History of Memorial Medical Center

Northwestern Wisconsin’s need for a total healthcare facility became apparent in 1968. At the time, Ashland had two hospitals that were in older buildings making it difficult to remodel or refurbish. Thus, a new facility was constructed.

Memorial Medical Center opened on October 9, 1972. One of the two hospitals was closed and later torn down. The remaining – Trinity Hospital – closed for a while but reopened in May of 1974 as Memorial Medical Treatment Center. In March of 1989 a new treatment center facility was completed on the grounds adjacent to MMC. In 1997, MMTC combined with the Mental Health Unit (inpatient) and the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Center (outpatient) to become Behavioral Health Services. Since 1998, this program has been housed in the expanded facility on the grounds adjacent to the main building. Over the years, MMC has made additional improvements by expanding and remodeling and updating equipment and technology to best serve our customers. Most recently, in 2013 we completed a major overhaul of our Obstetrics and Patient Care Unit.

In October of 2012, we celebrated our 40th anniversary. Local Ashland Daily News editor and reporter, Richard Pufall sat down with our CEO at the time to learn more about how MMC has evolved the past 40-years. This is what he wrote:

MMC Celebrates 40 years of Quality Care

Memorial Medical Center, scene to thousands of births over the years, celebrated it’s own birthday in October when the hospital marked its 40th year of serving the Ashland area.

MMC opened in 1972 as a private, not-for-profit hospital, combining the services previously provided by Trinity Hospital and Ashland Community Hospital (St. Joseph), which were located in Ashland.

Dan Hymans has served as president and CEO of MMC for the last 20 years.

“The way the history has been explained to me is in the early to mid-’60s both hospitals concluded that they needed replacing,” Hymans said. “From my perspective, the conclusion on their part was it probably was not feasible to have two hospitals in a community of Ashland’s size for much longer.

“They concluded they should replace both hospitals with one building, which was the Lutherans and the Catholics, in essence, getting together, which was no small challenge, back in that day and age.”

Hymans said an equal number of board members from the two old hospitals joined forces, then invited five new members and formed a 15-member board that lead to the construction of MMC.

“I think it was around 1970 that they broke ground and got going on construction,” Hymans said of the hospital, located at 1615 Maple Lane.

Since the first MMC building went up, it has been expanded several times, Hymans said.
“We’ve built additions around three sides of this thing,” Hymans said. “We’ve added the behavioral health unit, we’ve added the Essentia Clinic.”

Hymans said before the first construction in 1972 there were 40 vacant acres at the hospital’s location.
“So everything on this campus has been built since that time,” he said.

Hymans estimated that MMC’s initial construction was about 140,000 square feet.

“And now we’re around 210,000,” Hymans said of the 25-bed hospital.

MMC is a critical-access hospital served by about 90 full- and part-time physicians and about 425 employees. MMC serves as a regional medical referral center for patients from seven northwestern Wisconsin counties and Gogebic County in Michigan.

“If you are a full-time physician we call you a member of our active staff,” Hymans said. “If you are a ‘part-timer’ we call you courtesy staff. And part-timers are physicians who are perhaps partially retired and/or physicians who come from other communities. We currently consider ourselves to have about 55 active physicians on our medical staff and probably another 30 or 40 courtesy staff.”

Hymans said the nursing staff, “is around 110.” He said “30 or 35 percent” of MMC’s employees have been with the hospital for 25 years or more.

“We are among the top-four employers,” Hymans said of MMC’s rank in Ashland County.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, with more than 500 employees, is the No. 1 employer in Ashland County, with MMC, C.G. Bretting Manufacturing Co. and the School District of Ashland all with about 400-plus.

“When they opened this building, I think the medical staff at that point was about half the size it is right now,” Hymans said. “The board and the medical staff — Dr. Ken Morrow, Dr. Fred Tidstrom, Dr. Robert Sneed … a number of physicians got together and said we really need to augment our medical staff, with both the specialties and numbers.

“They aggressively started doing that in the mid-’70s and doubled the size of the medical staff by the time I arrived in 1992.”

Inpatient and outpatient services offered by MMC include: medical-surgical; critical care; obstetrics including labor, delivery, postpartum and recovery suites; behavioral health; and 24-hour emergency care.

Inpatient and outpatient surgeries include: orthopedic, urology, ophthalmology, ENT and OB/GYN in addition to general surgery.

MMC’s support diagnostic services include: laboratory, radiology with MRI, CT and diagnostic ultrasound: nutritional services; pharmacy; endoscopy suites and a sleep-disorder center.

And MMC’s rehabilitation services include: cardiac and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation; physical therapy and sports medicine.

Lifeline emergency response system, hospice services and social services are also available at MMC. A building on the MMC campus houses the behavioral health services providing inpatient and outpatient alcohol and other drug abuse and mental health care and therapies.

But MMC, like any hospital in a small community, cannot meet all medical needs, making it sometimes necessary for patients to be taken to Duluth or other hospitals in bigger markets.

“It’s really a quality-of-care-issue,” Hymans said. “The example I always use is cardiac care. You have to have 250 cases or more per year or our cardiac team does not get enough practice to do a good job. We consistently transfer somewhere between 80 and 100 patients to Duluth. So we’re not even close to that number.

“So the best thing you can do for your patients is make sure they get to a place where they do have a good team.”
Hymans said patients in need of neurosurgery are also taken to Duluth.

“We would not be able to keep a neurosurgeon active enough to do a good job here,” he said. “They need to have that head care from somebody who does it all the time.

“Those are probably the big two: significant head injuries and cardiac are what we will ship immediately.”
Hymans, a native of Hull, Iowa, — population 2,175 —has a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, but has worked his entire career in Wisconsin, coming to Ashland from Wisconsin Rapids in 1992.

Hymans said the Ashland area does not have the problem of recruiting talented doctors that is often the case in other small markets.

“You hear about the challenges of physician recruitment to rural communities,” Hymans said. “And we have some of that, but not to the extent some of my colleagues do. This is a nice place to live. It’s good to have Northland College here. It’s the kind of community a professional person would be happy to come and live in.”

MMC also serves as an art gallery of sorts, with 752 pieces of art — all local — lining the hallways of its buildings.

“With all of our artists in the northwoods we decided it should be strictly local art,” Hymans said. “And we are.”
But first and foremost, for 40 years, MMC has been the Ashland area’s go-to health-care facility.

“I think the group, overall, would tell you it’s been our honor to do this,” Hymans said of MMC’s service to the Chequamegon Bay area. “I’ve had any number of patients tell me how happy they are to get back here. They’re snowbirds and they’re down south in the wintertime, or they’re on vacation and something happened … but how happy they are to get here because they feel safer and better cared for in our facility.”