*Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the James E. Cary Cancer Center. This story has been edited to reflect that change.

One hundred fifteen years ago, physicians would make regular house calls to treat patients, sometimes undertaking risky and painful procedures right in someone's bedroom. Individual doctors were the front line of patient care at the turn of the 20th century.

Then, in the early 1900s, Aaron R. Levering, President of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Hannibal, and his wife, Eleanor M. Levering, recognized the need for a hospital to serve the Hannibal community. 

From the Leverings' truly visionary leadership sprung Levering Hospital. That vision, over the past 115 years, has evolved to an all-encompassing healthcare community in Hannibal Regional — which celebrated on Friday 115 years since the first person was treated at Levering Hospital.

A lot has changed since Levering opened in 1903.

Doctors now see patients in sterile, state-of-the-art settings.

Levering merged with another local hospital, St. Elizabeth.

The hospital adopted a new name.

A new medical campus grew in western Hannibal.

Nationwide changes like the introduction of Medicare in the 1960s and the Affordable Care Act in the 2010s reshaped the healthcare landscape.

But two things have remained the same, Hannibal Regional CEO Todd Ahrens said: the commitment to excellent patient care in Hannibal and the independence of the organization to remain locally-run.

History

When Levering Hospital opened its doors it was the first erected hospital in Missouri and contained 26 patient beds.  Throughout its history, Levering Hospital received the support of many other contributors in the form of time, talent and funds. Over the years citizens, religious and civil organizations, and the Levering Hospital Auxiliary generously and unselfishly gave their energy and money to the hospital, truly making it a “Community Partnership.”

A few years later, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital was organized and founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville, Mo.  The Reverend Mother, M. Augustine, founder of the Sisters of St. Francis, was also the founder of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.  The land for the hospital was purchased in the fall of 1913, and the hospital was completed and received its first patients in the summer of 1915.  Eight young, energetic nursing sisters were sent to Hannibal to operate the hospital.  These sisters, with the help of some local citizens, readied the newly constructed hospital to serve the community.  This hospital was located on Virginia Street and had 35 patient beds.

The two hospitals operated independently then for the next 70 years.

In July 1987, after many months of discussion and planning, the Board of Directors for both Levering Hospital and St. Elizabeth Hospital entered into an affiliation agreement to explore the consolidation of both hospitals. In 1988, the two facilities merged, forming Hannibal Regional Hospital.

In 1993, Hannibal Regional Hospital opened a new facility on what has since become Hannibal's medical campus west of town.

Additions include the Hannibal Regional Medical Group, the James E. Cary Cancer Center, and the Hannibal Children's Center, along with Medical Group buildings in other Northeast Missouri towns. In October 2017, the health system broke ground on a $60 million-plus expansion that will see major upgrades to the hospital along with the construction of a new, 80,000 square foot office building.

Growing along the way

Times have undoubtedly changed in the way medical care takes place.

For example, a heart attack in the 1910s in many cases ended in death, or at least a lengthy hospital stay. As technology has advanced and Hannibal Regional has incorporated that technology, a heart attack may take a person out of commission for only a day or two as physicians can easily place stents in a patients arteries.

As healthcare generally has improved over the past 115 years, Americans started to live longer. That has meant adapting to the needs of a diverse, aging population. Electronic records have made patient history and treatment easier to access and adjust accordingly. These changes have helped people lead “longer, more fruitful lives,” Ahrens said.

“Healthcare is changing. I think our expansion is a reflection of how healthcare is changing, how we need to make sure we have the specialities available to the community so the community can get that care locally,” Ahrens said.

Notable leaders

Along the way, many people within the Hannibal Regional system and community have had a profound impact on healthcare in the entire community, Ahrens said. He pointed to two people specifically who have championed better health in the area and drove the mission of Hannibal Regional forward.

John Grossmeier was the CEO of Hannibal Regional prior to Ahrens for a time period in excess of 20 years, “which in the CEO world is a significant period of time,” Ahrens noted.

“He gets a lot of credit for what we see here today,” Ahrens continued.

Grossmeier helped shaped community health on a large scale, Ahrens said.

Additionally, a familiar name to many Hannibalians should get equal credit: James E. Cary.

Known by many because of his name tied to the James E. Cary Cancer Center, Cary was a longtime corporate counsel for the system. Cary was crucial in the communications that led up to the merger of St. Elizabeth and Levering.

“Some folks think but for his efforts, it may never have gotten done,” Ahrens said.

Looking ahead

With its forthcoming expansion, Hannibal Regional is focused on providing greater prevention-based care to reduce costly hospitalizations. There will certainly be challenges along the way, including with confronting societal aspects to healthcare access and the government's role in reimbursing or subsidizing healthcare. But Ahrens said Hannibal Regional is ready to tackle the ever-evolving landscape of the health field locally.

“We remain as independent as we were when those two hospitals came together in the '80s,” he said. “And that's important to us. We want to make we're the local provider of healthcare for the people of our region.”

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .