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Mason County Memories

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A public meeting took place in 1929 at which the doctors and members of the Mason County Hospital association discussed the need for a new hospital building. Unfortunately, the stock market crashed and banks closed in 1929 creating such a financial hardship that plans for a new hospital building were put aside.

The hospital continued to serve the community as it had for the previous 23 years and Justus Stearns continued his generous support of the hospital until his death at age 87 in 1933. Justus Stearns often visited the hospital and took current bills off the spindle and paid them himself.

Improvements continued as they could and new X-ray equipment was purchased in 1937. A radiologist visited the hospital every Wednesday, under the sponsorship of the Mason County Medical Society and the Mason County Hospital Association. A vocational course for young women was begun in 1937 teaching them how to make beds, feed patients and other skills needed in the care of patients. The addition of these young women to the staff enabled the graduate nurses to concentrate on providing professional nursing care to patients.

The men were now working diligently for a new hospital and the women decided to form an organization of their own to support the Hospital. With help from the Women's Auxiliary of Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, the Women's Auxiliary to Paulina Stearns Hospital was organized in 1938. Mrs. K. B. Matthews was elected the first president of the auxiliary. One of the functions of the auxiliary was to raise funds and conduct the annual tag day.

By 1939 the first hospital building was no longer large enough to meet the needs of the community and in June an open meeting was held at the Stearns Hotel to discuss the proposed Hospital Building. Erwin Hermann, Vice President of the Board of Trustees and chairman of the Building Committee, traveled extensively at his own expense studying hospitals and meeting with architects in an effort to select the best possible firm to design a new hospital for Mason County. But where to locate the new Hospital?

The answer came in 1939 when the Morton Salt Company donated a parcel of land on Pere Marquette Lake directly across from the Hospital on south Washington Street to be used as a site for the new hospital. Inl938 an inheritance of about $70,000 from the Merta Blaine estate, plus local contributions, financed the $144,592 construction of the new Paulina Stearns Hospital.

The 30-bed hospital opened in August 1940. Miss Nettie Fitch, superintendent, oversaw the transfer of patients to the new hospital before retiring after 12 years of service. The old hospital building was demolished in November of 1940. Miss E. K. Longley, a registered nurse, and anesthetist came from Ohio on the bus to apply for the job. The Hospital board agreed to pay her fare to Ludington, but if she did not get the job then she had to pay her own way home. She was hired and became the next administrator of Paulina Stearns Hospital.

Storage space in the basement was remodeled in 1942 to add sixteen beds for the use of patients who were members of the Civilian Conservation Corps assigned to camps in the area. There were only four doctors serving the hospital during the World War II years as many of the medical staff of hospitals had been called to serve in the war. Women of the community worked as volunteers, some nurses came out of retirement and Gray Ladies who were under the auspices of the Red Cross also helped care for patients.

In 1953 $70,000 was expended to construct a three-story west wing to the hospital, this increased patient care capacity to 64. The much needed improvements included extra office space, a new laboratory, waiting room, examining room, private rooms and four new wards. The Pink Ladies were organized in December 1954, under the auspices of the Women's Auxiliary. Eight women worked five afternoons a week in the hospital. Paulina Stearns Hospital celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1956.

The hospital was accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation in 1956 and that effort was supported in a Ludington Daily News editorial that stated "Inasmuch as Mason County does have an excellent hospital with first class Doctors and Nurses it should become an accredited institution. The fiftieth year of its operation would be a propitious time to bring this additional honor to our hospital." There were sixteen members on the Medical a full-time radiologist and clinical pathologist. Esther Sahlmark was honored for her 50 years hospital as the treasurer she was presented with a scrapbook of clippings and photographs, signatures of all who came along with a bouquet of roses for her service.

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