BOLIVAR, Mo. — 41 years to the day Citizens Memorial Hospital opened, the health system is breaking ground again.

Thursday morning, CMH officials, city and state representatives, healthcare workers and even Governor Mike Parson attended a ceremony to begin the expansion of CMH.

Before the honorees shoveled dirt to symbolize the beginning, CMH CEO Michael Calhoun made a surprise announcement.

“I’m excited to announce to you that on behalf of the Hospital Board of Directors, this new facility will bear his name and will forever be known as the Donald J. Babb Medical Center at CMH,” Calhoun said.

Babb, who retired in 2020, was the hospital’s former CEO. Babb spoke to the crowd and called the namesake an honor.

Expansion-wise, Calhoun says the years-long project is focused on patients.

“The primary motivation was our emergency room. We have known for a number of years that it’s too small,” Calhoun said. “We currently have a 12 bed facility. With the new expansion, we’re going to have 29 emergency room beds. The inpatient beds are all going to be private and more appropriately sized to be able to house patients and their families. Our intensive care unit is going to grow from eight beds to 12. During the pandemic, we learned that we didn’t have enough intensive care space. and so we’re going to have enough now to meet the needs of our community. We’re going to have a new birthplace which is going to allow a really nice up-to-date and comfortable place for families as they welcome the new baby into the world. And then there’s going to be a new cath lab, new surgery space to meet our growth that we’ve had over the years and a new dining facility and kitchen.”

CMH workers like Linda Buffington are excited about the project.

“I’m really excited about having no more birthing room. So that’s pretty exciting for me,” Buffington said.

Buffington is one of the many workers still at CMH who was present at the hospital’s initial opening 41 years ago.

“I still remember back in the day when we first opened a hospital, we probably had, I think someone said 5,000 people here for that first expansion and to watch it grow, to see the care that our staff provides for our patients and our clients and the long term care facilities and our clinics, it’s been so exciting,” Buffington added.

The project carries a price tag of $100 million. Over 60% of that comes from funding by the USDA.

“Our partnership with the USDA has been since the beginning of CMH, they helped us fund the original hospital,” Calhoun said. “The Office of Rural Development provides loans to rural communities for community development, including health care. We received $64 million of funding from the USDA and a low-interest loan to be paid back over 35 years, and that partnership is just very important because, as you know, right now with rising interest rates, it allows us to move the project forward when otherwise we might not have been able to.”

It’s a partnership like that, that Governor Parson supports to bring high-quality medical care to rural areas.

“Any time you see communities like this there across the state of Missouri, wherever they are, you’ll find out they have good partnerships on the local level, the state level, the federal level,” Parson said.

Parson, a long-time Polk County native and former Polk County Sheriff, spoke during the ceremony, praising the Bolivar area and CMH.

“We need as many facilities as we can, especially in rural Missouri, and you look at CMH, when you look at the surrounding counties like Dallas, Hickory, Sinclair, Dade County, all these surrounding areas that have no major facilities, it’s a huge plus for those communities,” Parson said. “You want to see facilities like this pop up all over the state, but one, you got to maintain them. So you’ve got to make sure they’re in the right spot, and I think CMH is the model for the rest of the state, how you do this in smaller communities.”

Calhoun says the project is expected to be completed around fall/winter 2026.