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Indiana Regional Medical Center marks centennial with book, campus addition

| Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, 2:36 p.m.
Indiana Hospital as it appeared in 1914
Indiana Hospital as it appeared in 1914
Indiana Regional Medical Center.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Indiana Regional Medical Center.
C. Jonathan French, M.D. in Memorial Park, Indiana.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
C. Jonathan French, M.D. in Memorial Park, Indiana.
World War I troops used the grounds of Indiana Hospital for training.
World War I troops used the grounds of Indiana Hospital for training.
Staff members at Indiana Hospital demonstrate what was then the latest in X-ray equipment in this undated archival photo.
Staff members at Indiana Hospital demonstrate what was then the latest in X-ray equipment in this undated archival photo.
Dr. James Garrettson
Dr. James Garrettson
Marge Scheeren has been director of volunteers at the hospital since 1975.
Marge Scheeren has been director of volunteers at the hospital since 1975.

Indiana Regional Medical Center is staying true to its motto: “Honoring Our Past, Embracing Our Future.”

While a $55 million centennial project is adding about 40,000 square feet to IRMC's main Indiana campus and funding renovation of some existing facilities, hospital officials are inviting the public to reflect with them on the strides in local health care that have occurred during the hospital's 100 years of service to the Indiana County community.

Over the past year, various events and programs have recognized the staff, volunteers and patients who have been part of the hospital's legacy, building toward a centennial celebration on Oct. 18.

“This is recognizing 100 years, and it really is about all of the people that have gone before, and the sacrifice, selflessness and hard work of the employees, doctors, volunteers, board members and community leaders,” said Stephen A. Wolfe, president and CEO of Indiana Regional Medical Center. “Really, the fact that we're even here as an independent community hospital is a tribute to them.

“It's really a great foundation that has been laid.”

A centennial committee was formed a year in advance of the celebration year. Among the committee's efforts has been creation of a 144-page book that chronicles IRMC's history from its beginning on Oct. 29, 1914 to its current role as an independent hospital serving medical needs across Indiana County.

“Indiana Regional Medical Center: Honoring Our Past, Embracing Our Future” does more than document the hospital's history. It also offers a glance back at advances in medicine since the county's inception.

“The book took a great deal of effort on the committee's part,” with a century's worth of photos and information to sift through to aid the book's author, Patricia Swinger, said Dr. Robert Parker, who chaired the centennial committee.

Issued through The Donning Company Publishers of Virginia Beach, Va., copies of the book cost $32 and are available at the IRMC pantry and the Book Nook on Philadephia Street, Indiana. They also can be ordered through the hospital website,

The book is among items that will be included in an anniversary time capsule to be buried on the IRMC campus construction site. The capsule also will preserve a copy of the hospital's 2013-14 annual report, photos, news clippings and a booklet of testimonials from patients and employees.

The year-long celebration kicked off at the end of 2013, with the intent being to incorporate a centennial theme in all of the hospital's annual events, such as its Day of Dance and Family Fun Day.

Banners with a centennial logo fly over the hospital's entrance off Indiana's Wayne Avenue. The logo also appears on all employee badges and hospital stationery.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania Communications Media Department helped develop eight videos detailing the history of IRMC, which can be viewed at

Other centennial activities have included a picnic for employees, volunteers and retirees and a special July 4 fireworks exhibition that included a display reproducing the new logo.

Capping the centennial festivities will be the Oct. 18 celebration, set for 5 p.m. at the Kovalchick Center and Athletic Complex in Indiana.

Retired now, Parker served as IRMC's senior vice president of medical affairs from 1994 to 2000, and he worked for a small stint as interim CEO before Wolfe came on board in 1999.

Parker practiced pediatrics for 20 years. When he joined Indiana's hospital administration in 1994, he came from a small community hospital in Rutland, Vt., comparable to IRMC in size and services,

He said he noticed right away that improvements could be made to better connect the members of the medical staff. “The medical staff had to have a very close relationship, and we had been successful in Rutland in creating that,” he said.

While focusing on staff relations, Parker also turned his attention on the community served by the hospital, which at that time was limited mostly to White Township and Indiana Borough.

“It was clear in the general scheme of things that, to be able to be viable in the future, you needed to be serving close to 100,000 people,” which was the population of the entire county, he stated. “The hospital really had to be serving a larger population.”

The hospital had a solid foundation of physicians and was stable financially, so Parker worked with its board of directors to open more primary care practices around the county in an attempt to reach out beyond the immediate Indiana area.

The first family medical practice opened in Cherry Tree, in 1995, followed by others in Plumville, Blairsville, Saltsburg (since closed), Jacksonville and Barnesboro — now the community of Northern Cambria. A new facility also was developed in Clymer.

“There was a lot of work going on to lay the foundation, and Steve Wolfe and his team have done an incredible job,” said Parker.

The fact that IRMC has not only remained independent, but continues to grow, “shows that we were successful in what we were setting out to do,” Parker said. “Fortunately, we have a good, young CEO who knows how to keep things moving.”

When Wolfe approached him about chairing the centennial committee, Parker saw it as a way for him to continue to give to the institution that meant so much to him during his time there.

Dr. James Garrettson, another centennial committee member, operated his own practice from 1972 to 2005. Specializing in internal medicine, he diagnosed and treated non-surgical disease in adults.

Garrettson was in partnership with Dr. Melvin Williams, whom he served with in the U.S. Army, working at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.

Williams moved into his own practice on the East Coast and asked Garrettson to join him. Their practice was located on Indian Springs Road, in White Township.

Williams left the practice to work in nuclear medicine at IRMC. Garrettson held hospital privileges at IRMC and remains active with the hospital. He's a member of the institutional review board and has chaired the pharmacy and therapeutics committee for more than 20 years.

“I had been here for a reasonably long time and practiced in the hospital on a daily basis, so I figured I'd certainly have some recollection as far as history and perspective,” said Garrettson of his role on the centennial committee. “And I like history, so it was interesting to me.”

Practicing in the area for more than 30 years, Garrettson watched the hospital develop from a very basic institution to a full-service medical facility. “It's been a marvelous transformation,” he said. “As far as community hospitals are concerned, it's a shining example.”

The fact that IRMC has not been swallowed up by a larger conglomerate is a testament to the hospital and its administration.

“It's good for the community and it's good for business,” Garrettson remarked.

He also cited several major building additions as landmark moments for IRMC — including construction of its patient tower in 1979 and the Bork Emergency Center in 2002 as well as improvements to the intensive care unit and operating rooms.

As Garrettson sees it, one of the biggest milestones for the hospital was when Wolfe became the CEO in February 1999. “He was a very forward-thinking individual, very enthusiastic,” he said of Wolfe.

Continued recruitment in medical specialities has been a huge boon for the hospital.

“It's an ongoing effort,” said Garrettson. “And it results in more medical specialists than most community hospitals of similar size.”

Delving into the history of medicine in the Indiana area particularly fascinated the historian in Garrettson.

Curious to see who the first physician was to practice in the area, members of the centennail committee uncovered the history of Dr. Jonathan French, a physician who originally hailed from New Hampshire but migrated to Pennsylvania, finally settling in Indiana in 1807. He practiced in the 500 block of Philadelphia Street, in a storefront that now houses Red Oak Advertising.

What really excited the committee was discovering that French was buried in Memorial Park, behind the old armory in Indiana. But the marker stone at his gravesite was barely readable.

So, as part of the centennial celebration, IRMC's medical staff pooled money to pay for a new memorial stone for French and his wife, which can be seen from the sidewalk along South Sixth Street.

A hospital is nothing without its nurses, and Indiana Hospital, in its infancy, started training its own. In January 1915, 14 students enrolled in the Indiana Hospital School of Nursing, with 12 of them completing the program three years later.

The students originally were housed on the third floor of the hospital, but the nurses eventually moved into a frame house, in 1916, then into a new nurses' school, built in 1937. After the latter structure was destroyed in a 1976 fire, the hospital decided to close the school, awarding its last diplomas in 1979.

Centennial committee member Diane Petras was familiar with the hospital from a young age. Right out of high school in 1960, she enrolled in the three-year diploma program at the Indiana Hospital School of Nursing. She estimated there were between 60 and 70 nursing students in the school that year.

“For that particular era, we received an excellent education,” Petras said. “It was not uncommon to hear that different institutions were happy to have graduates from the Indiana Hospital School of Nursing.”

The nursing school in those days was very strict, she recalled, in particular the school director, Nettie Bealer.

“But she loved us,” Petras said. “She might reprimand us, but she'd stick up for us no matter what.”

Bealer also was known for throwing banana split parties for the students, making the treats herself.

When Petras graduated in 1963, she began a lifelong career as a nurse, though not all of it was with Indiana Hospital.

She worked at the hospital through the 1970s and went on to get her bachelor's and master's degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she taught nursing for several years. She also worked many years at the Visiting Nurse Association of Indiana County. She retired from nursing in 2001.

Petras was contacted by the hospital to serve on the centennial committee, something she was glad to do to help represent the hospital's nurses.

“It was a very rewarding experience to serve on the committee,” she said.

“Over the years, since I was in nursing school, I would say that the actual administration of nursing techniques and practices have evolved, in large part, I believe, due to the advancement of technology and nursing science,” Petras said. “However, in my opinion, the heart of nursing remains timeless — that of providing the best care possible for our patients.”

Working at the hospital was a rewarding experience for Petras.

She recalled an earlier era when patients were kept in the hospital for much longer periods of time. “We got to know the patients a little more than we can now,” she said.

Centennial committee member Marge Scheeren has served as IRMC's director of volunteer services for over 30 years but has been with the hospital for almost 45 years, serving prior to that as a member of the Indiana Hospital Auxiliary and performing volunteer work.

In her current position, she helps organize IRMC's nearly 200 volunteers, a job she finds extremely rewarding.

“These people are so good,” she said, adding that poor weather doesn't stop them from their work. “Even in the winter, when the roads are bad, they are here.”

The volunteers range in age from 18 to 93, with junior volunteers donating time from age 14 through graduatin from high school.

Volunteers are probably most visible at the information desk in the main lobby of the hospital, Scheeren said. There are also volunteers in the surgery waiting room who aid the families of patients in surgery, keeping them advised of what's going on.

Volunteers can be found pushing a hospitality cart, filled with flowers, snacks, magazines and small gifts. They also help out in the hospital gift shop and in the pantry, as well as in the mail service. A charity ball held once a year by the Indiana Regional Medical Center Auxiliary is volunteer-led.

One of the reasons the hospital has lasted as long as it has, in Scheeren's opinion, is the administration — and, of course, the volunteers, who come from all walks of life.

The auxiliary, too, has made huge contributions, not only in fundraising, but also in program start-ups. It was the auxiliary, Scheeren noted, that started the hospital's Life Line program, arming seniors with an emergency button that, when pushed, connects them to an emergency call center. The program has grown from 25 to more than 400 subscribers.

“I was happy to be asked to be part of the committee,” Scheeren said of her part in planning the centennial celebration. “Because I've been here so long, I had some history. And it was a great experience to be on the committee and realize how far we have come in 100 years.”

And more growth is imminent, with the $55 million centennial building project under way. In addition to the new construction, it will renovate an estimated 45,000 square feet of existing features.

As part of the building project, the hospital complex will acquire new operating room suites, a new intensive care unit , a new ambulatory care unit for outpatient surgery and endoscopy — including a post-anesthesia care unit — and a 15-bed post-acute care unit. New technology and equipment set to debut includes a linear accelerator used in cancer care.

“The centennial building project is a capstone,” said Wolfe. The largest capital project in the history of the hospital from a financial point of view, “It will be integral to embracing the future,” he added.

In Wolfe's 15-year tenure, he has watched the hospital expand not only physically, but also in its service to the surrounding communities.

He's been present for the opening of the Bork Emergency Center, the Herbert L. Hanna Center for Oncology, and most recently, the Human Motion Institute, and has overseen two capital campaigns — one in 2000 and the current one raising money for the centennial project.

But what he's most proud of is “the level of compassion and care we've been able to achieve with our patients and their families,” he said. “The heroes on the front line taking care of the patients — they're really the ones to be celebrated.”

Parker looks to the future of IRMC with hope, as the hospital continues to form strategies to grow, while offering new services, new technologies and quality care.

“I'm very hopeful they'll be able to remain a small community hospital,” he said. “I think it's in everybody's best interest.”

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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