By LeAnn Lemberger
Community members, Sisters of Humility, former staff and longtime patients gathered in Ottumwa on April 18 to say a final goodbye to St. Joseph Hospital. After nearly 90 years of community service, the building which housed the hospital will be demolished later this year.
An open house with tours of two of the hospital’s floors allowed several-hundred visitors to revisit parts of the building which at various periods housed the chapel, surgical rooms and a hospice facility.
St. Joseph Hospital was founded by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in 1914, located in a former school and convent building near downtown Ottumwa.
From its beginnings, the hospital combined the missions of nursing and teaching. The St. Joseph Hospital nursing school produced more than 700 fully trained nurses, with the first class graduating in 1917 and the last class in 1971. A school of X-ray technology trained 25.
In 1926 the hospital moved to a newly-constructed six-story building on what was then the northern edge of the city. Renovations and additions allowed that building to continue as a fully-functioning hospital until 1987, when it was sold to Ottumwa Regional Health Center (ORHC).
After the sale, the hospital building, renamed the Alta Vista Site, housed various doctors’ offices, rehabilitation facilities, psychiatric services and hospice care. The last offices and facilities moved out more than two years ago.
ORHC officials cited the deteriorating condition of the building, along with the presence of asbestos, in the decision to demolish the structure within the next few months. A number of communications antennas located on the roof, the highest in that section of the city, will be relocated before demolition proceeds. No plans have been announced for use of the site.
St. Joseph Hospital was a successor to Tally Hospital, established in 1879 as the first hospital in Ottumwa. At its peak, St. Joseph Hospital employed 350 staff members and offered 120 acute care beds.
Twenty-five years after it ceased operation as an independent hospital, St. Joseph still has an impact on the local community, with former nursing staff and graduates continuing to identify themselves as “St. Joe nurses.”
“There’s just something about the St. Joe people,” said Irene Weinberg, who served as head dietician at the hospital for 17 years. “They were all fabulous. The staff and Sisters were like one big family.”