Sparrow Ionia Hospital

479 Lafayette St. Ionia, Michigan  48846 

   1-616-523-1400   or     1-800-237-2572


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Sparrow Health System


Our Mission:  To improve the health of the people in our communities by providing quality, compassionate care to everyone, every time.

History of Ionia County Memorial Hospital


    Under private ownership of Ms. Belle Sawyer, and later Mrs. Grace Elliott, Ionia Hospital was an expense to the owners and had to be supported with charitable gifts from interested friends and neighbors.  The noble efforts of these two dedicated ladies to meet the community’s needs came to an end when Mrs. Elliott announced in February of 1943 that the community hospital, on Jackson St., was to close due to the poor economics and the war.

   The pending closing of the only facility in the city caused concern and alarm among the residents and they approached the city government. Leading the initiative was Mayor Clarence Johnson who worked tirelessly to promote the  concept and seek support from the community.  On March 25, 1943, the first of a series of special City council meetings were held to outline a plan of action.  The community was invited and response overwhelming. 

    A city wide election on April 27, 1943, asking one-mill for five years to finance the hospital, passed 1498 to 39.  An agreement was reached with Mrs. Hassie Thornton, owner of the Jackson property, to rent the building for thirty dollars a month. The name, Ionia County Memorial Hospital, was proposed by Allan Williams and accepted by the council. The hospital would be dedicated to the men and women of Ionia County in the Armed Service.  Over the next few months the city renovated and redecorated the Jackson Street facility with a $6,000 loan.  Dedication Day took place on Sunday, August 1st, at the Ionia Fairgrounds.

    Immediately following, plans and fundraising efforts began to build a fund for a new, 50-bed, modern hospital. The original goal was set for $200,000. However, at the end of the campaign a total of $365,643 was raised.  Contributions poured in from all  areas of the county – some as small as fifty cents and others as large as the $7,000 pledged by the Palo Baptist Church.  The Michigan State Hospital donated $10,000 to furnish the x-ray room. Donations came from Saranac (almost $10,000) and the villages of Lake Odessa and Portland.  Leading the team was Fred Post, President of the Ionia State Savings Bank.  After setting up a Business and Professional Committee, Anthony Balice left the meeting and came back in ten minutes with the first pledge from John Krycenski.  Mr. Balice cumulated his efforts when ten years later, on September 20, 1953, as Mayor, he presided over the dedication of the new Ionia County Memorial Hospital, on Lafayette Street.  At that time the community looked upon the new hospital as a fully matured institution.  People thought they had built “…once and for all an adequate hospital”.  At that time, it was undoubtedly a true enough statement.  The cost of the “new hospital” was now over $650,000.  Approximately 60% of that was contributed by the government under the new “Hill-Burton” legislation, passed to assist communities in building hospitals.

   Within three years, an 18-bed pediatric unit had to be added.  This was called the Hale Unit after Mrs. Laurence Hale, who had been so instrumental in planning the original new facility.  Then in 1958-1960, a new addition was constructed for the expanded laundry and boiler facilities. 

   Throughout the 1960’s many changes took place at Ionia County Memorial Hospital.  Medicare went into effect, physical therapy services began for both  in-patient and outpatients, and a four-bed heart care unit opened.  By the mid-sixties it was clear that the Hospital was “too small’ and further changes would be needed. The Hale Unit, which was placed in the basement of the hospital, was no longer meeting codes. Due to growth in the ancillary areas, such as lab and x-ray, these areas were overcrowded and could not meet the needs.  In 1966 a master plan was created outlining the changes that would be required.  Also in 1966, the hospital received its first accreditation from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals solidifying its efforts to provide high quality health care services. (The Hospital continues to maintain its accreditation and in 2002 received additional recognition from the Michigan Quality Health Council with its Lighthouse Recognition Award.)

    In addition to the Hill-Burton funds, the community looked to hospital revenues to support this project.  In December of 1968, the City Of Ionia Hospital Building Authority was created to enable the sale of revenue bonds.  Revenue generated by hospital operations was used to pay off bonds.  The City entered into a forty-year lease to lease the building from the Authority with Rex O’Connor serving as a key contact from the Authority. Once financing was secured, construction began immediately and in 1970 the hospital opened its intensive and coronary care unit. In 1971, additional space was added to the hospital to expand the Emergency Department and provide more beds for the current 77-bed capacity.

   In a letter in 1973 to then hospital administrator, Al Knaus, Clarence Johnson would write, “It was a small beginning Al, but (as I) look out of my window now after thirty years, and view with pride the great strides the hospital has made, thanks to hundreds of dedicated citizens who have given so unselfishly of their time and talents to achieve this goal.” Clarence Johnson’s legacy continues to serve Ionia County through the establishment of the Clarence Johnson scholarship fund which along with the Lapo Scholarship (recognizing Ray and Charlotte Lapo of Lake Odessa, early supporters of ICMH) provides tuition support for residents entering the healthcare field.

   Over the next twenty years changes in health care and in financing continued to direct activities. The advent of Medicare payments drove many of the changes. A newspaper article highlighted Faie Hummel, one of the first local beneficiaries of the program.  At that time, Mrs. Hummel had already had been a patient in the hospital for forty days. The government quickly found that it underestimated the financial impact of this program and began program changes that continually decrease the money paid to hospital, and doctors with strict limitations on the number of days of care they will provide payment for.  Other insurance issues also dominated the operations agenda with Blue Cross being an important factor in decision making. 

    In a trustee meeting in 1971 the finance director announced to the Board that “Blue Cross didn’t object to our rate increase.”  (A later newspaper article (1984) announced the beginning of acceptance of HMO coverage and in the late 90’s enrollees in Michigan’s Medicaid program were rolled into a capitated managed care plan.)

   More changes were made over the next two decades, not only with the Ionia County Memorial Hospital facility but also within the healthcare field itself.  Physical Therapy services were moved off site to accommodate increased technology and use.  The Home Health Care program moved its location from within the hospital to the corner of Morse St. and Lafayette St,  which was purchased by the Hospital. By the late 90’s the Ionia community outgrew the existing Emergency Department and Outpatient Services configuration.  Over the last 20 years there had been a 42% increase in visits to the Emergency Department alone.  The exiting facility was not designed to serve the more than 20,000 members of the community who received medical care in the ER.

   So in the fall of 2001, a new 6100 sq. feet Emergency Department was built, a renovated and expanded Outpatient project took place, and a second story was added above the new ER for future expansion.

   The hospital continues to grow in services and size.  Since the 2001 ER project, the hospital has added Nuclear Medicine, a Spiral CT, new mammography unit, PACS/Digital Radiology services, orthopedic surgery services,  Oncology services, a new c-arm in surgery and much more.  We have physician offices located in Portland and Ionia to serve the needs of Ionia County.  Ionia County Memorial Hospital is a non-profit, community governed hospital.  We are looking forward to the coming years and changes in healthcare.



Last updated:  23 February, 2010 02:01 PM