Former CEO recites hospital’s human history
La PORTE — The story of La Porte Hospital is the story of people who have come through its doors over the years, a former hospital executive told retirees this week.
Leigh Morris, the CEO at La Porte Hospital from 1978 to 1999 and a consultant in 2014 and 2015, offered a history of the facility to more than 20 members of the La Porte Hospital Retirees on Monday at Best Western.
“I put this together especially for this group,” he said. “And the point I want to make is that it’s about people.”
Plans to construct a new hospital near the existing facility at 1007 Lincoln Way made the trip down memory lane more meaningful to some. About 35 members meet regularly to talk about old times and share their lives with one another.
Morris, the mayor from 2004 to 2007 and an avid fan of local history, said the city had a number of sanitariums and a medical school but no hospital until 1900, when the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, a Roman Catholic congregation, opened a small facility at E and Second streets.
It grew over the years and became Holy Family Hospital, growing to 90 beds by 1924.
In 1927, a group of Protestants opened Fairview Hospital, later Community Hospital, at the site where Round the Clock Restaurant and KFC now operate on Pine Lake Avenue.
While the two hospitals were competitive over the years, “teamwork was always very evident,” Morris said, flashing black-and-white photographs of doctors, nurses, housekeepers and maintenance crews on a large screen behind him and reciting their names.
Negotiations to merge the two hospital began in 1960 and lasted six years, he said.
“Each side knew a merger was important not just for their hospital but for the people of the community as well,” he said.
The fundraising effort to build a new hospital surpassed goals, Morris said, an indication of the strong feeling residents and businesses had for the facility.
Construction on the new hospital began in 1970 on property donated by Allis-Chalmers at Madison Street and Lincoln Way. Morris said the seventh floor, the Stress Center, was added during construction when St. Anthony in Michigan City decided not to pursue a psychiatric ward in its new project.
The hospital was completed in 1972.
Morris named names during his 45-minute presentation, including David Kramer, hospital CEO from 1966 to 1978 whom Morris called the best dressed hospital executive in the state, and 86-year-old Louise Smith, who volunteered in the business office six days weeks, after cutting back from seven days.
“There’s been a tremendous feeling of ownership and engagement over the years,” Morris said, “a feeling of family.”
Morris said the hospital went through “rocky times” during a series of mergers and ownership changes, but he praised Ashley Dickinson, appointed last year by Community Health Systems to lead the hospital into a new era.
“I know she’s doing everything she can to make sure the hospital comes through because she knows how important it is to this community,” he said.
The retirees, during a question-and-answer session, expressed their appreciation to Morris for making them feel appreciated.
“People are so important to this institution,” he said.