The Pettis County Health Center celebrated 30 years of service in the local community Wednesday. Once called the Pettis County Nursing Service, the PCHC has come far and spawned other organizations in its three decades; none of that would be possible without a unified community.
On Wednesday, helping the center celebrate were former Administrator Owen Smith, now living in Springfield, and former Board Member Lauretta Emerson R.N., of Sedalia.
“You’ve got living history standing right here,” current Administrator JoAnn Martin said of Smith and Emerson.
Smith, who served from 1992 to 1997, said he remembered how the community came together in 1993 to build the existing building at 911 E. 16th St.
In the 1980s, PCHC was located in a small space at Bothwell Regional Health Center. Smith said it was Orin Smith who had the current building constructed. At that time, although their names were similar, Smith said he’d never met Orin.
“Orin gave us this challenge,” he added. “We were totally crowded. In fact, so crowded that we got an ugly, old 12-by-50-foot trailer and set it down by the old building. We used that for an office.”
Eventually Dr. Tom Hopkins, board chair, spoke with local attorney Adam Fischer about the need for a larger center. Fischer was interested. Smith said two weeks later Fischer set up a meeting between the Smiths.
“(Orin Smith) said ‘I’ll give you a challenge, if the community will donate real estate and equipment I’ll build the building, and donate it to you,’” Smith said. “The building, at that point, was just under $500,000 — I bought this acre of ground from the (Sedalia School District 200) school board for $1. That was the summer of ‘93 when the big flood was going on.
“During that summer this community donated just under $100,000 for equipment,” he added. “That’s the same year that the United Way made its goal and people were donating to the flood charity. It was almost unbelievable, the community support.”
Both Smith and Emerson said they were pleased the center is doing well and helping others in so many ways.
“It’s great, because I know this has been an active thing,” Emerson said. “It’s not just something that started and didn’t make it. It just keeps growing, and JoAnn is doing a wonderful job.”
Over time the center has helped start other community agencies. Smith said the center helped Cheri Heeren start the Pettis County Community Partnership.
“She got her start in the back room of the old building, with a part-time grant to try and work on a community development program,” he added. “That’s where that started, there are so many things that came out of here.”
Also during that time they were able to introduce nurses into the public school system and into Sacred Heart School. Before that time, often school secretaries were responsible for administering medications to children.
“That year, with that grant, we put a nurse in every school in Pettis County,” Smith said.
Smith said he convinced the PCHC and state boards the children at Sacred Heart were “our kids.”
“So we put a nurse in the Catholic school,” he added.
Martin said they were able to have a nurse at Sacred Heart through a loophole. The nurse was a Missouri Health Department employee and the Health Department gave her a place to work at the school.
“That’s how we did it until they pulled funding,” she added. “When the grant went away, all the county schools realized how valuable having a health nurse in the school was.”
PCHC also practiced forward thinking in 1991 as HIV and AIDS became prevalent during a time when many people and churches refused to discuss the illness.
“We had the very first (in Pettis County) STD and HIV/AIDS testing and treatment,” Smith said. “It was fairly new at the time and there was nowhere to go.”
“In the ’80s we knew something odd was happening,” Martin said. “They didn’t put a name on it until about ‘85 and it wasn’t until ‘90 or ‘91 that you could even test. “
The WIC program has always played a big part at the center. WIC, or Women Infants and Children, is at the forefront in helping mothers and children by providing proper nutrition through the use of vouchers.
Smith said he’s always had a fondness for the program. When PCHC moved to the current building they increased their WIC program by a fourth.
“… For their doctor bills we would save $3 in medical bills for each dollar we spent in WIC,” Smith said. “That was one of my favorite things.”
He noted that he was happy to see children becoming healthier through the program.
Smith and Martin said the center also offers well-child checks and this service has saved children’s lives.
Smith said one baby in particular wasn’t thriving and couldn’t eat. The 15-year-old mother knew something was wrong and brought the baby into the center.
“One of our gals called the doctor and he said ‘oh she’s just a kid she doesn’t know,’” Smith added.
The staff member decided to take the girl and her baby to the hospital emergency room where it was air flighted to University Hospital in Columbia.
“It had pyloric stenosis, and they said that baby would not be alive by the weekend,” he said. “In a couple weeks you could see the difference in that baby.”
Martin said they have a case load of approximately 1,500 people who use the WIC program. On Wednesday, in conjunction with the 30-year celebration, WIC Coordinator Mary Lou Shane hosted the fifth annual Tricycle Rodeo on the parking lot for children and their parents.
The rodeo, for ages 2 to 5, highlighted healthy eating, bicycle and dog safety, exercise and showed the children where food comes from in a Farm to Table section.
“We’re just trying to get kids outside doing activities, getting them away from the TVs, and the phones, and the tablets,” Shane said. “WIC is always trying to offer them healthier choices.”
Martin said she was pleased with how the center has grown through the years and how it’s helping others.
“We are so blessed in this community with the support that we have received for the health center, from its inception to its current state,” she added.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.