A New Century Begins for Ivinson Memorial Hospital

When Ivinson Memorial Hospital (IMH) opened one hundred years ago, it was because of a large gift from one person, Edward Ivinson. This local philanthropist’s gift of land and $50,000 amounts to at least $1,180,400 in today’s dollars, according to one estimate. The hospital was constructed on what is today Ivinson Ave., between 10th and 11th Streets.

Ivinson’s wife Jane had died of cancer in 1915 prompting his gift the next year; Laramie then had only a few home “hospitals,” and a county hospital that was really a nursing home for the indigent elderly, whose care was the responsibility of county governments in Wyoming at the time.

When the brick building had reached slightly above ground level, a cornerstone laying ceremony was held in September 1916. Schools were dismissed and a band from a show traveling through town was pressed into service for the grand celebration.

The County Commissioners appointed five members for the first Board of Trustees. They were Jesse Converse, president, H.R. Weston, treasurer (director and cashier, respectively at Edward Ivinson’s First National Bank) and George A. Campbell, secretary (and county assessor). Other trustees were Dwight O. Herrick, rancher and chair of the Albany County Commissioners, and attorney Nellis E. Corthell. They supervised construction, which continued throughout the winter.

Grand opening was to be April 12, 1917. But a local physician jumped the gun, bringing in the first patient, “Aunt Mary” Catherine Erhart, on March 24, 1917, suffering from a severe cold. (She survived the cold, but died four years later at 94). The first child born in the hospital was to Mr. and Mrs. Zina E. Sevison on April 4, 1917, a 9 ½ lb. boy named Keith Elliott.

From those first patients on, newspaper announcements of people utilizing IMH abound and the home hospitals disappear. For the next 50 years, oversight by the appointed Trustees continued as originally conceived though with new appointed Trustees. During that period two large additions were made, in 1938 and in 1951.

“Until 1949, the hospital had been managed by nurses who were not generally trained in administration” according to an article in the 1987 book “Laramie, Gem City of the Plains,”

edited by Mary Kay Mason. The article indicates a big change in 1949--Leo Reifel, a businessman, became the manager and later the first administrator.

By1961, however, there was clear indication that the 1917 structure, despite its additions and upgrades, was no longer capable of providing the services local doctors, nurses and patients were demanding. The County Commissioners formed a committee to consider options. The members were Oliver Knight, Helen Dunnewald, Lloyd Dixon, Otis Rechard and John Guthrie. The Laramie League of Women Voters published a study indicating a new building was needed. In 1963, the County-appointed Planning Committee reported that the best option was to construct a new hospital.

In 1965 the Hospital Trustees purchased all the remaining properties in the hospital block along Grand and 11th Streets in order to make the property more attractive to a buyer. Soon after, the Wyoming Legislature authorized hospital districts to accept grants as well as to tax residents. This could allow startup funds and a dependable stream of income to pay off construction revenue bonds. The Planning Committee was enhanced with other residents including Ruth Rudolph, Foncey Taylor, Jennie McDonald (all LWV members) along with Don Lamb and Russell Keck. They conducted a successful campaign for the November, 1968 election to form the Albany County Hospital District.

With that county-wide election, seven elected Trustees became the governing body. The hospital and entire block was sold to UW, revenue bonds were issued, grants obtained and construction began on 30th St., then a dirt road. It opened in 1973 at a cost reported to be between five and six million dollars.

Financing health care in the US has evolved into a very complicated system, especially with the adoption of Medicare in 1965. “It is the most highly regulated of all businesses in the country” former Hospital Trustee Dona Coffee told me recently. “I fully support the current board’s plan to lease the hospital to a new local non-profit corporation,” Coffey said. “We considered what the Trustees are doing now over eight years ago, when I was on the Board, but there were political impediments at the time which made us drop that idea and choose a different option, which was to affiliate with the University of Colorado health system,” she added.

Today it is difficult to estimate exactly what Laramie’s hospital and all of its equipment is worth. However, the current board of trustees is planning to issue a 40-year lease to a new management group for a token sum. Ownership of the hospital would not change; it would still be owned by the people through the elected Albany County Hospital District Trustees, created in 1968.

The new management group will be a non-profit corporation. Other hospitals around the country have been turning to this model for governance to assure that the Board will include experts in insurance, federal and state regulations, medicine and other specializations crucial to the management of such a complicated enterprise as a hospital. As reported in the Boomerang Wednesday Oct. 4, three of the seven current elected Trustees will initially be on the new Board, Katie Ballard, Dennis Cook and Rick Melone.

New by-laws for the non-profit Board of Directors require them to report at least twice yearly to the elected Board of Trustees, who are charged with seeing to it that the terms of the lease and performance standards spelled out in the lease agreement are being met. Meetings of the new non-profit corporation will not be open to the public or the press, though the elected Hospital Board of Trustees meetings will continue to be open to anyone.

Thus, IMH’s second century will begin with a new management structure (expected by the end of December 2017). The County Commissioners have already given their go-ahead for the management change.

About $1.4 million of the approximately $87million annual IMH budget adopted for the 2016-17 fiscal year came from the hospital district’s 3 mil tax levy, according to the budget posted on the Albany County web site. Trustees are expected to request that the mil levy continue; it is used to fund charity services.

The new 40-year lease is designed to assure residents of Albany County that the hospital will not be sold or taken over by a regional or national hospital network (at least for the next 40 years) as is happening or under consideration for some other hospitals in Wyoming. Patients should not notice any immediate changes in policies or staffing. Continuing to provide high-quality patient care while meeting the challenges of health care innovations and regulations in the US will continue to be a goal.

By Judy Knight

Caption: IMH around 1960, with the original 1917 building on the far right and the later additions along Ivinson Ave. between 10th and 11th Streets. After UW took over ownership in 1973, it became home to the UW Police Department and UW computer facilities. The building was demolished in 2011 and replaced with a UW parking lot. Photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum.