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CF medical history dates back to 1854

The history of health care in Cannon Falls dates back more than 150 years, to an era when medicine was primitive and doctors made house calls by horse and buggy.

It's a decades-long tale of a community's commitment to easily accessible, high-quality health care, and how generations of dedicated health care providers have administered that hometown care with a personal touch.

The stories of Cannon Falls' early physicians and first hospital - as well as the story of how local health care providers joined the Mayo Clinic family in 2006 - are tales of extraordinary vision and commitment. That same vision and commitment continue to define Mayo Clinic Health System today.

The town's early physicians

Within a few years of the earliest settlers arriving in Cannon Falls in 1854, Dr. J.E. Tibbetts began practicing medicine in this river town. Dr. Tibbetts, an East Coast native, had several years of doctoring experience under his belt before he was lured to Minnesota by a case of "Western fever" in 1856.

Dr. Tibbetts, who was known for his skill and good cheer, practiced from 1856 to the 1870s.

The Conley family of doctors - Drs. Alonzo Theodore Conley and Hiram Eldridge Conley, who were brothers, and Dr. Alonzo's youngest son, Dr. Alva Conley -practiced in Cannon Falls from 1876 to 1930.

The Conleys were tirelessly dedicated to their patients, according to the book Historic Cannon Falls, 1854-2004: A Sesquicentennial Celebration, written by several local historians in partnership with the Cannon Falls Area Historical Society.

Devastating diseases like smallpox, influenza, and diphtheria were rampant during the years the Conley family practiced, and by the early part of the 20th century, tuberculosis (TB), another vicious disease, plagued the country and the state. The first TB sanatorium in Goodhue County, Mineral Springs Sanatorium, was opened in 1915 (see sidebar). "The San," which was operated until 1973, is credited with being an early site where the drug streptomycin was successfully administered to TB patients. This breakthrough greatly shortened the length of TB patients' stays in sanatoriums.

The community rallies to build a hospital

As the 20th century progressed, medical care in Cannon Falls was primarily provided by a few physicians with small private practices. They usually had to send patients who needed complex surgeries or other forms of sophisticated treatment as far as 42 miles to hospitals in Rochester, Northfield, Red Wing, Hastings, and Zumbrota, over sometimes treacherous gravel roads.

Cannon Falls' physicians, along with community leaders and members, recognized the need for a hospital in the town of 2,000. In a 2008 article in the Cannon Falls Beacon, local businessman Bob O'Gorman recalled that community leaders thought a hospital would not only benefit citizens, but would also make work more convenient for beleaguered local doctors, who had to travel out of town to visit their hospitalized patients. This type of inconvenience was frustrating rural doctors and pushing them out of small towns all over the region. O'Gorman told the Beacon:

Doctors were leaving to work in bigger cities where there were hospital facilities available. We didn't want to have that happen in Cannon Falls. Good health care was important for the overall growth of the community.

In 1945, a memorial fund was established by businessman Bill Scofield to benefit the future creation of a hospital. The first contributions were received in memory of Henry Nelson, a local farmer, and Howard Seasons, a 1941 graduate of Cannon Falls High School who became a World War II pilot and died when his plane was shot down over Romania.

By 1954, local businessman Ken Althoff, founder of Midwest Importers, established a hospital planning committee. But it wasn't until 1958 that Cannon Falls Community Hospital and Nursing Home opened its doors. At the time, the new facility garnered attention as a "medical experiment" because it was the first Minnesota hospital designed to also serve as a nursing home. Special legislation had been passed by the Minnesota Legislature so that the combination hospital and nursing home could be built.

The process of raising funds and building the hospital was truly a community endeavor. The city paid for construction of the $295,000, H-shaped, one-story facility, but community members had to raise $116,000 to equip and furnish the 12,000-square-foot building. Operating, obstetrics, emergency, and X-ray rooms were included in the building. O'Gorman recalled the fundraising efforts of community leaders in the Beacon article:

Coffee parties were organized all over town. Ken Althoff and I would visit with six or seven people and explain the project over coffee and cookies. We had meetings in every neighborhood and met with many groups.

The opening of the facility - which had a total of 33 beds between the hospital (11 beds) and nursing home (22 beds) - brought out the best in local citizens. Volunteers sewed the first curtains, painted the walls, and helped with the construction and landscaping. Several thousand people attended a dedication ceremony on Oct. 5, 1958. The hospital officially opened on Nov. 3, 1958.

A newspaper article written a few days after the hospital opened showered praise on the people of Cannon Falls for their accomplishment: "The people of the community are to be congratulated for having sacrificed for and built this double duty institution." Other articles about the facility's first day noted that several elderly folks were transferred to the nursing home, and offered an account of medical services that were provided:

Sixteen patients were admitted on this first day. Three operations were performed, the first one at 8:30 Monday morning. An accident case was taken care of when Thomas Soine of Dennison suffered a seriously mangled right hand in a corn picker accident. And at 2:07 Tuesday morning the first baby was born in the new hospital ... Miss Mary Vesta Sours, hospital administrator, wishes to thank the public for their interest and support and for the many beautiful flowers sent [to] the hospital on the opening day.

After one year in operation, total net income for the Cannon Falls Community Hospital and Nursing Home was $1,739.32. At the hospital's 10th anniversary in 1968, a newspaper article stated that "income and expense records of the past 10 years reveal that the hospital has nearly broken even, which is what the original board pledged would happen." The hospital had acquired its first portable respirator unit (through a donation) and a new X-ray machine during the 1960s.

By the mid-70s, it became clear that a broader base of ownership and additional tax dollars were needed to keep the hospital running smoothly. In 1977, a hospital district was formed when voters in Leon, Stanton, and Cannon Falls townships voted to join the city in forming the hospital district. Also in 1977, the nursing home was moved to a nearby site that was not on the hospital campus, freeing up space for hospital expansion.

A collaborative culture: Establishing partnerships and joining the Mayo family

In the early 1990s, a new clinic was built on Community Hospital property. In 1993, the Cannon Falls Hospital District board purchased that clinic, which was now called Cannon Family Health Center.

Cannon Family Health Center and Cannon Falls Community Hospital partnered closely for 13 years, until an historic affiliation was made.

In 2006, Cannon Falls Community Hospital and Cannon Family Health Center affiliated with Mayo Health System, a network of clinics, hospitals, and health care facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The hospital and health center were combined into a single, not-for-profit entity, named Cannon Falls Medical Center. The creation organization, dedicated to preserving and enhancing area residents' access to quality, cost-effective health care, launched a new era in medical excellence in the community.

Renamed Mayo Clinic Health System in 2011, the organization is now a primary and specialty care clinic and a 21-bed hospital that provides a full range of quality, convenient medical care services. A dedicated team of primary care providers and allied health professionals, including professionals in radiology, lab, rehabilitation therapy, and pharmacy services, make the health care organization a vital resource for the area. Patients of Mayo Clinic Health System also have consistent access to visiting specialists in general surgery, cardiology, OB/GYN, pediatrics, orthopedics, podiatry, ENT, ophthalmology and neurology. Mayo Clinic Health System also offers a transitional care program for patients recuperating from strokes, surgeries, wounds, and other health conditions. The program provides patients with 24-hour nursing care, meals, and physical and occupational therapy, and affords flexibility to hospitalized patients who are no longer acutely ill but need extra time to heal or strengthen before returning home (see sidebar).

Community rallies once more

It's often said that history repeats itself. Just as in the 1940s, the community rallied once again in 2012 to help create a new vision of health care in Cannon Falls.

In October 2012, Mayo Clinic announced plans to build a new medical center including a clinic, hospital and emergency department to replace the original 1958 hospital building.

Mayo Clinic invested $20 million towards the $28 million project. The community raised the additional funds within just a few months. Mayo Clinic Health System in Cannon Falls hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on April 12, 2013. Patients and visitors can expect an improved overall experience beyond the continued presence of dependable, high-quality health care. The new facility has 92,000 square feet or nearly three times more space than the current building, allowing Mayo Clinic Health System to expand its emergency medicine care and many other services, improve privacy, and add new technology.

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