VINTON — If bricks and mortar can ever represent community cohesiveness and generosity, the building would look like Virginia Gay Hospital in Vinton. A new program — The Plaza of Heroes — cements that notion, for it pays tribute to people who have kept the hospital alive.
Small cities like Vinton, population 5,300, often struggle to keep health care local as larger city hospitals have expanded with satellite clinics and easier transportation to their main facilities.
While this hospital’s story begins in 1914 when Virginia Gay died and left $50,000, its survival and resurrection actually begin 20 years ago, coinciding with a popular program called the Tree of Lights which has raised nearly $1 million. The symbolic evergreen stood in front of the hospital until the wind storm of July, 2011, took it out along with hundreds of trees in town.
A stone fountain and brick plaza have been built in the tree’s place, in front of the new $8 million addition and upgrade to the hospital, while a new Tree of Lights has been planted south of it. For $75, a hero’s name can be engraved on one of 1,500 bricks with $50, like donations to the Tree of Lights, going to the hospital’s "tradition of healing" program.
"Our hospital was created with a gift," says Mike Timmermans, foundation director. "If it wasn’t for the people on these boards," he adds, walking through the lobby, "we would have been defunct in the 1980s."
Several wall displays cite the generosity of people, businesses and companies. More than 500 donors are listed for Tree of Lights 2012 (updated each year) and close to 100 names in the Legacy Circle note contributions of at least $10,000 each.
"We talk about fund raisers and friend raisers," Mike says. "They go hand in hand."
The tradition began in 1926 after the hospital closed for lack of funds. The Federation of Women’s Clubs of Vinton raised $3,700 to reopen the doors in 1927.
Many times since, the community has stepped up to ensure success for the hospital, from lean times in The Great Depression to construction of the present building in the 1950s to several additions. A big step came in 1992, after the hospital had lost $2.5 million in the past decade, when the hospital board terminated a management contract with St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids.
Under local control, the hospital thrived with pride of ownership. More than $1.2 million was raised in 1994. Expansion includes clinics and senior living. More than $2.2 million was raised for the new addition completed in 2010.
Today, Virginia Gay Hospital employs 250 full- and part-time people including four family doctors and a surgeon. It has everything from a 24-hour emergency room and imaging services to physical therapy and long-term care. The future is bright.
"We’re proud," Mike says. "We’ve made it with the help of the community."