By John Frank Post
Although Coryell’s first county hospital wasn’t built until the early 1940s, its roots extended back into 1936 when the brother medical team of Dr. Kermit Jones and Dr. Dean Jones converted a two-story residence at the corner of Leon and Fennimore Streets in Gatesville into a small hospital. It was named Milton Powell Memorial Hospital in honor of the late son of Mrs. John Powell. Mrs. Powell owned the home and was the chief benefactress of the Jones venture.
Milton Powell Memorial Hospital had 11 beds in nine rooms (including delivery and maternity rooms), an x-ray center, operating room, doctors’ offices and a reception room.
In those heart-of-the-Depression years, “patients were plentiful but money was scarce,” Dr. Kermit Jones recalled. “We soon found out that chickens, eggs, produce, cows and hogs were not a good substitute for cash. In that time health and hospitalization insurance, Medicare and Medicaid were unknown...
“In 1939, due to financial problems, we had to close our doors. I like to think that our effort was not a complete failure, in that it instilled in the minds of the people of this community the need for a county hospital.”
In early 1940, when the county’s population totaled something over 20,000 (with about 3,250 of that number residing in Gatesville), a petition calling for a countywide election on a hospital proposal was circulated. It drew the signatures of more than a thousand qualified voters—well above the ten percent of the county’s total number of qualified voters required for presentation to the county commissioners’ court.
On May 3, 1940, the petition asking that an election be held to determine whether the county should build a hospital was handed to the commissioners. They ordered that such an election be held three weeks later—on May 25, 1940. Despite the short time afforded for hospital partisans to carry out an affirmative campaign, the results of that voting were 814 for, 461 against. At that time, Coryell County had 33 voting precincts and the proposal carried in 32 of them, with the Jonesboro precinct splitting at 5-5. In Gatesville the tally was 454 for, only 43 against.
The formal question on that 1940 ballot was whether Coryell County should issue bonds for $30,000 bearing interest at the rate of not more than three percent to build a county hospital. Those bonds were issued on July 8, 1940.
On October 14, 1940, the commissioners’ court appointed a committee “to gather data on the construction of and location of a hospital building.” The panel was headed by L. M. Stinnett, a Gatesville attorney, and its members came from nearly every point in the county. They were S. E. Conner, Mrs. Glenn Perryman, Leslie Thompson, W. L. Brown, Cecil Graham, Ernest Gohlke, B. A. Morgan and A. C. Schloeman.
Anxious to have the hospital located within Gatesville’s city limits, the city council offered the county a cash consideration of $2,750 plus free water and sewer service for three years should a site in Gatesville be chosen. The commissioners quickly accepted the city’s offer and chose a site at the corner of Lutterloh Avenue and Saunders Street for the building. The tract cost the county $4, 080.
Designed by architects Brooks Pierson of Waco and L. S. Secrest of Gatesville, a 34-bed hospital built of native Coryell County limestone and primarily with Works Progress Administration (WPA) labor was constructed and equipped in two years. Total cost: around $60,000.
The public was invited to inspect the new hospital during an open house on Nov. 21-22, 1942. In reminiscing in later years, Dr. Kermit Jones credited three men as instrumental in securing the new hospital: County Judge Floyd Zeigler, Dr. John Thomas Brown and Dr. E. E. Lowrey. Dr. Lowrey was then Gatesville’s youngest physician.
County commissioners adopted a tax rate of seven cents per $100 valuation for hospital purposes. This tax was reduced to five cents in 1958, then abolished altogether in 1964.
Crockett Brown was admitted as the hospital’s first patient on Dec. 8, 1942, and underwent surgery performed successfully by Dr. Brown.
Serving on the board of managers when the hospital opened were Dr. Brown, Mrs. Glenn Perryman of Harmon, R. M. Holder of Turnersville, J. C. McKelvain of Oglesby, Bush Kearney of Leon Junction and Pat Holt of Gatesville.
The hospital’s first administrator was Earl Nesbitt, retired superintendent of the Gatesville State School for Boys. He resigned on April 1, 1943, telling the board that “I believe the hospital has a bright future but, as conditions now exist, there is no way for me to earn the salary I’m getting.” It’s a safe bet that such a remark has never been heard in hospital circles since.
Mr. Nesbitt was succeeded for short periods by S. L. Bellamy and Mrs. Anyce Wallace. It was still 1943 when Mrs. Lucile Brown, a Gatesville businesswoman, took over as the hospital’s business manager.
In July, 1943, Coryell Memorial Hospital gained recognition in the American Medical Association Register of Hospitals. It was announced that during the hospital’s first seven months of operation 1,006 patients were admitted, 63 major and 103 minor operations performed, and 117 babies born. Similar statistics marked the hospital’s first decade.
In July, 1951, a nurses’ home was constructed across Lutterloh Avenue from the hospital. Sixteen nurses moved into the new home. It was built by Gatesville Contractor Fred Smith at a cost of $44,310. The county paid cash, with money coming from the hospital fund and the county’s permanent improvement fund. Five years later the county leased the nurses’ home to Miss Mary Oldham for operation as “a convalescent and old-age rest home.” Since 1976 this building has housed the Senior Center.
In mid-1953, year-round air conditioning was installed in the hospital at a cost of $15,500, with $5,000 of that amount being contributed by Bain Allen of Gatesville. In 1967 this system was supplanted by a new air conditioning system costing $24,000 and featuring individual temperature controls in each room.
At the time of Mr. Allen’s death in 1964, it was estimated that he had given more than $35,000 to the hospital for equipment and furnishings, in addition to setting up a $15,000 trust fund with the income to be used to buy hospital equipment.
In 1953 the hospital instituted a School of Vocational Nursing, which was operated with notable success for several years. Many of those completing this school joined the CMH nursing staff.
In 1954 W. S. Nichols, a former school teacher, was administrator of the hospital, having succeeded Mrs. Brown. That same year a 50x175 foot lot on Saunders Street adjoining hospital property was purchased by the county for $4,500 to provide additional parking space for the hospital.
In March, 1955, the county paid $8,000 to retire the last remaining bonds from the $30,000 issuance made in 1942 to build the hospital. This meant the debt was paid off four years ahead of schedule.
In June, 1955, Mr. Nichols accepted a position with Santa Fe Hospital in Temple and John Gilmer was named the new CMH administrator. Mr. Gilmer resigned as Coryell County’s tax assessor-collector to accept the hospital post.
In 1957 portions of the hospital plant were enlarged and a new wing added to house 11 patient rooms, two emergency operating rooms, a kitchen and dining room, making it a 46-bed hospital. The cost was $80,000 and the county had to issue only $12,000 in time warrants to complete payment.
In 1962 the size of the hospital lobby was doubled by enclosing in glass the building’s front porch.
It was in May, 1966, that Coryell’s hospital was fully approved for treating Medicare patients under the federal government’s new program that was to begin in July, but two weeks earlier hospital officials had been notified that CMH would not be Medicare-approved because of alleged discrimination against African- American patients. The charge was made on the basis of the comparatively small number of African-American patients treated in the local hospital.
When the initial CMH report was run through government computers, Gatesville’s population of approximately 5,000 was used as the base figure. Since the town’s African-American population was estimated at 500, or ten percent of the total, federal authorities figured that the ratio of African-American patients should run about the same (or ten percent).
In an explanatory letter to the Health, Education and Welfare Department, Mr. Gilmer pointed out that the county-owned hospital served an area with an estimated population of 30,000 and that African-Americans comprised less than two percent of that population. He declared that CMH had always been operated without discrimination and invited an investigation. In less than a week, an HEW representative telephoned Mr. Gilmer that the matter had been “straightened out” and that the Coryell hospital had been given full approval.
In October, 1966, Scott’s Funeral Home, which for years had provided ambulance service for this area, shut down its ambulance operations because of accelerated costs imposed by federal wage and hour regulations. The commissioners’ court immediately ordered the hospital to furnish around-the-clock ambulance services and, except for a year (from December 1969 to December 1970 when it farmed out the operation to Jamie Erwin), Coryell Memorial has carried out this vital function.
With the number of patients admitted averaging more than 150 a month throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, the commissioners’ court in early 1965 contracted with the Austin architectural firm of Page, Southerland and Page to make a detailed survey of hospital needs in Coryell County. Its findings led the Austin firm to recommend the construction of a new 60-bed general hospital in Gatesville at an estimated cost of $1.2 million and maintenance of the 1942-built hospital plant as a long-term care unit.
The magnitude of this proposal fueled considerable opposition, centered in Copperas Cove where residents maintained they needed a hospital of their own. With Copperas Cove’s proximity to Fort Hood, the town’s population had exploded and it had leaped past Gatesville in size.
In September of 1966, the commissioners’ court scheduled for Nov. 8 a $700,000 bond election to finance construction of a new 60-bed county general hospital. Estimated cost of the proposed hospital was $1.4 million, with the county planning to seek a federal grant under the Hill-Burton program to pay half the cost. In October the commissioners’ court went on record as officially endorsing the bond issue, but that support faded before election day in the face of vehement opposition that hovered over the county like a mushroom cloud.
Voter resistance was reflected in the election returns: 2,313 votes against, only 1,057 votes for. Copperas Cove, casting the largest total vote in that town’s history (up to that date), voted 761 against, only 25 for. The bond proposal was also defeated in every other voting precinct in the county with the exception of Gatesville, where it carried only by the paper-thin margin of 71 votes: 776 for, 705 against.
Never in Coryell history had – or has – a proposed bond issue been so resoundingly rejected. Subsequent events proved it was for the best. After more than two tranquil decades of steady but unspectacular growth free of fiscal shocks, Coryell Memorial was to start experiencing its financial downs as well as ups.
The county hospital which made $25,741 in 1966 and $29,602 in 1967 suffered a wake-up $25,104 loss in 1968. The hospital got back into the black in 1969, but only by $13,469. Such returns would have made retiring a hefty bond issue too mountainous a climb.
In December, 1969, the commissioners’ court was advised to forego any issuance of time warrants for hospital purposes, as County Auditor Newlon Sanford reported the hospital was getting just enough funds to maintain day-to-day operations. Mr. Sanford said the cash shortage was caused by a backlog of Medicare accounts, pointing out that Medicare “owed” the hospital more than $50,000.
In early 1970 the board of trustees voted a $7 across-the-board increase in hospital room rates, and this resulted in a $33, 563 profit for the year.
Some persistent hospital needs demanded resolution, and in 1970-71 there was enlargement and modernization of the surgical, x-ray and obstetrics quarters and the kitchen facilities, plus addition of three private patient rooms and one semi-private room. K. A. Sparks of Hamilton was contractor for the project, which was completed at a cost of $85,000 and financed by time warrants. In 1971 the Gatesville Jaycees raised $17,000 to purchase the hospital’s first heart monitor.
When Coryell Memorial Hospital celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1972, Administrator Gilmer said that 50,687 patients had been admitted since the 1942 opening, an average of nearly 1,700 a year.
In mid-1972 the hospital found itself neck-deep in financial backwaters again and the county “loaned” the hospital $10,000 to meet some of its obligations. In March, 1973, the hospital received some federal revenue sharing money and the county called for repayment of the loan. In 1973-74 the county made appropriations of $30,000 and $50,000 to CMH from the revenue-sharing grants from the federal government.
In January, 1973, Lehman Snyder was named the hospital’s assistant administrator with the assignment of upgrading hospital record-keeping and collecting past-due accounts. Mr. Gilmer retired a short time later and Mr. Snyder was made administrator.
It was in 1973 that the ogre of needed improvements to enable the CMH plant to meet state and federal regulations charged to the forefront. This was an issue that had been simmering for some time. The hospital board was told it would require an outlay of $50,000 or more to make plant improvements needed to pass an upcoming Life Safety Code inspection. The principal items: installation of an overhead sprinkler system for fire protection and replacement of the hospital’s interior hollow-core doors with solid, fire-resistant doors. There were strong indications that the hospital’s corridors would have to be widened. “Our hospital no longer meets federal standards under the Medicare program,” noted Dr O. W. Lowrey, CMH board chairman. “We are also in danger of losing state funds.”
In June 1973, the hospital board contracted with Hospital Development Corporation of Kansas City to conduct a feasibility study for a new hospital plant. Three months later HDC reported that the findings of its survey indicated the need for a new 53-bed hospital and at least two additional physicians in Gatesville. The report emphasized that a new hospital was a must for attracting new doctors.
For several years the hospital had been operating with a staff of five physicians which in 1972-73 was averaging 381 hospital admissions per doctor per year. All five of these doctors were “home-grown”: Dr John T. Brown, Dr. Kermit Jones, Dr. E.E. Lowrey, Dr. O. W. Lowrey and Dr William F. Floyd.
Spurred by the Hospital Development Corporation findings, a group of 55 civic leaders from Gatesville, Oglesby and Evant met in Gatesville in December 1973 and urged that an all-out effort be made for a new hospital in Gatesville. Realizing that a bond issue to build a hospital would never pass, the group made its recommendation with the announced realization that $750,000 to $1,000,000 in contributions would probably be required. Included was a recommendation that a committee be named to formulate an educational campaign for the project.
Sensing that “the iron was hot” and that the need for action was imperative, hospital leaders decided to conduct a fund-raising drive simultaneously with an educational campaign. They received timely advice concerning such an effort from Bill Moreland, a Coryell County native who was vice president of The Methodist Hospital in Houston and who contributed, free will, invaluable advisory services to the Coryell effort.
Adopted were plans for a drive to raise at least $500,000. Needed was a knowledgeable businessman with a take-charge temperament to head the campaign. That man was found in Erle Powell, co-owner and general manager of Powell Supply Co., one of the town’s major business firms.
It took two months of pressurized pleading – chiefly by Dr. O. W. Lowrey, a close friend of Mr. Powell since their childhood days – to convince him to chair the campaign.
At this time, the hospital had 78 employees with an annual payroll of $360,000.
In April, 1974, the Coryell Memorial Hospital $500,000 Campaign was launched. Ollie Little, Charles Zeigler and Dr. E. E. Lowrey were appointed as a building committee, and named to a campaign advisory committee were Dr. Kermit Jones, Mrs. Van Necessary, Alton Dalton, C. D. Boyer, David Barnard, Charles Wise, Jack Elam, F. W. (Jack) Straw, Creston Brazzil, Mrs. Sara Lane Dyche, Don Edwards, Ernest Esch, Dr. William F. Floyd, Tom Kennedy, Marshall King, Dr. E. E. Lowrey, Dr. O. W. Lowrey, Robert M. Scott and Lehman Snyder. Mrs. Waldean Cummings was chosen as campaign secretary.
Mr. Wise was selected to head a major gifts division, Mrs. Barbara Brown a women’s division, and L. C. McKamie a retired persons division. Mrs. Dyche was in charge of a sub-committee to contact ex-residents of Coryell County for gifts.
With $323,491 in cash and pledges already secured, chiefly through the formidable fund-raising skills of Mr. Wise and his major gifts division, the $500,000 Campaign entered its “public phase” on June 27, 1974, with Mr. Straw as chairman of this segment of the push.
Urgency was emphasized in the concerted call for contributions, with Mr. Powell repeating this refrain over and over: “Realistically we are facing this issue: a new hospital or no hospital.”
And no one was more in tensely dedicated to securing a new hospital than Dr. O. W. Lowrey, who penned a series of articles in The Gatesville Messenger aimed at spurring stepped-up contributions.
The response exceeded all expectations. By Aug. 1, 1974, the total in cash and pledges had reached $521,980 . . . so the sights were raised to $600,000 or $700,000. Before the campaign was concluded in 1975, contributions totaled $662,536.
Cost of carrying out the campaign was only $3,300 as nearly all the workers paid their own expenses. Campaign committee members enjoyed “free lunches” at their monthly meetings: spaghetti meals prepared and served gratis by Mrs. Mary Powell.
The Gatesville Chamber of Commerce awarded Mr. Powell its Man of the Year for 1975 accolade for his work as head of the hospital campaign. At the banquet at which the award was made, Dr. O. W. Lowrey told the appreciative crowd that “Erle’s dedication and expertise were the principal reasons for the success of the drive.”
In May of 1975, the CMH board of trustees recommended to the county commissioners’ court that a proposal to enter into a contract with Hospital Affiliates to build and manage a new hospital in Gatesville be “fully explored.” Required would be the creation of a hospital authority and removal of the hospital from county control.
Dr. O. W. Lowrey, speaking as CMH board chairman, told the commissioners that “we’ve got to have a new hospital but if we fall to build one soon, we’ll never have it. The prevailing opinion in government is against community hospitals, and government inspectors have given us unholy fits about the present building. It is the consensus of the board that a bond issue to build a hospital won’t pass in this county and we are unable to secure Hill-Burton funds. We must have some type of firm come in here and tell us what to do.”
Hospital Affiliates was a hospital management firm headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. By this time, Bill Moreland had left The Methodist Hospital in Houston to become a vice president of Hospital Affiliates. His recommendation: construction of a 55-bed hospital with an estimated cost of $2 million.
A month later the commissioners voted unanimously in favor of creating an authority to take over Coryell Memorial Hospital and its building needs. The new entity, however, would have no taxing authority.
In announcing the decision, County Judge Douglas Smith explained: “There are a lot of legal questions to be answered and a lot of red tape to be cleared before the hospital authority can be established. But this is the route we have decided upon: create a hospital authority, turn Coryell Memorial Hospital over to it, and get the county out of the hospital business.”
At that time the hospital had a $78,000 debt in the form of outstanding time warrants.
In July, 1975, the county contracted with Hospital Management Corporation of Nashville (a branch of Hospital Affiliates) to take over guidance of the project of building a new hospital in Gatesville. The contract called for HMC to be paid $195,000 for project management (planning, securing financing, and supervising construction and equipping of the new facility) and then to receive seven percent of the gross annual revenue for managing the new hospital once it was opened. The contract was for a period of ten years.
Mr. Moreland was to be HMC’s regional director for the Gatesville project, which was to include recruitment of additional physicians for the hospital staff. Mr. Moreland provided helpful guidance to the hospital trustees before, during and after the hospital was built. . . right up to his sudden death in 1987. A bronze plaque of appreciation bearing Mr. Moreland’s name and placed at the hospital’s main entrance reads: “In appreciation of his invaluable counsel, advice and dedication to the planning and construction of Coryell Memorial Hospital.”
Ever searching for a source of funding, in September 1975 the hospital board applied for a $2,529,000 community facility loan from the Farmers Home Administration to build a 55-bed hospital. The board was informed by state FHA officials that the project “is eligible for such a loan but doesn’t have the priority necessary for further consideration at this time. . . priority for this type loan is given to public entities with taxing authority.”
On October 28, 1975, Coryell’s commissioners’ court officially created the Coryell County Memorial Hospital Authority and appointed that authority’s initial board of trustees: Erle Powell, Dr. O. W. Lowrey, F. W. (Jack) Straw and John F. Post, all of Gatesville, Bennett Maples and George Leonhard of Copperas Cove, Jack Elam of Evant, Alton Dalton of Oglesby and Curtis Watson of Turnersville.
At its first meeting a week later, the board decided to issue revenue bonds to pay at least part of the cost of a new hospital.
Mr. Powell was formally - and unanimously - elected president of the board at its November 14, 1975, meeting and has held that position ever since. Over the years, his dedicated leadership has played a vital—and often pivotal—role in the survival and progress of Coryell Memorial Hospital. He has been a “hands-on” president; every significant decision reached by the board in more than a quarter century bears his mark.
Chosen vice president was Dr. O. W. Lowrey, and he furnished the same high quality leadership in that capacity until his death in 1998. Chosen secretary/treasurer was Mr. Straw. Evidence of his sterling service: he still holds that office.
The 1976 year was a momentous one for Coryell Memorial Hospital. In January the board voted to accept an offer by the Gatesville Industrial Corporation to give ten acres of land fronting on Hwy. 84 West as the site for the new hospital. It was one of three proposed locations; the address is 1507 West Main Street. Memorial Drive, a new street from the highway north to the hospital site, was built by the city at a cost of $16,740.
And in February the Authority’s board gave formal notice to issue $4 million in first mortgage hospital revenue bonds to build and equip a new 55-bed hospital. Mr. Powell and Dr. O. W. Lowrey paid their own expenses on a trip to New York City in company with bond officials to obtain clearance for and an S&P rating for the $4 million issue.
The Gresham and Smith firm of Nashville, Tenn., was chosen to provide architectural services for the project. In April a $1,930,000 contract to construct the new facility was awarded to Pence Construction Co. of Bellaire.
Groundbreaking ceremonies took place April 24, 1976. Wielding shovels at the ground-breaking were Mr. Powell, Mr. Wise, Dr. O. W Lowrey, Mr. Snyder, Dr. Jones, Judge Smith, Gatesville Mayor Creston Brazzil and Gatesville Chamber of Commerce President Bob Miller. Read was a resolution passed by the hospital board expressing appreciation to Mr. Powell for his leadership in the fund-raising effort and the building program. He was praised for “contributing at all times wise and constructive counsel” and the resolution stated that “the unequalled success and the unmatched zeal of the fund raising campaign are in large part attributable to his efforts.”
In August Mr. Snyder resigned as administrator because of “personal reasons;” he was voted a resolution of commendation by the board.
That same month, through Hospital Affiliates, personable 29-year-old Phil Robinson was named the hospital’s administrator. He had been assistant administrator of Doctors Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, and led CMH in its transition to new quarters in commendable style.
In September six Gatesville doctors announced plans to build a $700,000 clinic adjoining the hospital grounds on the north. It opened in May, 1977.
In November, 1976, county commissioners and the hospital board agreed for the Hospital Authority to assume a county indebtedness of $54, 000 in time warrants held by Gatesville banks and attributable to the hospital operation. The county transferred to the Authority the hospital’s accounts receivable, which proved not to be worth all that much (most were uncollectible).
On Feb. 12, 1977, a dedication ceremony and open house were held at an all-new 55-bed Coryell Memorial Hospital covering 40,400 square feet and containing $620,000 worth of modern medical equipment. Mr. Powell noted that the hospital “was built and equipped without an iota of federal or state money. We tried to secure grants, but the only place we were welcomed by the federal government was at the tax window.”
A sign that was erected on the hospital’s highway frontage still tells the story:
CORYELL MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
Community Built - Owned – Supported
A week after the open house, on Feb. 19, twenty-six patients were moved from the old hospital. Mrs. Ted (Cherry) Foote, a former superintendent of nurses for CMH, was the first patient moved. The first baby born at the hospital was David Lance Holden, son of Mr. and Mrs. David Holden of Rt. 1, Jonesboro.
Eight weeks after CMH vacated the premises, the old hospital building became the Gatesville MHMR Center.
In June, 1977, the board approved construction of a brick-and-steel building of 3,600 square feet north of the new hospital to house an autopsy suite, a vocational nursing school classroom, and a maintenance shop and storage area.
The Coryell Memorial Hospital Auxiliary was formed in early 1977, with the Gatesville Garden Club donating $528 to help the Auxiliary get started. Mrs. Margaret Nesbitt was the Auxiliary’s first president. Over the years this ultra-active Auxiliary has consistently provided premium-quality volunteer services to patients and assistance to the hospital staff, as well as raising funds for needed hospital furnishings and equipment. It has won statewide recognition as an exemplary Hospital Auxiliary.
But all was not wine and roses. During 1977 the hospital admitted 1,780 patients but the institution was unable to break out of red ink during its infant years at the new location. For example, it closed fiscal 1979 with a loss of $114,000 despite recording 52 percent occupancy of its 55 beds. Failure of the patient census to reach budgeted levels, reductions in the rates of Medicare and Medicaid payments, failure to increase the number of staff physicians despite intensive recruiting efforts, and a commitment to continually updating the hospital’s medical equipment combined to put tremendous stress on the financial well-being of Coryell Memorial, stress shouldered by the board and a succession of Hospital Affiliates-connected administrators during a frustrating time: William Murphy, Wallace Cooper, Tom McCall and, for a few months in 1986, Phil Robinson again.
A bright spot came in March, 1979 when the hospital received a Certificate of Accreditation from the prestigious Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals, an accreditation it has maintained ever since.
Dr. Steve Norris joined the hospital staff in 1980 as general surgeon and still holds that post today. He served with distinction on the governing board for 15 years and also on several hospital committees for varying terms. For the last four years he has directed the Home Health program. In 1991 Dr. Norris and his wife, Cathy, made a gift of $9, 000 to the hospital – money that went to help pay for a needed surgical instrument.
Coryell Memorial began its Home Health service in May, 1984 and it was to experience some busy years. At the end of 1985, a Licensed Vocational Nursing School operated successfully by CMH for more than a score of years was turned over to Central Texas College.
Throughout 1985 and 1986, board sessions centered on strategic planning as a number of possible directions for the hospital were explored and notice was taken of the pressing necessity of instituting programs to subsidize income from the existing acute care services.
The Coryell Memorial Hospital Foundation, with Mr. Straw as secretary/treasurer, received its charter in 1985. Transferred to the Foundation were funds remaining from the $600, 000-plus raised in the 1974-75 drive. Monetary gifts to the hospital are funneled into this Foundation.
Over the years the CMH Foundation has made interest-free loans to the hospital to help cover operating costs and furnished funds for physician recruitment efforts, including stipends for doctors locating here. Other expenditures have been for architectural fees, LVN programs, a paramedic program, tuition costs and educational assistance for hospital employees and, in 1992, a new ambulance.
Foundation coffers were tapped for $70,000 in 1987 to purchase 23.38 acres of land south and west of hospital property from the Gatesville Industrial Corporation. Located on this land today are The Oaks and The Meadows.
The most successful of the Foundation’s fund-raising efforts was a “tribute dinner” honoring the Lowrey brothers, Drs. E. E. and O. W., on May 21, 1992. This event netted $47,580.
Later in 1992 the Foundation launched its still on-going “Tree of Life Campaign,” which finds the names of those memorialized by donations to the hospital placed on bronze and copper “leaves” on a bronze “tree” in the main lobby of the hospital. In the first few weeks, this effort gained around $20,000 in cash and pledges.
Mr. Straw has reported that Foundation assets totaled $2,409,873.71 as of June 30, 2001.
The hospital’s Welcome Program was inaugurated in 1986 with a couple of patient rooms being re-decorated in a home-like motif for persons seeking private pay personal care. It began with a daily patient census of three, but this quickly mushroomed. The Welcome Program has for several years had an average daily census of 30 or more patients and generates significant revenue for the hospital.
In the mid-1980s, HMOs began to appear on the scene. In April, 1985, the board contracted with the Mid-Texas Health Plan for Coryell Memorial to provide care for Mid-Texas patients. This arrangement proved short-lived.
Acting on advice from knowledgeable health care executives who pointed to affiliation with a larger nearby hospital as a “must” move for Coryell Memorial, Board President Powell extended feelers to hospitals in Waco and to Scott & White Hospital in Temple, which had a successful HMO. Scott & White evinced interest in such an arrangement while Wacoans shrugged and turned away. The result: in November, 1986, Coryell Memorial Hospital terminated its management contract with Hospital Corporation of America and entered into a management pact with Scott & White. Dick Sweeden was named the CMH administrator and Bill Nix the controller. Coryell Memorial became a provider under the Scott & White Health Plan. Shortly afterwards the Gatesville Medical Clinic became the Scott & White Clinic in Gatesville, with all the doctors on the Scott & White payroll.
“Affiliation with Scott and White was the salvation of Coryell Memorial Hospital,” Mr. Powell stoutly maintains.
This new team made changes in the hospital’s financial operations and in other departments, and things picked up all around.
In mid-1987 Mr. Sweeden began spending most of his time in executive duties at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, where he became administrator. He continued, however, to serve the Gatesville hospital as administrator on a part-time basis until January, 1989, when Bert DeBord was named interim administrator. It was in May, 1989 that Matt Maxfield, a rising young star in Scott & White executive ranks, was named CMH administrator. A few months later David Byrom, a Gatesville accountant, was appointed the hospital’s chief financial officer.
In January, 1990, Mr. Powell appointed a “strategic planning task force” for the hospital. Named to the panel were Mr. Straw, Charles Wise, Dr. Tim Maynard, Judy Parthymueller, Terri Schnorrenberg, Charlene Kirkland, Mark Whittenburg and Mr. Maxfield. A proposed retirement center loomed large in this group’s plans.
The year 1991 saw Coryell Memorial Hospital rocked by a staggering public relations hit. It was in January of that year that Dr. Susan Stutes left, leaving only three physicians at Scott and White’s Gatesville clinic—and on the CMH staff—who practiced obstetrics. On August 1, obstetric services at CMH were abruptly discontinued due to the physician shortage and no more babies were to be born there, even though the department had recently been upgraded with the latest in equipment.
A public outcry of protest erupted, with the voiced protests and those appearing in public print bordering on vilification. The board replied with hopes of reinstituting OB services, hopes that were stubbornly nursed until February, 1994 when they were formally abandoned after nearly three years of intensive efforts to recruit OB physicians had drawn a great big blank.
Although 149 babies were delivered at CMH in the 11-month period ended June 1, 1991, OB services were not all that profitable for the hospital. During that period, OB represented only three percent of the hospital’s gross revenue.
In 1991 the Welcome Program was extended to rooms in the 200 hallway, and 1991-92-93 were banner years for the Home Health service. The same period saw an increasing utilization of emergency services, with the number of emergency room visits growing from 300 a month to more than 500 a month.
On Jan. 1, 1992, Coryell Memorial Hospital buildings were made smoke free.
In September, 1993, the hospital contracted with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide EMS transportation for TDCJ’s Gatesville inmates. The two-year contract had an annual capitation amount of $350,000 and proved to be a money-maker for CMH. The hospital purchased a new modular ambulance to provide the service and upgraded the hospital annex on Hwy. 84 to provide quarters for EMS personnel and vehicles. The annex was given to CMH by Scott & White. Although the TDCJ contract was not renewed, the overall result was a needed expansion in CMH ambulance services.
Also in 1993, CMH refinanced its outstanding bonds, leaving it with a bonded indebtedness of $2,030,000 with an interest rate of six percent and a maturity date of 1999.
In January, 1994, Coryell Memorial Hospital opened the Mills County Medical Clinic in Goldthwaite, which was licensed as a rural health clinic. In addition to furnishing the Goldthwaite area with a medical facility, this clinic has proven to be a consistent source of referrals for CMH. A new building to house the clinic, built by the Goldthwaite community to attract health care providers and leased to CMH, was opened in October, 1994 and a Mills County Home Health service was begun in 1995.
July, 1994 saw Coryell Memorial open a costly white elephant: the Gatesville Family Medical Clinic. Also licensed as a rural health clinic, it was started by Coryell Memorial to discourage any other hospital from opening such a facility in Gatesville, among other reasons, and to perhaps ease the burden on the CMH emergency room. Viewed by the public as a charity facility, it failed to draw patients and was finally closed in the summer of 1998 after registering losses of $60,000 to $80,000 annually.
On 1994’s brighter side, Mr. Powell was chosen by Texas Healthcare Trustees of the Texas Hospital Association to receive its Founders’ Award, given to hospital trustees who are leaders in providing quality oversight of health care services. Mr. Powell was praised for “having set a standard of excellence in leadership and service that exemplifies THT’s commitment in the health care field.” In the selection criteria, it was noted that “the nominee’s role in providing board leadership will be measured by the excellence of the institution’s staff and employees and the quality of health care services it provides.”
The award was presented on July 17, 1994, at a THT session in San Antonio attended by most of the CMH trustees and their spouses. As Mr. Powell noted in his acceptance speech, it was an honor for the entire hospital.
The hospital made a little real estate money in 1995-96. CMH purchased the old Lowrey Clinic building on North Lutterloh Avenue in December, 1995 for conversion into quarters for Home Health. In early 1996, however, the building was sold to H-E-B for $150,000, representing a neat profit.
It was during 1995-96 that plans for expansion and renovation of the hospital, plus some independent living apartments, steadily progressed. A $3, 500,000 revenue and refunding bond issue that included redemption of the 1993 bonds was made. Interest rate on the new bonds was 6.65 percent.
It was on April 26, 1996, that a $2,210,310 contract was awarded to Cloud Construction Co. of Temple for a massive expansion project that included more rooms for the Welcome Program, enlarging the radiology department and the medical records, data processing and business offices—plus the start of The Oaks independent living facility with the construction of six apartments with Mrs. Ann Bates as the program administrator.
Added while this building program was underway was a new nurse call system costing $70,000 and a new telephone system also costing $70,000. This building program was completed right on schedule in the latter part of 1997.
At the beginning of this project – in May, 1996 – Mr. Maxfield was promoted to the position of assistant administrator of Scott & White Hospital in Temple. He has continued to be associated with the CMH program in a vital advisory capacity with the board of trustees.
It took only a short time to select Mr. Max field’s successor as CMH administrator. Mr. Byrom, Gatesville born-and-bred, was the natural – almost automatic – choice. In addition to having served as the hospital’s chief financial officer, he was well versed in many facets of the health care field. When he was made administrator in August 1996, Mrs. Carol Jones was named controller.
During this period, Home Health experienced sharp dips in patients served and revenue because of reduced Medicare reimbursement and stricter regulations. The emergency room, however, continued to register an average of 550 to 650 visits per month.
March, 1997 became a memorable month for CMH when its Welcome Program was awarded a grant of $750,000 from the Frank W. Mayborn Foundation. Mrs. Frank Mayborn’s mother, Mrs. Eula P. White, had been a patient in this program and the care and services provided to Mrs. White made an impact on Mrs. Mayborn, which led to the major grant. The program is now known as the Eula P. White Welcome Program.
In 1998 the hospital received a $275,000 bequest from the estate of Mrs. Erine Whitt, another longtime Welcome Program patient. Mrs. Whitt was a retired teacher who had a high regard for the hospital. The hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Center was named for Mrs. Whitt.
In November, 1997, the approved the issuance of $400,000 in 5-year time warrants with a 5.5 percent interest rate to purchase a CT scanner, the addition of which had been urged by Dr. Maynard and other local physicians for some time.
The scanner became operational in mid-1998 and now averages 100 procedures per month.
In the latter part of 1998, the hospital’s radiology room was remodeled and a new mammography unit added at a cost of $135,340. The board continued to take looks at possible expansion of or additions to CMH health care facilities.
In September, 1998, a finance committee made up of three trustees was appointed to study ways and means of obtaining financing for additional projects. This panel is headed by Ronnie Sullins as chairman and includes Mr. Straw and Ken Poston.
The next undertaking was an expansion of The Oaks, financed by the issuance of $2 million in Coryell Memorial Hospital Authority revenue bonds. The project embraced 16 new apartments (eight 1-bedroom apartments, four 2-bedroom and 2-bath apartments and four studio apartments), plus a dining area and other accoutrements. A $1.7 million construction contract was awarded Affiliated Metropolitan Inc. of Houston in January 1999 with an estimated construction time of ten months.
The building work was star-crossed, with the contractors declaring bankruptcy with the project far from completion and the board hiring Baird/Williams of Temple to finally complete the apartments. The apartments were occupied in October 2000, with some $140,000 worth of work still to be done.
Planning for a nursing home, the most ambitious undertaking since the building of the present hospital plant in 1977, began in the spring of 1999. In August of that year CMH obtained a license from the Texas Department of Human Services for 60 Medicaid nursing home beds, and in November the board approved a $5.5 million project for a 90-bed nursing home plus a central dietary facility to serve the hospital, the apartments and the nursing home. The dietary facility has been named in honor of the late Mrs. Vaughan D. Freeman, who made a bequest of $918,503.85 to the hospital, the largest in hospital history. The Freeman gift has been placed in the Coryell Memorial Hospital Foundation.
Another license covering the additional 30 beds in the nursing home is expected to be obtained in the future. At the outset, the board was assured there would be no difficulty in obtaining such a license. Medicaid licensing is not needed for beds occupied by private pay patients in the nursing home.
Plans for the nursing home were drawn by O’Connell, Robertson of Austin, the architects for the 1999 hospital expansion and The Oaks. The name of “The Meadows” was chosen for the nursing home.
In May 2000 the board approved the issuance of $5.5 million of Coryell Memorial Hospital Authority Revenue Bonds for Nursing Home Addition and Central Dietary Facility. The bonds were purchased by Guaranty Bank and Trust Company of Gatesville (a member of the Extraco System), the National Bank of Gatesville and Mills County State Bank of Goldthwaite.
Baird/Williams of Temple was employed to oversee construction of the new facilities, which were completed on schedule at a cost of over $5.5 million.
Also constructed during 2000 were new physical therapy quarters and a 6,000-square-foot storage room for the hospital.
Mrs. Terri Schnorrenberg, who had been associated with the Welcome Program and The Oaks, was appointed administrator of the nursing home. Dr. William Floyd is the medical director.
The state-of-the-art nursing home, which covers 45,000 square feet, has four wings. There are 90 beds, with 61 in general population and 29 in a secure unit for patients requiring special care. There are 54 private rooms with shared baths and 18 semi-private rooms, with six of these in the general area and 12 in the secure unit. There are three nurses’ stations plus a chapel, a residential dining room, family dining room, a beauty salon and activity room.
The Freeman Dietary Center serves the entire CMH complex and includes a new dining area for the staff, guests and the public. It is geared to serve 600 or more daily meals.
In the summer of 2001, the CMH board voted to adopt the name of Coryell Memorial Healthcare System. Keystone is, of course, the 48-bed acute care hospital (with a 4-bed ICU) affording medical care ranging from emergency services to intensive care, day surgery, rehabilitative therapies, 24-hour emergency room that averages 675 visits a month, diagnostic imaging including x-ray, fluoroscopy, mammography, ultra sound, nuclear medicine and a CT scanner, plus a 4-ambulance fleet manned by two shifts of emergency medical technicians.
The continuum of care proved at the sprawling Gatesville site also ranges from The Oaks for independent living to The Welcome for assisted living to The Meadows for long-term care.
While hospital revenue has roller-coastered over its six decades, CMHS has never wavered in providing the community with hospital services and patient care meeting the highest standards… attentive, concerned, quality care that has earned public confidence and respect. For this, much credit goes to dedicated doctors and nurses and to all members of the vital support systems that make up the Coryell Memorial Healthcare System.
*Last updated in 2002