Mission and history

Aerial view of the MLHS Onamia campus today.

Our Mission

“To assist those residing in and visiting the Mille Lacs area in achieving and maintaining optimal health.”

Our Organizational Values

  • We hold a reverence for life.
  • We strive to ensure access for all.
  • We strive to serve all with compassion and hospitality.
  • We believe in open, honest and direct communication at all levels.
  • We believe collegiality, teamwork, and participation are necessary for excellence.

Aerial view of the hospital, 1956.

Our History

Mille Lacs Hospital – “the little town that could”

In the early 1950’s, the lack of available healthcare in the region had become an acute concern for the people of the Mille Lacs area. As a result, residents were becoming increasingly interested in building a hospital in Onamia, because of the great need for quality medical care that wasn’t so far away. The Crosier Fathers and Brothers (a religious order of the Catholic Church) were instrumental in deepening this conviction and encouraging action. When the state of Minnesota refused to give money to the project, passionate residents went to door-to-door in every neighboring community, collecting donations big and small from farming families, business owners, retirees and others. Fund raising was held in every community, as well as on the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation. The residents of the Mille Lacs area saw their dream come true when work on a new twenty-eight-bed hospital began in 1954.

Entrance to the admissions area at the
Onamia Hospital in 1956.

Management and administration of the hospital was entrusted to the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota. The hospital was completed in 1956 and was staffed by Franciscans and Mille Lacs area employees. The first patients were admitted on April 1, 1956.

Old ambulance garage, Onamia.

As the region has grown, so has the hospital. In 1982, a large-scale renovation and expansion was completed. In 2003, another major expansion and renovation of the hospital’s surgery, radiology, labor and delivery and administrative areas was completed.

Mille Lacs Nursing Home
In order to serve the region’s aging population, construction of a forty-bed nursing home was started in the fall of 1961. The first residents were admitted in the fall of 1962. A major addition in 1979 doubled the size of the existing home and provided a spacious activities room with a panoramic view of Lake Onamia. The first residents moved into the new addition in April of 1980.

In 2001, another renovation was undertaken and a beautiful Memory Care Unit was added for residents with special needs. Expansion and renovation of the remaining areas of what is now called Long Term Care began in the spring of 2003.

Mille Lacs Family Clinics
The first Mille Lacs Area Health clinic opened in 1977 with the help of a grant from the Robert Woods Johnson foundation. The clinic, then known as Mille Lacs Family Health Center, was a community-owned, not-for-profit corporation, officially directed by a board composed of community members from the Mille Lacs area. Initially the clinic was staffed with National Health Service Corps doctors who offered excellent care but often left at the end of their two-year commitment.

Onamia and Isle Clinic merged with the hospital, 1990.

In 1990, the hospital, nursing home, and clinic were merged, and Mille Lacs Health System was created. In the early 1990’s, as a result of community efforts and financial support, additional clinics were built in Isle, Onamia, and Hillman. The last and final clinic to be added for northern neighbors was the clinic in Garrison

In June of 1994, a neighborhood clinic was opened in Isle.

Mille Lacs Health System remains a not-for-profit, community-owned organization. A nine-member Board of Directors comprised of members from the Mille Lacs community serves to direct and oversee the entire organization.

The old Onamia clinic.

The Onamia Campus

Looking Ahead

Despite rapid technological change and the economic stresses of today’s healthcare environment, Mille Lacs Health System remains strong. Numerous medical and surgical specialists have joined our healthcare team, providing diagnostic and support services that allow for a sophisticated level of diagnoses and treatment in a local setting.

Our mission and values also compel us to take a holistic approach to our patients’ healthcare needs; addressing their emotional, mental, and spiritual concerns as well as their physical needs. In addition to traditional services, we now provide access to a variety of counseling services as well as health education, wellness and rehabilitation programs.

Thanks to the hard work of many dedicated employees, directors, and trustees — and strong support from area communities — healthcare in the Mille Lacs region has changed greatly since those first patients were admitted to the Onamia hospital in 1956. We are proud to play such a significant role in improving the quality of life of the people and communities we serve. We are proud of being part of a community-driven, community-supported healthcare system. We look to the future with confidence.