The early 1950s saw major changes in the health care industry. Advancements in medicines, treatments, and surgical techniques radically changed the designs of hospitals. The rise of labor unions resulted in more people having health insurance, which changed how hospitals operated. Increased government regulations further complicated the operation of a hospital. Because of these factors, Drs. Burley and Bishop, doctors from the surrounding communities, leading citizens, and community leaders gathered to discuss the possibility of funding the construction and operation of a hospital for the communities of Almont, Capac, Dryden, Imlay City, Romeo, Armada, Allenton, Berville and Leonard.
Beginning in late 1951, a number of citizens met to discuss the need for a community hospital and the means of funding and constructing the facility. Throughout 1952, a number of meetings were held to discuss the process of establishing a community hospital in the area. In November and December of 1952, a post card survey was conducted throughout the area, not just in Almont.
On January 13, 1953 a meeting of about 30 people from Romeo and Almont occurred at the Almont High School. The purpose of the meeting was to create a committee to incorporate an organization to permit fundraising and construction of the community hospital. Almost immediately after the formal organization of the “Community Hospital Association,” fundraising efforts began.
The rest of 1953 was a frustrating time for the association. Groups within the association had different visions, goals, and expectations and very little got done. Finally on February 2, 1954, a meeting was held to clear the air and a permanent Board of Directors was elected for the newly created Community Hospital Foundation, Inc. Chosen to the board were Leon T. Bishop, Almont; Dr. Newlin, Romeo; Dr. Hannum, Washington; Willard Bird, Romeo; David Ross, Leonard; James D. Ligon, Allenton; Mrs. Claudia O’Conner, Armada; Mrs. Edmund Anderson, Romeo; James Morrice, Imlay City; and Howard Smith, Capac. Leon T. Bishop was selected as chairman.
The group hired the firm of Martz and Lunde to conduct a survey to determine the amount of money available and the area from which funds could be drawn. Their report indicated that there was not sufficient disposable income available within the target area to fund the hospital. This advice was ignored and the association moved ahead and proved Martz and Lunde to be wrong.
By November, the possible sites for the hospital had been reduced to two locations. Both of these sites had been surveyed and deemed acceptable. The first site was offered by Dr. G. Clare Bishop and was located just outside the Village of Almont. The second site was offered by W. Ross Lawrence and was located on the east side of Van Dyke about a quarter mile south of Bordman Road. The site committee selected the site offered by W. Ross Lawrence.
Additionally, a large number of doctors had shown an interest in the association’s progress. These doctors were to meet at Dr. Newlin’s residence on November 17.
Conflicts within the organization again created delays. It wasn’t until late September 1955, that details of the fundraising campaign had been determined. The campaign to raise $350,000 would be in three phases: educational, solicitation drive, and public drive.
A final report dinner was held at the Romeo Methodist Church at 7:30 p.m. on December 15, 1955. At that dinner the committee reported that the goal had been reached and surpassed— $353,095. Because of a fire in the committee’s offices a number of people had not been contacted, and the Executive Committee decided to continue the campaign until January 31, 1956. The additional funds would be used to make the hospital better and larger. They also announced that all donations of $100 or more would be recognized on a “Founding Donors” plaque at the hospital once it was completed.
Over the next 18 months, architectural plans were completed and approved, requests for quotes issued, and contracts for the construction approved. Ground-breaking ceremonies for the 32-bed hospital were held on June 16, 1957. Dr. David H. Burley, Michigan’s oldest practicing physician who was 94 years old at the time, turned the first shovel of dirt for the construction project.
Construction took just over 16 months and was completed by October 1958. At a total cost of $765,235.65, what had only been a dream was now a reality. A dream which many experts said could and would not happen. Only $92,000 of that over $765,000 came from federal grant monies, the rest came from local donations and fundraising.
Dr. G. Clare Bishop—rated among the top 10 surgeons in Michigan—oversaw the design and construction of the hospital’s surgery and recovery rooms. Dr. David H. Burley endowed the construction of the nursery, in recognition of the more than 5,000 babies he had delivered in Almont since beginning practice in 1893.
On October 28, 1958, before a crowd of over 1,000 people, Dr. David H. Burley cut the ribbon to open the hospital. The actual operational opening date for the hospital was January 5, 1959.
The first patient was Leah West of Metamora. The first baby was Phillip Allen Powers, son of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Powers of Armada, who was born January 6, 1959. Local merchants showered little Phillip with gifts for being the first baby born at the hospital. The first hospital administrator was Miss Laurette Paul who was hired in June 1959. She was followed by James Crary who served for nine years, James Harrell who served almost four years, and Kenneth Good took over in May of 1973 and served until the hospital was sold.
Dr. G. Clare Bishop was the Chief of Staff and Chief Surgeon.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.