A hundred years ago, the medical field was on the brink of modernization. In the coming decade, maternal and child healthcare would dramatically improve, insulin would be invented for the treatment of diabetes, and nursing would become a learned profession.
The fledgling practice that would develop into the St. Croix Regional Medical Center was contained in a single home. House calls from Dr. Jake Riegel in his Model T were common, and office calls cost $2.
“The payment model was simple,” the medical center’s CEO, Dave Dobosenski, said to a crowd gathered in the Riverbend Room to mark the occasion. “There was definitely some bartering going on.”
Deadly diseases of the time that have since been all but vanquished by modern medicine included smallpox, polio, measles and yellow fever.
“Is there anything on that list that may be ironic today?” Dobosenski asked.
Of course, many maladies thought to be rare scourges of the past have resurfaced in recent years, thanks to growing anti-vaccine sentiment. However, most of the developments at SCRMC since its birth in 1919 are cause for celebration. What was once one doctor’s work-from-home family business has expanded into a facility boasting 780 employees, including around 65 doctors, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners. The medical center has opened several community clinics across Polk County as well, including other branches of the field such as dentistry, pharmacy and hospice.
Present were three now-retired doctors — Leo Nelson, Bill Young and Marsha Beyer — there to speak on a panel about witnessing these changes firsthand. Beyer was the second female physician to practice at the center, beginning in the 1980s. She recalled some of the hardships she faced in those early days.
“Back then, people didn’t think you necessarily knew what you were doing,” Beyer said. “One person asked me if I had my herbs and whistles.”
Prior to her and Dr. Gail Hanson’s arrival, break time was segregated by gender into the “doctor’s lounge” and “nurse’s lounge,” the former of which doubled as a men’s dressing room.
Other struggles were more universal, such as the expansion of technology.
“Obviously the computer was a big change,” Beyer said. “I have a daughter that’s a second-year resident in internal medicine, and she’s still complaining about the computer.”
Humorous anecdotes of days gone by were shared, such as Dr. Marty Wagner braving a Thanksgiving blizzard and getting stuck in the snow. He believed he was performing an emergency house call for a grandmother, only to arrive and discover that the woman in question simply hadn’t had a checkup in a long time. He performed it, right over the turkey and pumpkin pie. Or there was Dr. Fred Riegel, the narcoleptic son of the original Dr. Jake, disposing of the last of the ether via a potato gun when a professional anesthetist took up practice in the late 1960s. One octogenarian audience member relayed how the doctor was late in delivering him as a baby.
“Doctors still don’t always make the delivery,” Nelson said, “but you turned out very well, George.”
“Only a doctor would say that,” George responded.
The night concluded with the reading of the center’s history in poetic form, as composed by Dr. Young.
“It was in 1919, Jake Riegel did appear. He’d been in the Navy, the Great War finished last year…” Young began.
Dobosenski said that acknowledging and celebrating history was crucial to building upon the future.
“History is the root and foundation of this organization,” he said. “Every day we build on that foundation.”