After living through the death of two sons and a sickly wife, it was said that local farmer, lumberman and banker John Tolfree made it a personal priority to bring needed health care services to the area. To that end, in 1928, he petitioned the West Branch City Council for approval to build and give to the city a "suitable hospital building."
The original Tolfree Memorial Hospital was built on Houghton Avenue in West Branch in 1929. The hospital, a colonial-style building, could accommodate 10 inpatients. However, as the community grew, so too did the need for additional beds. Additions to the hospital were constructed in 1954, 1967, 1nd 1976, taking the hospital from its original 10-bed capacity to its highest capacity of 92 beds.
Once the hospital was built, Tolfree left administration of the facility to the city and to area physician, Dr. Clare Crandall. Dr. Crandall, along with Gertrude Wickes, the first administrator of the hospital, played an important role in shaping the policies and procedures of the hospital. That same tradition continues today as the medical center remains a city-owned hospital governed by a board of trustees.
The hospital's size and presence in the community were not the only things to grow throughout the years. The relocation of several physicians to the area - as well as the changing needs of the community - helped to increase the hospital's list of available medical services. Once known only as an acute care facility, the hospital transformed over the years into a well-rounded primary and secondary care facility.
In 1991, the Tolfree Memorial Hospital's Board of Trustees determined the 76,000 square foot building and its six-acre site had reached its maximum capacity, and that a new facility was needed. Following the formation of an affordable financing package, which included a successful fundraising campaign, the board broke ground for a new medical complex in 1996.
The new medical center, renamed and dedicated in 1999 as the West Branch Regional Medical Center, is the cornerstone of medical services in Ogemaw and the surrounding counties.
The 88-bed acute care facility includes four operating suites and a coronary/intensive care unit . The medical center's emergency services department, open 24 hours, features 11 patient treatment areas. At the heart of the medical center is its dedicated staff of professionals. Each team member is an integral part of the success of the organization.
Since opening, West Branch Regional Medical Center has added many new services to stay on track with its mission - "to provide quality healthcare services to improve the health status of the communities it serves." Some of those new services include heart catheterizations, cancer care, wound care, advanced diagnostic imaging and cardiac rehabilitation.
Behind the scenes, the medical center recently installed a state-of-the-art computerized information system to help bridge the gap between business and medicine. The new information system is an aggressive undertaking by several internal medical center departments and will allow the medical center to operate more efficiently and to qualify for federal incentive payments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. To qualify for the incentive payments WBRMC must demonstrate that its technology upgrades have improved healthcare quality, prevented medical errors and reduced healthcare costs. We are working hard to meet this criteria and are optimistic we will receive some federal dollars to help offset the cost of the system.
Complementing the medical center is the Medical Arts Center located at 335 E. Houghton Ave. (formerly the Tolfree Hospital) and the Lakeside Medical Arts Center, located at 200 Grand Ave. in Prudenville.
Some of the medical center's departments remain at the Medical Arts Center, including its laundry, materials management and business office. The Lakeside Medical Arts Center currently is home to Primary Care Practice.
West Branch Regional Medical Center has become a magnet for other health ventures. Soon after construction was started on the new facility, West Branch Regional Medical Center, Medical Arts Center and St. Mary's Hospital of Saginaw collaborated to construct the Seton Cancer Institute - West Branch campus, which opened in June 1999.
The 32,000 square foot institute, connected to the medical center via a corridor on the second floor, is a comprehensive radiation and oncology cancer treatment center. No longer must area cancer patients make the long drive to Saginaw for care.
The new medical center and cancer center are the infrastructure to take us well into the new millennium.