Happy 50th Birthday HCM
This year, the hospital is celebrating its 50th birthday. Since opening the doors in 1971, Hill Country Memorial has touched the lives of every family in our community. And like your family, the hospital has grown and changed over 50 years. HCM is here because of this community and stands as a testament to the generosity and selflessness of its great people. The hospital has cared for the hill country for 50 years and will continue to do so for many years to come.
Hill Country Memorial has not only served the Texas Hill Country for half a century, it has grown to become a recognized leader in health care.
That legacy may not have seemed possible in 1965, when Congress created a Medicare Act that brought sweeping change to American health care. The effects were felt all the way to Fredericksburg, Texas, then a Hill Country town of 5000.
At the time, Fredericksburg’s medical needs were served by two private hospitals–Fredericksburg Hospital and Keidel Hospital. The new federal Medicare program meant those existing hospitals would be subject to an increased level of scrutiny and compliance. The consensus became that bringing them into compliance with new federal standards was not feasible.
It was then, citizens decided Fredericksburg should have its own community hospital.
Looking Back; Looking Forward
Local doctors realized change was coming, according to, Judy Feller, daughter of Lorence Feller, M.D. of Fredericksburg Hospital.
“My father knew a new hospital was necessary to offer the best medical care available for the Hill Country because standards and equipment improvements were progressing at a faster pace,” she said. “He knew that when seconds counted, our community members needed to have a state-of-the-art hospital available in town that would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Keidel Hospital’s J. Hardin Perry, M.D., had the same empathy and concern for his patients, according to his daughter, Penny Perry-Hughes.
“Their number one concern was always for their patients,” Perry-Hughes said of the two doctors. “They both made the decision to close their hospitals for the greater good.”
In July 1967, a group of community leaders, doctors, and medical staff, met to seek a solution. They started raising funds to build a new local hospital.
It was a massive effort that involved everyone.
Citizens went door-to-door, meeting with neighbors, sitting around kitchen tables, talking at ice cream socials and in cafes, pitching the importance of building and staffing a true community hospital.
People responded. It is said that every citizen in the county contributed either financially or morally to accomplish the goal. Even school students would bring in change they collected. Within a short time, residents of Gillespie County raised enough to match a $650,000 federal grant to build the hospital. In February of 1971, Hill Country Memorial Hospital admitted its first patient.
The first administrator was Jerry Durr, who lead Hill Country Memorial for parts of three decades.
“We had a tremendous community spirit,” Durr said. “The existing medical establishment at that time had a great amount of support, not only in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County, but to a great degree in the surrounding areas. That, of course, built support for the new hospital.”
Frosty Rees served as a member of either the Hospital Board or the Foundation Board for 27 of those 50 years, including several terms as President.
“When we changed our mission to Remarkable Always, it was our way of saying we were going to offer remarkable care,” Rees said. “But now, after serving for so many years, I realize our hospital has been remarkable from the very, very beginning.”
That “community collaboration” was unequaled and set the tone for the hospital’s mission.
“To my knowledge, nowhere else upon the enactment of the Medicare Act did doctors voluntarily close their private hospitals and merge into an independent non-profit health care institution. And today we are one of very few hospitals in Texas that never had to become a taxing entity.”
Roy Stroeher was another early supporter of the new hospital who served on the board during those early years. He observed how its success grew from the commitment of everyone involved. Stroeher and his wife, Annabel, lived across the street from Keidel Hospital, where they watched Dr. Perry show up at 5:00 every morning with a flashlight to open the doors and turn on the steam heat.
“He’d eat breakfast, run to the hospital, then back to the clinic,” Stroeher said.
Hospital Support; Community Support
That personal commitment by the health care community endures, according to Penny Perry-Hughes.
“I always felt like I had a much bigger family because of the love between my father and his patients,” she said. “You felt that love. You’d see people in town and they would be so thankful. That’s just the way Fredericksburg always was. It also was the mindset the hospital started under, because the personnel that went there were the personnel that had been here. It was their family.”
It grew into a mutual support system, remembers Stroeher.
“The community supports the hospital for sure,” Stroeher said. “And the hospital serves the community. A lot of people moving here are looking for good health care, for good doctors, and for a good hospital. Then they continue to support it. The administration and board were always one step ahead of the game. When they started bringing in specialists, they had to have the equipment for them. They raised the money for that.”
When the Foundation was formed in 1989, supporters began holding regular Galas that raised nearly $5 million to fund needed projects. Over the decades those expansions and improvements have included:
Dedicated Mammography Unit
Cardiac Rehab Program
Community Fitness Trail
Indoor Community Fitness & Therapy Pool
ICU Equipment and Furnishings
HCM OB Department
and many more
Overall the Foundation has raised more than $60 million for Hill Country Memorial. There is not a place in Hill Country Memorial that the Foundation has not touched.
Legacy of Leadership
The benefits of many of those upgrades accrue to members of the community, across age groups and demographics. According to Rees, this is a legacy left by those visionary leaders.
“The original administration and board brought conservative, but future-looking, guidance,” Rees said. “Working together, we have always been where we need to be. With up-to-date equipment and technology, but not so far out there to be just dreaming.”
Hill Country Memorial has proven to be more than just the story of its founding. Today, that concept of caring reaches into the surrounding areas, with a physical presence in half a dozen towns, and a loyal patient base that comes from every corner of the Hill Country.
While the story began with the building of a hospital, the future is about continuing to create a remarkable health care system, according to Jayne Pope, CEO.
“We look beyond the four walls of the hospital to bring health care to the community, to encourage prevention, and to work with health care providers across the continuum,” Pope said. “That is the culmination of these 50 years of community support, a shared vision, and the hard work of our dedicated team.”
It’s the path laid out in a founding principle.
“Our first administrator, Jerry Durr, always talked about the ‘3-legged stool,’” Rees said. “To remain remarkable we needed a medical staff that delivers quality care, a facility with technology that is up to date, and a financial base that is rock solid.”
They also recognized the personal component of remarkable health care. Rees likens it to being “part of the family.”
“I have always said that Hill Country Memorial is our family. When people ask me who owns it, I look at them and say, you do. We want everybody to think of this as part of your family.”
Fifty years on, the creation of Hill Country Memorial is the story of many individuals doing many little things that added up to a large legacy.
“There was no magic in what we did,” Durr said. “We found some gold dust lying on the ground. We picked it up and used it.”
In this edition of Purpose, we look back at the issues and events, the people and their stories that led to the grand opening on February 14, 1971, and receiving our first patient on February 22, 1971.