History of CMH

The very existence of Citizens Memorial Hospital is unique.

Historic photo of Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at CMH
  • Introduction
  • From the Beginning
  • Governance

CMH is one of only a few rural hospitals to be established in 1982, at the beginning of prospective pay and the end of cost-based reimbursement for hospital care. In the first decade of CMH’s existence, more than 300 rural hospitals across the nation closed.

The hospital district was formed by a vote of residents in 1978 in a community that desperately needed health care services. With a population of 18,822, the county had only five physicians.  The closest emergency room was nearly an hour away. Local ambulance services were staffed with untrained personnel.

Even with the 1978 vote of residents, the completion and success of the hospital was not easy.  Experts predicted the hospital would not succeed. The Certificate of Need committee approved the application only after local representatives were able to get a bill passed changing the state’s certificate of need regulations. Funding beyond general obligation bonds was required. There was no experienced hospital administrator.  The community lacked not only physicians, but also trained professionals such as nurses, therapists and technologists.

Again, the community came through -- $550,000 was pledged from local contributions and $5.6 million was financed largely with tax-exempt bonds and a Farmers Home Administration loan (FMHA). Donald J. Babb was hired and architects were employed. The building was complete and ready for operation in September 1982. More than 5,000 community members attended the grand opening celebration.

That challenging beginning began a long tradition of achieving extraordinary results for our community, of seeing challenges as opportunities to succeed, of not accepting “it can’t be done that way” as the answer.

The name Citizens Memorial Hospital was chosen to recognize that the hospital was because of and for the citizens of the district.

Much of the area CMH serves was classified as medically underserved and economically depressed. Bolivar, the home of CMH and the county seat of Polk County, is the largest community in CMH’s service area with more than 10,000 residents. 

In 1976, concerned citizens and business leaders formed a committee to study the possibility of a community hospital.  At that time, Bolivar had a population of about 5,500.  In 1978, the community approved and organized the public hospital district, including the formation of the district’s board of directors.  Representing six geographical districts, the board represented diverse backgrounds and management skills to join together as the strength and backbone of the monumental project.  Board members included:  Kerry D. Douglas, Bolivar attorney and board chairman; Wayne Wilson, Bolivar insurance agent and vice chairman; Joe Shelton, Southwest Baptist University professor and board secretary; Ferrol Wainscott, Polk County area farmer; Norman Presley, a salesman for Sears; and Charles Pence, pastor of the Bolivar United Methodist Church. 

With a background in hospital administration and experience in construction of other hospitals, the CMH Board of Directors chose Donald J. Babb to serve as the administrator of the new facility. All, however, shared the common goal of developing the hospital to provide the finest in medical care for the citizens of the area.

Opening in 1982, more than $6.9 million was spent to build and equip the facility.  CMH began as a 53-bed acute healthcare facility with a service area encompassing Polk, Dallas, Cedar, Hickory and southern Benton Counties in southwest Missouri. Healthcare services provided by CMH included emergency care, intensive care, obstetrics, surgery and recovery, medical-surgical care, laboratory, radiology, physical therapy and respiratory care. Even before the hospital opened on September 28, 1982, the hospital added a four-bed ICU unit.

Much of the area CMH services was classified as medically underserved and economically depressed. A substantial segment of the population is elderly. Bolivar, the home of CMH and the county seat of Polk County, is the largest community in CMH’s service area with more than 10,000 residents.

Before the establishment of CMH, the nearest hospital to Bolivar was nearly an hour away and as much as twice as far for many other communities in the area.


Citizens Memorial Hospital organized in 1978 as a district governmental entity under Missouri law. The Hospital is governed by a six-member board of directors. As a not-for-profit public district hospital, the vision of the board of directors was to continue growing without asking the community for additional tax dollars to expand the hospital. Two years into operation, the hospital suspended its original tax levy in 1984. The not-for-profit organization was already self-sustaining. 


Citizens Memorial Health Care Foundation, established in 1986 as a not-for-profit 501(c)3 entity, was organized to assist the hospital in the community health system.  The Foundation was a necessary part in the planned growth of the hospital. Because the hospital was formed under Chapter 206 of public laws regulating hospital districts, it could not own allied health facilities under the district hospital laws.

The Foundation is governed by a nine-member board--one member is affiliated with the hospital board of directors and eight are independent board members. 

CMH board members are elected officials that are accountable to the Hospital District by standing for re-election every six years.