The excitement surrounding the opening of the new CHI Health Clinic in Council Bluffs recalls the enthusiasm of the city’s first clinic almost 100 years ago.
The Daily Nonpareil tracked the progress of the Council Bluffs Clinic in 1923 carefully; the stories reflected the tremendous pride the community was taking in the new facility, just north of Bayliss Park at 532 First Ave.
Council Bluffs already had doctors, and, since 1886 and 1887, had two hospitals, but this was different. The idea was promoted by Dr. Donald Macrae, Jr., former mayor and tireless civic promoter. Macrae was perpetually on the lookout for innovative ways to deliver health care.
His creation of the first mobile surgical hospital to see action in war time was a huge success; M.A.S.H. units soon became the standard of military battlefield health care. This time, the goal was aimed improving the quality and convenience of care for the average citizen by bringing physicians of different specialties together under one roof.
The idea was being tested elsewhere but was at this time yet novel and rare. The reputation of Mayo Clinic was growing. Macrae reasoned the doctors in Rochester were no more skilled than those in Council Bluffs; the high regard for their quality of care likely derived from their pioneering use of the clinic concept.
Macrae envisioned bringing together in one building a group of physicians, each with a love of a particular branch of medicine, as a way to better solve a person’s problems by making in easier for the patient to be examined by different practitioners and the latter to be able to discuss cases among themselves. The pooling of resources made possible investment in the latest medical equipment so treatment for most illnesses could be accomplished without leaving the building.
The new clinic was designed by George A. Spooner, the architect of the Park Building, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and the Nonpareil’s Main Street building. It opened in the fall of 1923 to great fanfare and the assertion that the new facility stood as one of the top three great clinics of the United States and was surpassed by none.
The medical laboratory was open to all physicians of Council Bluffs, Omaha, and the region whether associated with the clinic or not. The clinic included an X-ray department and pathology lab, and boasted a quartz light for use in treating malnutrition, bone conditions and skin diseases.
The facility for tonic hot therapeutic baths was expected to enable those who journeyed across the country to hot springs to accrue the same benefit right here without having to leave town. There was a radium department and dental surgery operatory; the large library included historical and modern books of medicine, a subscription to all medical journals and a “motion picture apparatus,” all housed in a building “as fireproof as human ingenuity can make it.”
There were facilities for diathermia galvanism and Feradison treatments; orthopedic splints and braces could be made in a workshop on site.
The clinic was also unique in that Macrae insisted “the rich and the pauper” be welcomed for treatment. In an era long before health insurance, Medicaid and assistance programs this was rare.
The clinic flourished as a medical center for many decades.
The building was put up for sale in 1966 and purchased by Dr. R.W. Sanders, an orthodontist. Sanders moved his practice form the Bennett Building to the clinic and it continued to operate as a medical center.
The building was put up for sale again in 1971 and purchased by Walter Anderson the following year who opened it up for any type of office. One of the first new tenants was the Council Bluffs Water Works, recently displaced from their downtown offices by urban renewal.
Most medical offices gravitated to newer doctors buildings near the hospitals but the clinic building still stands and is home of Smith Davis Insurance today.
Just a few years after the Council Bluffs Clinic opened, Dr. John Phillip Cogley formed the city’s second clinic along with three other doctors in the Fourth Street wing of the sixth floor of the Bennett Building, Fourth Street and West Broadway.
This clinic likewise thrived; in 1939 the clinic took over the entire floor with office space designed by noted architect J. Chris Jensen. A new 12,000-square-foot building was announced in 1953 on East Washington Avenue. To provide ample parking at the rear of the building the clinic petitioned the city to vacate a portion of Green Street which adjoined the clinic property along Indian Creek. Green Street had been platted but had never been created.
The new clinic opened in the spring of 1954 featuring a waiting room “like a large family living room with wrought iron furniture, modern lamps, and a picture window.” The ultra modern facility boasted air conditioning and the latest in communication devices, including 100 telephone outlets. The Daily Nonpareil noted Council Bluffs was at the forefront of health care, there being few cities of this size that had three hospitals and two modern clinics.
Thirty years later, Cogley Clinic expanded again, moving to a new building at 715 Harmony St., behind Mercy Hospital. In 1994, the clinic moved across Broadway to the Lynn Pavilion of the Jennie Edmundson Hospital campus and continued to do business under the name The Physicians Clinic.
— The Historical and Preservation Society can be reached at information@TheHistoricalSociety.org.