The dream of having a hospital in the Freeman Community became a reality in May of 1951, when ground was broken on the edge of a cornfield on the east side of Freeman.
It was a dream encouraged by Freeman Courier Publisher J. J. Mendel, who had advocated for a hospital during the 1940s. Dr. Ernest J. Hofer, a Freeman physician who began practicing medicine in the Freeman area in 1932, was instrumental in developing community support for a hospital.
In 1944 Dr. Hofer contacted 12 people to discuss the feasibility of establishing a hospital. With growing support and enthusiasm, hours of talking, visitation of hospitals, and investigation of financial prospects, the decision was made to proceed. Groundbreaking took place in 1951, and in September of 1952 the 16-bed hospital was completed at a cost of $209,000. They named the new facility Freeman Community Hospital.
In the first few months, the hospital functioned with 10 employees. A registered nurse also assumed the role of housekeeping as necessary and, in addition to patient care, nurse aides helped prepare meals and do laundry. During the first year of operation, 231 patients were admitted to the hospital, and 67 babies were born.
The early hospital medical staff included Dr. Ernest J. Hofer, Dr. W.E. Hieb, and brothers Dr. LeRoy Kaufman and Dr. Irvin I. Kaufman. In 1956 Dr. Jose Villa joined the practice, and Dr. Dennis Epp arrived in 1957.
It soon became apparent that the 16-bed hospital was inadequate to serve the Freeman area, and in 1959 a 14-bed addition was planned. The new wing was dedicated in 1960. In 1968 Dr. Lonnie Waltner joined Freeman’s medical practice.
Because of the growing elderly population in the Freeman Community, the hospital board of directors made the decision to build a nursing home physically attached the hospital. In 1971 a 30-bed nursing home addition was completed.
In addition, the main entrance to the hospital moved from the west side, to the south, along 8th street. Another 29 beds were added in 1979, making a total of 59 beds in the nursing home. The name then became Freeman Community Hospital and Nursing Home.
Over the years a series of additions and expansions have turned that early facility into a model of community spirit and community pride that includes a full service hospital and a Medicare Skilled nursing home.
In 1994, the “connection project” physically connected Freeman’s Rural Medical Clinic, built in 1963, to the hospital. The “connection project” included a new hospital nurse’s station, new lab and X-Ray areas, two birthing suites, ICU, surgical suites, a 3-bay emergency room, and a prayer room. The new main entrance to the hospital faces east with a spacious parking area.
The Freeman Regional Health Services complex also includes Walnut Street Village, a 10-apartment congregate living facility constructed in 1997. An additional apartment complex, Dewald Street Village, was completed in July 0f 2007. The new facility, located directly west of Walnut Street Village, also has ten apartments like Walnut Street Village. Each apartment has its own garage, accessible without going outdoors. There is a large central commons dining area, lounge and kitchenette. A continental breakfast is provided to the residents 7 days a week through the Freeman Regional Health Services Dietary Department.
A significant change took place the summer of 2004. The original name of the facility, Freeman Community Hospital and Nursing Home, became Freeman Regional Health Services. The board of directors, along with Administrator Dan Gran felt a name change was appropriate given the “regional scope” of hospital and nursing home services. In addition, separate names were given to the hospital and nursing home - the hospital became “Freeman Medical Center” and the nursing home became “Oakview Terrace.”
Two Dementia Care Units, Northview and Southview, are a part of the Oakview Terrace Nursing Home. The 10-bed units are specifically designed for patients with Alzheimer's Disease or other types of dementia. The unit is a secure, warm and safe environment that revolves around the special needs of the residents who live there. The specially trained staff provides care to attain or maintain the highest physical, mental and psycho-social well-being of each resident. The units are staffed by CNAs and Licensed staff.
In 2005, Rural Medical Clinics and Freeman Regional Health Services announced plans for changes in their obstetrics services that include ending the delivery of babies at Freeman Hospital. However, the facility continues to offer prenatal education for couples expecting a baby, as well as postpartum services. Deliveries will be referred elsewhere; however, FRHS staff will continue to provide emergency OB care. Baby deliveries ended June 1, 2005.
Today the primary staff of Rural Medical Clinics of Freeman, Marion, Menno and Bridgewater, and Freeman Regional Health Services includes family practice physicians Dr. Ken Kirton and Dr. Jay Allison; Internal Medicine and Geriatric specialist Dr. Eloise Schrag, Physician Assistant Terri Behl, and Certified Nurse Practitioner Tanya Schaeffer. Dr. Dennis Glatt is the general surgeon for Freeman Medical Center. He performs surgeries on Wednesdays and sees patients at the clinic on that day as well. Digna Miller is the Clinic Manager.
Nick Brandner is the Freeman Regional Health Services CEO.
The Freeman Regional Health Services Foundation was established in 2009 to support the mission of Freeman Regional Health Services. A primary goal is to raise funds that will enable our local health care organization to pursue projects that will benefit the members of Freeman and surrounding communities for generations to come.
The development of the foundation reflects an effort to strengthen the longstanding community support that has helped the hospital and nursing home continue to grow as a viable and successful community-based independent health care facility. Ruth Strasser is the foundation director.
Progress is ongoing with changes large and small at Freeman Regional Health Services. New programs have been implemented, equipment updated, and physical improvements to the hospital and nursing home occur regularly.
On May 1, 2011, Freeman Regional Health Services, in a joint venture with Avera Medical Group, purchased the practice of the Rural Medical Clinics in Freeman, Menno, Marion and Bridgewater. While FRHS has owned the clinic buildings, the Rural Medical Clinics practice has operated independently. Rural Medical Clinics staff are now employees of Freeman Regional Health Services.
Despite the changes large and small, the mission of the hospital remains the same as it was years ago: to provide accessible, community-based quality care that is competent, creative and compassionate. The larger Freeman Community has shown strong support and commitment to the facility over the years and because of that support, the Administration and Board of Directors look to the future with hope and optimism as we continue to work to provide quality care in the years ahead.