(Editor’s note: This is the first of a series about the history of medical care in this area and about those who have rendered over a century of service to San Juan County and the Four Corners area while we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the San Juan Hospital.)
On January 6, 2010, the San Juan Hospital turns 50 years old. How many babies have been born there? How many great doctors and nurses have served the needs of southeastern Utah from within the walls of this building? What are some of the high lights and low lights of the last half century?
But wait, medical care has been on going in San Juan County for centuries among the native Americans. Recorded health service has existed for 130 years since the entry of the “Hole-in-the-Rockers” into Bluff in l880. This week, we will take a look at the pre-San Juan Hospital history to set the stage for the “party” being planned at the San Juan Hospital on January 6.
There were no formally trained doctors or dentists in San Juan County for many years after the arrival of the pioneers. Health matters were attended to mostly by midwives. The most famous and beloved of these is “Aunt” Jody Wood, who served continuously for decades, delivering hundreds of babies and repairing sick and broken bodies across the county.
The first Doctor in the area is Dr. J. W. Williams who came to Moab in 1897. He was lured there by the Grand County Commission, who promised him $150 per year as salary.
Until his retirement in 1919, Dr. Williams served as both doctor and druggist for both Grand and San Juan counties. He covered the area mostly on horseback.
In the spring of l920, after service in World War I, Dr. I. W. Allen arrived in Moab.
A remodeled private home was the “hospital” and his office. He was promised a salary of $100 per month. Dr. Allen stayed for 28 years. Small additions were built on to the “hospital” in Moab until another hospital was erected in l951 at a cost of $15,000.
In l957, during the huge population increases experienced during the uranium boom, a new hospital was built for the unimaginable price of $625,000 and was named the Doctor I. W. Allen Hospital. It is still in operation today, although an impressive new hospital complex is in the works.
Until 1947, the majority of non-Indian babies born to San Juan County parents had Moab as their place of birth, including this writer. Most serious illnesses or accidents were treated at the Moab hospital if the roads allowed the sick and injured to be taken there. The primitive roads in those early years were hardly passable at times in winter and rainy periods.
In 1946, the San Juan County Commission, comprised of Chairman Noel Sitton, Leonard Bartell and John Rogers, approached the federal government about selling or donating the staff house and two smaller homes, built by the Vanadium Corp. of America near the mill site in Monticello, to be used as hospital facilities.
At the June 24, 1947 Commission meeting, it was announced that the Government had donated the three requested structures to the County with the stipulation that they be used at least 20 years for medical purposes. The staff house was remodeled into a hospital and the two smaller homes were to be used to house nurses.
With little other funding available, Monticello citizens set to work to make the old building into a hospital. Bake sales and dances were held to fund the purchase of equipment. Volunteers did much of the remodeling. Hospital linen showers were held. Beds were constructed or donated. Sterilization of equipment was done in a pressure cooker and an electric oven.
The first staff consisted of Dr. Wesley L. Bayles who served as Medical Director. Vera Hazleton was the day shift nurse and superintendent and also administered drop ether for anesthesia. Winnie (last name unknown) had the 3-11 shift. Maxine Allred had the 11-7 shift, and June Kinnaman had surgery and was on-call.
The following were named to the Hospital Board by the County Commissioners: George M. Palmer, chairman; Ruth Redd and George Hurst, Blanding; Clement Johnson, East district and Oscar Jameson from the LaSal area.
The budget for the first year of operation presented to the County Commission by the Hospital Board was $17,000. That sum paid for the Doctor’s salary of $6,250; one registered nurse – superintendent $2,100; one experienced nurse 1,800; one junior nurse $1,500; cook $1,500; laundress $1,200; secretary – part time $300, all utilities $500, fuel $1,000, Doctor’s office in Blanding $200 and misc. expenses $750.
The operating budget for the year was derived from three sources: 1. 250 $50 medical contracts for $12,500 (250 families signed up and agreed to pay $50 per year. For that payment, all the families’ medical needs were met for the year. The hospital board, in other words, became its own insurance company.) 2. $2,000 from a 1.0 mill levy on property taxes. 3. $2,500 diversion from the liquor fund.
The old hospital and the two nurses’ homes still stand in Monticello. The building now houses the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education and is located directly west of the Hideout Golf Course Pro shop.
Some of the most memorable disasters-emergencies handled by Monticello’s first “home-made” hospital were: Boy Scout Accident south of Blanding with 18 seriously injured, 4 fatally; the Lariat Café Explosion, with 43 seriously injured and 16 deaths; and the B-52 Bomber explosion, with one injured and four killed.
During the uranium and oil booms in Aneth and Lisbon, the small, poorly equipped hospital in Monticello was stretched to the limit as the populations of Monticello and Blanding and other county communities grew faster than the medical infrastructure.
In Monticello’s case, the population almost doubled in the period of the l950’s. A new, larger hospital became the first priority of the County Commission and the City Councils of Monticello and Blanding. After funding was finally found, the question of the decade became, “Where to put the new hospital?”
Next week we will explore the tug-of –war between Blanding and Monticello as they battled for the privilege of having the new hospital built in their respective towns.
Part II Part III Part IV Part V