Swedish American Health System
Swedish American Health System
Sales: $388 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 622110 General Surgical and Medical Hospitals; 621111 Offices of Physicians (Except Mental Health Specialists); 621112 Offices of Physicians, Mental Health Specialists; 621610 Home Health Care Services
Located in Rockford, Illinois, SwedishAmerican Health System is a non-profit, locally governed organization serving 12 counties in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Over the past 90 years, SwedishAmerican has evolved from a single hospital into a health system that includes a network of 19 primary care and multi-specialty clinics, a large home care agency and a wide variety of programs devoted to wellness and education.
The Early Years: 1911-39
On March 23, 1911, a mathematician by the name of O.F. Nilson wrote a letter to Carl Hjalmar Lundquist, the editor of the Svenska Posten, Rockford’s Swedish newspaper, urging the construction of a Swedish hospital in Rockford. Half joking, he challenged every Swedish resident to contribute one dollar per year toward a new hospital, and he enclosed a dollar as a token of his sincerity. Acting on Nilson’s request, Lundquist called a meeting of Rockford’s Swedish ministers to discuss the matter. He also used Nilson’s donation to open a savings account for the hospital at the Swedish-American National Bank. The SwedishAmerican Hospital Association received its charter of incorporation from the Illinois Secretary of State on June 6, 1911.
Letters went out in Swedish and English asking for financial support, and many fund-raising picnics, bazaars, and concerts followed. By May 1912, more than $4,000 in cash and $8,000 in pledges had been raised toward the construction of SwedishAmerican Hospital. A three-acre site was purchased on Charles Street for $11,500. On July 17, 1918, a 55-bed hospital was completed at the cost of $175,000. For Rockford’s Swedish citizens, a dream had come true.
On July 18, 1918, SwedishAmerican Hospital admitted its first patient, Mrs. J.G. Prowd, whose 11-day stay for surgery amounted to $40. Clarence Pearson was the first baby born at the hospital on August 29, 1918. Healthcare was very different during the early years of SwedishAmerican. It was a time before antibiotics or disposable hypodermic needles, when pneumonia and influenza posed great challenges for caregivers. In fact, two months after SwedishAmerican opened its doors, it was forced to contend with an influenza epidemic that killed almost 2,000 people in Rockford and surrounding areas. At this time, private rooms with bath cost $6 per day. Patients were charged weekly rates of $15 to $42. Top nurse salaries were about $60 per month.
Amid many challenges, SwedishAmerican prospered during the 1920s and 1930s. The hospital opened a nursing school in 1919 that produced its first graduates in 1922. By 1938, SwedishAmerican had served Rockford for 20 years. To celebrate, an event was held in July on the hospital lawn. Approximately 6,000 people came to see Sweden’s Prince Bertil, the 26-year-old son of Prince Gustaf Adolf, who was present for the celebration.
Growing with Rockford: 1940-69
The 1940s marked the beginning of a period of expansion and growth at SwedishAmerican that continued at a strong pace through the 1960s. Between 1938 and 1945, Victor Lindberg and Norman Andrews were among SwedishAmerican’s first administrators, before George M. Edblom assumed the role. Edblom was appointed superintendent (administrator) of SwedishAmerican Hospital in 1945 and held the position until his death on July 29, 1964. During Edblom’s administration, SwedishAmerican doubled in size. Thanks to his leadership, the hospital evolved into a more modern facility that could meet the needs of Rockford’s rapidly growing community. Edblom’s accomplishments were many, including the establishment and expansion of pathology services, construction of three large additions to the hospital, numerous structural improvements, and positive changes to internal operations.
In 1942, an extension to the west wing of the hospital, which began in 1940, was completed. The extension comprised five floors and added 50 beds, expanding the hospital’s capacity to approximately 125 beds. Construction began on the first Swedish American School of Nursing building in 1943 and was completed the following year. Located north of the main hospital, the building was two stories high and provided housing for 36 students and the school’s director, a demonstration room, a library, as well as classrooms and offices. A third floor was added approximately three years later, adding housing for 60 additional students.
At the close of the decade, construction began on a new wing of the hospital, which adjoined the existing structure to the east. Sweden’s Prince Bertil, who had visited SwedishAmerican during the 1930s, was present to turn the first spade of dirt when construction began. Built in response to Rockford’s then critical shortage of hospital beds, the new wing added five stories and 75 beds to SwedishAmerican Hospital. It also contained new emergency, delivery, and surgical facilities.
When the new wing was completed in 1953, SwedishAmerican’s medical staff numbered almost 200. Of those with privileges, a total of 36 general practitioners and specialists were on active staff. In addition to caring for the sick, these doctors also contributed to the hospital’s educational programs and provided assistance and advice to administration, among other duties. By 1955, the Baby Boom was in full effect. A record 200 babies were born at SwedishAmerican in August 1955, which was then an all-time record, surpassing the annual total of babies born at the hospital in all of 1934. At one point, the nursery cared for 46 babies simultaneously.
SwedishAmerican kicked off the 1960s by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the day it was granted a charter to build and operate a hospital. The backdrop for the 1961 celebration was a giant, ten-story framework of steel to the east of the existing hospital. By 1963, this skeletal structure had become a major, $5.5 million addition to SwedishAmerican Hospital. When the tower opened, the first five floors were completed for use, enlarging the hospital’s capacity to 330 beds. By 1964, plans were announced to complete the sixth, seventh, and eighth floors. A dedication and corner stone ceremony for the new tower was held on the afternoon of March 26, 1963. Sweden’s Prince Bertil, who had visited SwedishAmerican before in 1938 and 1948, played a central role in the ceremony.
In 1964, Administrator George Edblom died while on duty. His vacancy was filled by E. Dean Grout, who came to SwedishAmerican from Winfield, Kansas. In his previous position, he was administrator of William Newton Hospital, a 167-bed, city-owned general hospital. Grout graduated from Bethany College in Oklahoma, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1955. A year later, he received a Master of Science degree in hospital administration from Northwestern University. During his tenure as administrator, Grout created several key positions within the hospital, including comptroller and directors of personnel, public relations, development, and food service. In addition, he helped to establish an operating room technician course for licensed practical nurses and a nursing program at a local community college.
Many developments unfolded at SwedishAmerican Hospital during 1967, including the renovation and relocation of many business offices. In addition, a day nursery for pre-school children of employees was opened, which helped relieve the shortage of nursing personnel. In fiscal year 1968, SwedishAmerican Hospital admitted 12,677 patients and 1,692 babies were born there. That year, SwedishAmerican celebrated the 50th anniversary of its hospital building with a festive public event in July.
On February 28, 1969, E. Dean Grout announced he would resign from SwedishAmerican on April 1 to accept a position at a New Jersey-based consulting firm. Albert L. Boulenger was named as SwedishAmerican’s administrator on June 23, 1969. Boulenger had spent the previous five years as director of a three-county hospital complex of nearly 1,000 beds in Tampa, Florida. At the time of his appointment, he had 16 years of experience in hospital administrative posts. Boulenger earned an undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in hospital administration from Washington University in St. Louis. Shortly after he became the hospital’s administrator, SwedishAmerican named Boulenger executive vice-president, and he became the organization’s first chief operational officer and a voting member of the board of trustees.
Expansion and Modernization: 1970s
In 1971, a special radiology and cardiac procedures unit was constructed in conjunction with the offering of open-heart surgery at SwedishAmerican Hospital. In 1972, the hospital established an occupational therapy service and started a pediatric cardiology unit. SwedishAmerican completed construction on the ninth and tenth floors of its tower addition in 1973, adding approximately 100 additional beds. That year, the hospital expanded its outpatient services and achieved an overall increase of nearly 37 percent more outpatient visits than in 1971.
The mission of Swedish American Health System, its hospital, and its patient care subsidiaries is to provide care to those who are ill and effective prevention strategies to those who are well. Our vision is to develop a fully integrated healthcare delivery network that will continuously set the standard for quality of care and service, accept responsibility for building a healthier population, provide regional access, improve resource utilization through collaboration with key stakeholders, and manage patient care and our resources in such a way that we create value for our patients and return on investment to our community.
Progress continued midway through the decade. In 1974, SwedishAmerican developed the Regional Cancer Center. A new two-floor surgical pavilion opened in 1975, featuring new facilities for performing open-heart surgery and a patient transportation elevator. It was the first of its kind in Illinois. The Outpatient Surgery Center was an important feature of the new pavilion, although SwedishAmerican had offered outpatient surgery since 1971. The hospital concluded the decade by opening a large, modern, fully equipped emergency facility in 1979.
In addition to the expansion and modernization that took place at SwedishAmerican during the 1970s, there also were changes in leadership. Boulenger resigned on September 1, 1971 to accept an administrative post with Samaritan Health Service in Phoenix, Arizona. E. Wynn Presson succeeded Boulenger as executive vice-president.
Presson had served SwedishAmerican as associate administrator (a new position created by Boulenger) since April 27, 1970. Before joining SwedishAmerican, he spent four years with Parkland Memorial Hospital and Woodlawn Hospital in Dallas, where he was assistant administrator. Presson earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas in 1963 and a master’s degree in hospital administration from Washington University in St. Louis two years later. Presson remained at the helm of SwedishAmerican until October 1977, when he left to assume a similar post with Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
In January 1978, Dr. Robert A. Henry, M.D. succeeded Presson and was named president and CEO. Dr. Henry graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School (New York) in 1952. He came to Rockford from Lansing, Michigan, and eventually became director of the hospital’s psychiatric unit. Henry was named vice-president of medical affairs in June 1972. His many accomplishments included the formation of a regional pediatric care unit, the creation of the hospital’s adolescent psychiatric and chemical dependency unit, as well as joint ventures with other Rockford-area healthcare providers.
People Who Care: 1980s
SwedishAmerican marked the beginning of the 1980s with a new concept in healthcare by establishing an ambulatory care unit. This allowed staff physicians to see their patients on an outpatient basis. On August 6, 1980, the SwedishAmerican Medical Foundation was established. The following year, angioplasty was offered for the first time and a newly expanded pediatric intensive care unit opened. Progress continued to unfold at SwedishAmerican during the mid- to late 1980s. Among many developments were an eight-room guest hotel that opened on the fourth floor and a new nursery for both well and sick newborns.
In June 1989, Dr. Henry retired. Dr. Robert B. Klint, M.D., M.H.A., succeeded him as president and CEO. Klint had been serving as Swedish American’s vice-president and chief operating officer since 1983. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown University, a medical degree from Northwestern University, and a master’s degree in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota. Klint completed his residency and fellowship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and became board certified in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology. During his tenure with Swedish American, Klint was instrumental in taking a formal approach to total quality management, implementing a strategic planning process and developing an integrated healthcare system with a large primary care base.
The Quality Leader: 1990s and Beyond
During the 1990s, SwedishAmerican carried on its tradition of clinical excellence by becoming the only health system in northern Illinois to receive Accreditation with Commendation from The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). In response to a national push toward healthcare reform, many healthcare systems purchased or pursued partnerships with physician groups in the early 1990s. SwedishAmerican responded by creating SwedishAmerican Medical Group (SAMG). SAMG eventually became the largest primary care group in northern Illinois, spanning from Winnebago County to Lee County 70 miles south. A related strategy was the creation of Benchmark Health Insurance Co.
During the 1990s, there was an industry-wide focus on quality in healthcare, and SwedishAmerican began to receive recognition for its leadership in this area. The accolades began in 1993 with the Rochester Institute of Technology/USA Today Quality Cup, which the health system won for its staff’s contributions to quality improvement.
- In response to a great need for healthcare services in Rockford, Illinois, the city’s Swedish community decides to build a new hospital.
- The 55-bed SwedishAmerican Hospital is completed at a cost of $175,000.
- An extension to the west wing is completed, expanding the hospital’s capacity to approximately 125 beds.
- Construction begins on a new, five-story east wing of the hospital.
- A 10-story, $5.5 million addition is completed to the east wing of the existing hospital.
- Open-heart surgery is first offered at SwedishAmerican Hospital.
- SwedishAmerican develops the Regional Cancer Center.
- A new, two-floor surgical pavilion opens featuring facilities for performing open-heart surgery and a patient transportation elevator.
- Swedish American opens a large, modern, fully equipped emergency facility with 24 emergency beds and several specialty care areas.
- The SwedishAmerican Medical Foundation is established.
- SwedishAmerican wins the Rochester Institute of Technology/USA Today Quality Cup for its staff’s contributions to quality improvement.
- SwedishAmerican’s main entrance moves to East State Street after being located on Charles Street for more than 90 years.
In 1995, SwedishAmerican’s board of directors announced that the organization would pursue discussions with Oak Brook, Illinois-based Advocate Health Care regarding a possible merger in 1996. However, after many months of discussions, the decision was made to not pursue the merger. Two years later, in April 1997, SwedishAmerican announced its intention to merge into Peoria, Illinois-based OSF Healthcare System, parent of Rockford’s OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center. After months of assessment and negotiations to resolve differences about issues that were important to each board, SwedishAmerican decided to withdraw from further discussions in May 1998.
In 1999, SwedishAmerican received further national recognition for its commitment to quality. That year, the organization became the first Illinois healthcare institution to win the Lincoln Award for Excellence—Illinois’ equivalent to the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. In addition, SwedishAmerican became the only hospital in northern Illinois to earn a Top 100 Hospital designation. The recognition was sponsored by the Baltimore-based health data firm HCIA.
SwedishAmerican entered the new century by announcing exciting plans for the future. In 2000, the health system unveiled a $32 million campus expansion and renovation project that would benefit northern Illinois residents by providing them with more convenient and expanded service offerings.
In February 2001, Midwest Security Insurance Companies of Onalaska, Wisconsin, announced it would acquire Benchmark Health Insurance Company from SwedishAmerican Health System. In June, Dr. William R. Gorski, M.D. succeeded Dr. Klint as SwedishAmerican’s president and CEO. Previously, in addition to maintaining a clinical practice at SwedishAmerican Medical Group/Five Points, Gorski served as president of the SwedishAmerican Primary Care Group and as the organization’s chief medical officer. In those roles, Dr. Gorski was responsible for administration and strategic planning of all system-employed physicians and their practices. Dr. Gorski received a bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College in Ohio. He earned a medical degree from the University of Cincinnati and completed a family practice residency at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford. He is board certified in family practice and is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physician Executives. Dr. Gorski also serves on the board of directors for SwedishAmerican Health System.
By mid-2002, much of the campus expansion and renovation project announced in 2000 had been completed. In June 2002, SwedishAmerican’s main entrance moved to East State Street after being located on Charles Street for more than 90 years. The move gave patients access to a new outpatient care area that included express admissions, spacious waiting areas, a resource center and gift shop, and diagnostic testing and treatment services. In addition to the expansion and renovation of the immediate SwedishAmerican Hospital campus, other changes and improvements took place across the health system. These included construction of the Brookside Specialty Center—which provided treatment in the areas of allergy, au-diology, dermatology, and ear-nose-and-throat care—and the SwedishAmerican 9th Street Center, a modern medical office building housing a variety of health system services.
In 1911, SwedishAmerican pledged that it would provide the best healthcare possible to the people of northern Illinois. More than 90 years later, the health system remained focused on this important goal.
OSF St. Anthony Medical Center; Rockford Health System.
“Hospital Marks 50th Year Today,” Rockford Morning Star, July 21, 1968.
“Prince Displays Footwork at Hospital’s Dedication,” Rockford Morning Star, March 27, 1963.
“Swedish-American Hospital Dedication Section,” Rockford Morning Star, June 27, 1953.
“Swedish-American Hospital Shows History of Progress,” Rockford Morning Star, June 27, 1953.
“Swedish-American to Double Bed Capacity. Map Plans for Hospital Expansion,” Rockford Register Republic, September 26, 1967.
“Swedish Hospital to Buy Petritz Site,” Rockford Morning Star, May 9, 1912.
—Paul R. Greenland