Mike McKibbin

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December 19, 2012
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Local health care story told on screen

A golden anniversary occurred on Sunday in Rifle, but it's likely not very many residents held a party or gathering.

It was a historic day for Rifle on Dec. 16, 1962. That was when Clagett Memorial Hospital opened its doors to those who needed care.

The story of how the hospital came to be, and what's happened in local health care since then, has been preserved by the Grand River Hospital District as part of its 50th anniversary year.

"Grand River Hospital District: 50 Years of Miracles" is a 48-minute-long documentary that tells how the very first hospital, a ramshackle building donated by the United Vanadium Corp., now known as UMETCO, opened in 1953 at what is now Metro Park.

Then Clagett Memorial Hospital, named after pioneering Rifle Dr. O.F. Clagett, who championed the need for a local hospital but passed away before he could see his dream come true, was built.

The story, told through interviews of 44 past and current hospital employees, staff, administrators and board members, continues through the building and opening of the Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in 2003 and the addition in 2009.

Among those in the film is Mary Lee Mohrlang, the granddaughter of Dr. Clagett. She recalled going with him to an outlying home to deliver two babies, who died in a breech birth.

"I always remembered he told me he could have saved them if he had been able to get them to a hospital," Mohrlang said.

Directed by Annick Pruett, administrative director for community relations for the district, the project took six months.

"I didn't expect the story to be as involved," Pruett said. "There were so many difficulties and challenges the district faced, and the journey taken was something that seemed to involve everyone in the community."

She said one of the most inspiring stories was when the hospital faced tough financial times after the 1982 oil shale bust and had trouble meeting payroll. Two doctors, Doug Yajko and Tom Morton, would come from Glenwood Springs on a regular basis to help care for area residents.

"They were just committed to rural health care and wanted to help when it was really needed," Pruett said.

Ryan Mackley, owner of Spruce Creek Multimedia in Rifle, recorded and produced the film and said he found the story engrossing.

"There were so many times when the hospital looked like it should have closed," Mackley said. "It's a great small town story about how people band together and work to save the institution."

Mackley said many interviews were left out of the film and estimated he and Pruett recorded up to 20 hours of interviews.

"It was a bigger project than I anticipated," Mackley said. "And it just kept growing bigger the more we talked to people. We'd find holes in the story we needed to fill, so we'd have to go back to some people and re-interview them. That was pretty much up to the last minute."

Hospital district attorney Tom Stuver recalled in the film how the district and Rifle Community Hospital Inc., a nonprofit formed to operate Clagett, eventually "picked at each other over how they did their business."

The district owned the land and building and contracted with the nonprofit to run the hospital, Stuver said.

"There was a lot of argument in the community over which board was right over any particular issue," Stuver said.

He added that the local newspaper, the Rifle Telegram, "dumped gas on that fire in ways that weren't very journalistically responsible."

Eventually, the nonprofit entity ran into financial difficulties and the district took over operation of the hospital and what is now the E. Dene Moore Care Center.

Pruett said she has given a copy of the DVD to the Rifle Creek Museum and planned to provide copies to the Rifle Branch Library for check out. Pruett will also provide copies at no charge to anyone who desires. Call her at 625-6439.

Mackley said he thinks many people, including long time Rifle area residents, don't know all the story that's told in the film. It was first shown at the district's 50th anniversary gala in October.

"It's something special to have a room full of people and you watch them watch something like this," Mackley said. "It makes you feel good to see their reactions. I just had a great time doing it."

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The Post Independent Updated Dec 19, 2012 04:49PM Published Dec 19, 2012 04:46PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.