HOPEDALE — To really understand how rural health care has evolved over the last 60 years, the story of the Rossi family in Tazewell County is one place to start.
The patriarch of the family, Dr. Lawrence Rossi, lived in Pekin in the mid 1950s. He and his wife Lorayne raised 11 children — six boys and five girls — many of them destined to become doctors or work in the medical field.
Like many rural doctors, he was in demand, covering a lot of ground to serve patients over a wide area.
“He would drive 150 miles a day,” says his son, Mark Rossi, the chief operating officer of Hopedale Medical Complex.
He was on the road more than practicing medicine and had little time with his family.
When the small community asked what they could do to keep him, Lawrence Rossi said they could built a hospital.
The entire community and the Rossi family put money into the dream. Hopedale’s first 20-bed hospital opened on Mother’s Day 1955. The date was appropriate because the founder’s mother got a mortgage on her home to help pay the first payroll.
In 1961, ownership was transferred to a nonprofit foundation, but Lawrence remained the CEO.
It was rare at that time for a hospital’s top man to be a doctor, but that is a tradition the Hopedale Medical Complex continues. Today, another Rossi son, “Dr. Al,” holds the top job.
“That job is best left to a physician,” says Mark, an attorney.
In Hopedale, Mark works alongside four brothers who are doctors along with a sister who is a pharmacist and other family members.
The organization of the hospital is unique in that it does not directly employ any physicians. They work on a fee-per-service basis and pay rent for their offices, Mark says.
Over the years, many rural hospitals have closed, sending residents to larger urban hospitals that were also consolidating. Hopedale’s Medical Complex has expanded.
It added the first nursing home in the state in 1957.
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The next big addition was Hopedale House in 1963, with 30 apartments offering residents private quarters and a courtyard. It was essentially what has become known as assisted living today.
Recognizing rural problems of alcohol and substance abuse in rural areas 30 years ago, in 1985, the hospital opened Hopedale Hall, a 16-bed long-term rehabilitation center for elderly alcoholics and substance abusers. It received referrals from 22 states, including from the respected Betty Ford Center in California.
In 2003, Mark led the way in getting Hopedale Medical Complex designated as an Illinois Critical Access Hospital (ICAH) — a network that now includes 51 hospitals delivering services to rural communities.
THE NETWORK of hospitals provides primary and emergency services to more than 1.2 million Illinois rural residents.
Hopedale hospital also belongs to the Illinois Hospital Association and the Illinois Rural Health Association and National Rural Health Association (NRHA).
Pat Schou, executive director of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital network, says the networks try to keep rural hospital issues at the forefront.
“They are an anchor, a safety net for rural communities. They do a terrific job in rural communities staying up to date and modernizing facilities,” says Schou.
Hopedale Medical Complex continues to grow and adjust to community needs. On Feb. 2, they expect to open the first phase of a $10 million expansion and renovations that include the new three-suite ER, six ambulatory surgery suites and five new patient rooms.
They handle 98 percent of emergencies brought to the hospital and directly transfer only 2 percent for immediate care elsewhere. They see about 2,300 patients in the emergency room annually and 20,000 outpatients.
The community raised $1 million for the new equipment with this latest expansion. It is the heartbeat of the town, which has a population of about 930. Without a full service restaurant, public grade school or even grocery store, it continues to thrive.
What started as a 20-bed hospital almost 60 years ago is now the Hopedale Medical Complex, with 300 employees, a $10 million payroll and $40 million in economic impact.
THE HOSPITAL has also offered $500,000 in scholarships to students since 1980 and will continue to do so to nurture the next generation of talent, Mark says.
Mark’s 91-year-old mother has donated the nearby family home to become the White Fence Estate, which will be a retreat center and spa.
They hope to use the five acres there to plant gardens and build a greenhouse to serve food for the hospital cafeteria.
In the main hospital, a bust of Lawrence Rossi, sculpted by one of the rehab patients, stands as a tribute to the man who was recognized with Illinois’ highest honor, the Order of Lincoln, awarded in 1986 for his achievements.