking an astronomical $750,000 in contributions.
“No” was simply an unacceptable answer to the contribution request, since the hospital belonged to everyone and would potentially benefit the entire community. In what might be one of the greatest stories of the outpouring of a united community spirit, the goal was not only met but surpassed! When the fund drive was over, the community had cooperated to make one of the greatest team efforts and raised $1,370,000! Remarkably, 96% of those pledges were made. Local industries contributed 35%, but it was the “little guys” who made the difference. From farmers to attorneys, schoolchildren to doctors… it didn’t matter, all chipped in to make the fund drive successful and get the needed funds.
Despite a number of delays, the new facility was completed on September 15, 1970 and the first patients were admitted to the addition on November 10, 1970… 5-1/2 years after the Rochelle Community Hospital was born!