In 1961, fundraising began for the construction of a modern medical facility that would serve the people of DeKalb County.
DeKalb Memorial Hospital in Auburn was formally dedicated in early 1963, funded entirely from donations from the community.
A half-century later, that sense of service to DeKalb County and its residents has driven the hospital and its associated locations and facilities — now known as DeKalb Health — to thrive in the increasingly-competitive health care industry.
And it all began with a vision from local residents.
“It was a huge undertaking at the time,” said DeKalb Health CEO Craig Polkow. “I think because of how it started, there's a true sense of ownership in the community. That's one of the reasons we are still independent today is because of that sense of community ownership.”
DeKalb Health has found ways to thrive just a stone's throw away from Fort Wayne and its mega-health networks that continue to spread across northeast Indiana. Its 56-bed hospital offers expert care that pulls its physicians and medical personnel from the rich talent base of Fort Wayne. Several primary care physicians offices associated with DeKalb Health offer a “front door” of sorts to the wealth of services offered in the network.
Growth is a measure of success, and DeKalb Health is doing that as well. Its North Campus on-site opened in 2015 and is a $6.7 million, 30,000-square-foot facility that serves as a hub for orthopedics, rehabilitation and business health. Fort Wayne Orthopedics — a well-known entity in and around Allen County — has a business office in the relatively-new facility that offers an extensive range of services.
DeKalb Health has a retail pharmacy on its campus in Auburn as well as one in Garrett. It is also eying additional office locations throughout the county to better serve locals.
“As far as specialty care, we can offer people similar services compared to the big hospitals to the south,” said Polkow.
It is that perception of “bigger is better” held by many that DeKalb Health and similar independent health systems fight continuously. Some are of the mindset that you must travel down Interstate 69 to Fort Wayne to receive top-notch medical care.
“The perception is the names of Parkview and Lutheran mean better care, when in all actuality it's time,” said Bret Claghorn, chief financial officer of DeKalb Health. “We are fighting that perception that you have to go south for better care, but that's not true. Minutes matter.”
Fighting that idea that you have to travel elsewhere for quality medical care is not just limited to the smaller health networks either.
“I find it interesting because no matter where you go, people seem to think you have to go somewhere else to receive good care,” Polkow said. “People might think they have to go to Fort Wayne. Then people who live in Fort Wayne may think they have to go to Indy. People in Indy may think they have to go to the Cleveland Clinic.
“(DeKalb Health) can provide the care that bigger places can provide just as well.”
Technological advancements continue to come at a frenetic pace in health-care work. As a smaller network, DeKalb Health must be smart with its limited resources while also staying on the cutting edge of medicine.
Telehealth — the ability for health-care professionals to examine and monitor patients from afar — is rapidly gaining momentum. DeKalb Health is investing in that realm as well as in the best electronic record-keeping programming. The importance of information sharing is also integral for DeKalb Health as it strives to take the best care of its patients.
“We are an independent hospital, but we work with both Parkview and Lutheran to make sure our patients are getting an appropriate level of care,” Polkow said. “Even though we are on our own, we are willing to work with other systems to make sure we are delivering the proper services.”
Now in its sixth decade of operation, DeKalb Heath has grown from its humble beginnings and continues to be a beacon of trusty medical services for people throughout northeast Indiana.
“Our board of directors consists of local business leaders and people involved in the community who understand what the community wants,” Polkow said. “That gives us the ability to address the health care needs at a local level. I think being smaller and independent we can react quicker.”