A Visit to the Hospital

I went out to Haskell Memorial Hospital the other day. I didn’t go as a patient or to receive treatment of some kind, although I have done that before. And thankfully, I wasn’t going to see a sick or injured loved one, although I have certainly done that plenty of times as well. No, this time I went at the invitation of senior hospital management, to take a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the facility and to visit with some key staff members about what working at the eighty-plus-year-old institution is like, and what some of the rewards and challenges are that come from working at the community hospital.

Haskell Memorial Hospital was originally opened in 1939, with funding from a local bond election and a federal PWA grant.

First, a little background. In 1936, Haskell County Commissioners applied for a federal grant from the Public Works Administration to help fund a county hospital. While that paperwork was still working its way through the government red tape, county voters approved a $60,000 bond issue. That was on July 7, 1937 – a remarkable demonstration of vision and forward-thinking community spirit, considering that the country was still in the middle of the Great Depression.

Ground was broken for the new facility on March 9, 1938. Then finally, on June 22, 1938, the county was notified that the grant application had been approved. Construction on the expanded plans continued with a new budget of approximately $100,000, and the hospital opened on October 23, 1939. It was described in the Haskell Free Press as “one of the most modern and up-to-date hospitals in West Texas.” Ex­tensions and new wings were opened in 1952, 1972, and 2015. Unfortunately, the facility is now considered “landlocked,” and cannot be expanded further.

(By the way – were you born at Haskell Memorial? We’re trying to find the oldest person still living in the county who was born at this hospital. If you or someone you know arrived in the old maternity ward in 1939 or 1940, please email or call me ­– haskellstarnews@gmail.com, or 940-864-2810.)

Current Chief Executive Officer Michelle Stevens says that through all the years of its history, the hospital’s mission and purpose have remained consistent. “We are here to serve the community,” she says. “It is absolutely vital that the hospital continues to be available. Most of the patients that we see come from Haskell and all the communities across the county, as well as those from about 45 minutes out in every direction. We are also one of the largest employers in the county, so that is another major benefit.”

Chief Operating Officer – and Rochester native – Mary Belle Olson is proud of the many services that the hospital provides. “If someone needs an MRI or a CT scan, we can do that, right here. We can usually get them in for that procedure within the next day. It’s a lot better than having to wait for weeks for an appointment, then having to drive somewhere.”

I spoke with Louis Enriquez, the hospital’s Chief of Maintenance. He told me that one of the biggest problems they face is the old plumbing and sewer system. “It’s 1939 plumbing,” he said. “Every pipe is old cast iron, and a lot of them have cracks, especially the sewer pipes. They’re all 2” to 4” in size, and a flood is coming – we just don’t know when. It’s going to be a major expense when it fails.” He said the electrical conduits are also a problem. “They’re all very over-stuffed with wires. We really don’t have room to add anything else.” He noted that the concrete walls also make infrastructure repair and replacement a constant headache, and that the basement – where many of the records are kept – often floods following a heavy rain.

Chief Nursing Officer Tammy Mason pointed out that the patient rooms were in serious need of improvements, that most of the rooms did not even have a toilet, and that those that did had doors that were too narrow for a wheelchair or walker to get through. “We are so far out of ADA compliance,” she said, “and if we start trying to fix one thing, we have to bring the entire facility up to date.” She also noted that the rooms are too small for needed equipment and personnel when a patient “codes” and needs resuscitation. Assistant CNO Meghan Shelton added that a more centralized nurses’ station with better access to the ER would also be helpful in managing patient care.

But Nurse Mason also added that she loves being at the Haskell hospital. “We’re a smaller hospital, and I like that we are a lot more family oriented.”

And CEO Ms. Stevens summed up the sentiment that I heard from several hospital staffers. “We have really good people, providing really good care, and we are so much more than just a ‘band-aid station.’ We absolutely want to do as much as we can for someone right here,” she added, “without having to send them somewhere else.”