Columbus Regional Hospital remodel showing demolition of original 1917 building

Creation of a Health System

Robert A.M. Stern

In 1989, world-renowned architect Robert A. M. Stern discussed the ambitious master plan for the renovation and expansion project that would completely transform Bartholomew County Hospital into Columbus Regional Hospital.

Name Change

In 1992, a series of ad campaigns was created to generate awareness about the hospital's new name, which was better aligned with its role as a regional referral center.

The Birth of a Regional Health System

Through its first three quarters of a century, Bartholomew County Hospital's customer base was essentially within the county's borders. As the hospital progressed through the decades, it began to attract patients from neighboring counties, which were sorely lacking in comparable health care facilities. By the 1980s, at least a third of the hospital's patients came from outside Bartholomew County. 

Ironically, this trend among the smaller counties to regard their limited facilities as way stations for more specialized health care providers elsewhere was echoed within Bartholomew County Hospital. It,too, was limited as to treatment options, and county residents, along with their neighbors, were frequently referred to larger "destination" hospitals such as those in Indianapolis.

Although the patient population and services provided were stable in the first 25 years, the outbreak of World War II triggered a surge in both patients and the services offered. The situation was reflected in patient population. In 1939, Bartholomew County Hospital admitted 1,419 patients and recorded 209 births. In 1950, the patient population was 5,017 with 1,004 births recorded.

From that point forward, hospital trustees were caught in a perpetual game of catch-up. From 1949 to 1990, the Bartholomew County Commissioners and the hospital's Board of Trustees authorized six major expansions. Cost of those expansions ranged from $780,000 (1949 dollars) to $7.2 million.

Despite these expansions, advanced treatment options were limited at Bartholomew County Hospital.

Former hospital Chief Executive Officer John McGinty recalled that the transformation was launched in a modest manner.

“The board of trustees identified a need to provide better services for the community in the area of cancer care," he wrote in the booklet The Columbus Way in 2015. “The first step was a collaboration with the administrative staff and a Chicago architect to design a free-standing building dedicated to cancer care on the hospital campus.”

Coincident to this decision was the need on the part of the board to hire a new chief administrator on the heels of the retirement of long-time CEO Robert Borczon. McGinty was hired for the position in 1986, following a national job search for someone with visionary thinking about what could be done to improve health care in the county.

"When John arrived, he was confronted with this building plan," recalled Doug Leonard, who then was Vice President of Administrative Services at Bartholomew County Hospital and would later succeed McGinty as Chief Executive Officer. "He was a visionary leader. He was unencumbered by the history of Bartholomew County Hospital and saw the hospital with new eyes and new aspirations."

The groundwork for what was to follow was laid before McGinty arrived as chief administrator. Those serving on the Board of Trustees for the hospital harbored strategic plans and held high hopes and expectations for an institution that could evolve and not only meet the needs of the community, but anticipate changes and continue to innovate. McGinty was told that one of his primary missions would be to strengthen the hospital's position as a regional referral center and to empower its growth to meet the needs of the community and region. He said that he encouraged the board to review its strategic plan and master site concept before embarking on a single project, such as cancer care services.

“John decided it was time to ‘start over’,” Leonard recalled. “This involved a comprehensive planning process with strategic tactics and goals for not only the building and structural look and use of the facility, but also business functions, health care practices, service offerings and benchmarking in standards of service, quality and safety.

That master site review was the launching pad for an enhanced approach to the hospital's growth. One of the first steps was to seek a new architect and enlist the assistance of the Cummins Engine Co. Foundation in paying the design fees.

“By going to the Cummins architecture program we were looking for a new level of architecture and design,” said Lynne Maguire, former Director of Planning and Marketing and one of many key team members and leaders through the expansion project. “We wanted to send a visible signal to the community that we were a different institution.”

From the three architects submitted for consideration by the foundation, the Board of Trustees chose the world-renowned Robert A.M. Stern.

“The most interesting thing is that we actually sent out an RFP (Request for Plans) to the architectural firms on our list asking them to build us a Cancer Center and a Birthing Center,” Maguire said. “We thought we'd just add these buildings to the existing campus the way additions were done in the past. It was Robert Stern who told us we needed more than a Cancer Center and a Birthing Center – that our campus was confusing and that we had no architectural integrity. Adding new buildings to the already chaotic campus would create a lot of confusion for patients, families and staff and would box us in a corner in terms of future expansion and changes."

That eye-opening advice served as a trigger for the hospital board and staff to develop a campus master plan that would facilitate growth well into the future.

The new construction was for two two-story pavilions connected and integrated into the hospital building, according to McGinty. They were initially set up for inpatient and outpatient use in cancer care, intensive acute care, inpatient birthing and outpatient rehab.

In addition, a clearly identified main entrance drive was established, the equivalent of having a front door on a home. The interior of the main hospital building was designed to be more hospitable for people entering rather than creating a sense of dread in them.

The building project began in 1990 and was completed in 1993.

While physical changes were made to the layout and façade of the hospital campus, purposeful and diligent work evolved in both clinical and support system realms of the hospital. The community not only got a "new" hospital but one that was able to provide expanded services in areas patients would previously have had to seek elsewhere. Services and strategic partnerships expanded and improved to fulfill that regional referral focus, including a full complement of cardiovascular services and procedures, including open heart surgery, as well as specialty services such as wound care, robotics surgery and imaging services.

The larger and greatly enhanced facilities would obviously have a staffing impact. The medical staff doubled from 100 in the mid-80s to more than 200 physicians a decade later.

As the new physical structure evolved, hospital officials began an evaluation of the entity's identity.

“We did a lot of market research,” Maguire said. “The research confirmed for us that changing the name was the right thing to do and that the community would accept the (new) name.”

In 1992, Bartholomew County Hospital became the Columbus Regional Hospital.

"It was clear that the name “Bartholomew County Hospital” didn’t convey what Columbus, Indiana represented as an amazing small community," Leonard said. "Nor did it describe what a complex facility and medical community the hospital was, and could further become."

Following the official name change, over the next several years, innovative upgrades in business practice and information technology were made in tandem with the development of rigorous standards in service and quality in nursing practice, safety and patient satisfaction. The evolution to a regional referral center with growth in hospital-based services, outreach and presence outside the walls of the main hospital campus continued through the early 2000s and began to take much more deliberate shape under the leadership of current CEO Jim Bickel, who took on the role of president in 2007.

On the heels of recovery from the 2008 flood that closed the hospital for five months, Columbus Regional Health continued to benchmark in the areas of quality, service and innovation with national recognitions and awards ranging from the American Hospital Association’s Quest for Quality Prize, Becker's Hospital Review “100 Great Community Hospitals” and US News & World Report

Columbus Regional Hospital began to further expand to a health system comprised of specialty services, physician practices, wellness services and community outreach programs. To better reflect this growth and deliberate focus on Columbus Regional Hospital and its role in the continuum of health care services offered to area residents, the organization introduced the (name of Columbus Regional Health in 2011. A new vision statement emerged for Columbus Regional Health in 2014 as the health system continued to evolve and innovate in new ways.  The vision statement is as follows:

“Our vision is to be your health and wellness partner for life.  We will achieve our vision by always: Caring for you and our community with compassion; Connecting you to the best health resources; and Excelling in all we do.”

Healthcare services continue to expand under the leadership of Jim Bickel with the building of an all-new Emergency Department, expansion of our Cancer Center, new physicians, specialties and practices joining the health system to further facilitate an integrated health network.

“We also maintain a steady focus on not only outpatient services and chronic disease management, but that continuum of care and how we help patients navigate the health care system,” said Bickel. “We do this in a variety of ways with facilities such as our innovative WellConnect, which is a physical presence that provides community and healthcare connections and a forum for education and outreach, but also through programing such as our Wellness department and strategic partnerships with our affiliates such as OurHospice of South Central Indiana.”

 In addition to the hospital campus, Columbus Regional Health now consists of more than 25 specialty and primary care physician practices under the umbrella of Columbus Regional Health Physicians.

Under the current complement of leadership, the health system has also seen a reinvigorated focus on community outreach.

On the precipice of the next 100 years, Columbus Regional Health continues to position itself for further strategic growth that will not only meet the needs of the community and surrounding areas, but provide state-of-the-art, innovative healthcare options and healthy lifestyle services.