Editors note: This is the fourth in a series on the history of the San Juan Hospital, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next week on January 6. This week’s installment is by Arlow Freestone, administrator of the hospital for 17 years. Many of the doctors, nurses and staff he worked with have passed on. We are pleased to share his memories in this installment.
I have tried to think back over the past 50 years and remember the events that Buckley Jensen refers to as “The Golden Years”.
I lay no claim to the accuracy of these times and events. My 87 “birthdays” have dimmed my memory of things gone by. Events and times may not be in correct sequence but will be as I remember them.
My experience with medical services in San Juan County began in 1952 when I went to work for Western Mine Supply as an accountant.
I came with my wife Emma and our new son Blen. Blen did not seem to like this world and cried non-stop for the first six weeks of his life. In order to find the cause of his dislike for his environment, we found the local doctor to see if he could remedy the problem.
I mention this because of the unique medical service being supplied by the community. As I remember, the community had formed a cooperative medical society where people contributed money each month to pay the doctor, who agreed to take care of all the medical needs of the community.
This seemed to work very well, except it was a 24-7 situation and more than one doctor could handle. Some of the doctors who helped during this period were Dr. Bayles, Dr. Macafee, and Dr. Brooks.
At this time, a building used by the Uranium Company for administrative purposes was given to the county and converted into a small hospital. It was a serious problem, as the only other doctor was over 50 miles away in Moab or in Cortez, CO.
In 1956 a café explosion killed several people and injured many more. It revealed the weakness of the system then in effect. With this in mind, county and city leaders realized that something must be done and the decision to build a new hospital was made. Plans were made to build the hospital in Monticello. The hospital was built in 1959 and the move was made in January, 1960.
As I remember it, Leda Young was the administration of the hospital at the time of the move. Leda was a registered nurse. This responsibility, along with many nursing duties that had to be fulfilled, was more than could be handled by one person.
Lloyd Hamilton was hired as administrator to relieve Leda. Then Ronald Nielson was hired. When the position became vacant in 1964, I applied and took over as administrator. Running a small community hospital was new to me, but having a degree in business administration and serving in the 121st Station Hospital in the U.S. Army during World War II for three years gave me the courage to give it a try.
I found the hospital staffed with a great group of women, well trained and willing to work hard. Because the needs were greater than the supply of nurses and nurse aides, we found it necessary to have them accept responsibilities beyond their training. We never felt like we were giving inadequate care.
Obtaining licensed personnel was the biggest problem faced throughout the golden years. It wasn’t until more recently that this was overcome by the nursing programs established at the College of Eastern Utah in Blanding. In addition to licensed nurses, we had need for anesthetists, laboratory technicians, dietitians and X-ray technicians.
Over time. these positions were filled, sometimes by part time people. One lab technician, Vernon Trask, was also a farmer. Many times I traveled ten miles to his farm and got him off a tractor to come to the hospital to do emergency lab work.
Another position that required a trained person is X-ray technician. Telesfora Chacon was working in the housekeeping department but was willing to learn x-ray skills. With the help of the radiologist that came to read our films, she was trained and able to handle most situations. Trained technicians came in to help, but she continued to work there until she retired.
Our surgeon, Dr. Goon, needed an anesthesiologist or anesthetist in order to perform surgeries. Dr. Joseph V. Hamilton, a dentist with some experience, helped for a period of time before we got a full-time anesthetist.
A dietitian was also needed. A woman from Moab came part-time for several years before we obtained the services of Norma Lance of Monticello.
As these positions were filled with qualified people, the hospital improved it’s service. In order to succeed, it was necessary to have the support of a good, faithful, dedicated hospital board. Most board members I worked with were conservative and fit in with my conservative nature. They were always concerned and dedicated. That county commissioners were involved as necessary and never objected to our proven needs.
Our 23 bed hospital was soon full and operating at capacity. For a few years we operated with an average patient load of 20 to 30 patients. At times the load exceeded 30 patients.
Many times we had cribs in the halls due to heavy load of small children and infants. These patients were mostly from the Ute and Navajo reservations to the south of us.
The unusual load caused the Hospital Board to suggest an addition be made so a four-bed pediatric ward and six more other beds were added, making a total of 33 beds. With the addition of clinics in the south county, the situation changed and the patient load average went to 15 to 20. In order to fill the beds, the new addition was converted to long term care units, primarily as overflow from the Nursing Home in Blanding.
Blanding’s need for improved medical services was a concern for all. In time, a doctors office and clinic were provided. Then a Nursing Home was built. At first it was administered by me, but Rayburn Jack was hired as the administrator. My responsibility at the Nursing Home was enjoyable, as we had good, dedicated people who loved the older people. Additional needs were felt after a few years and an addition was made to the original building.
Early in the operation of the hospital, the need for ambulances was recognized. Two Cadillac ambulances were purchased, one for Monticello and one for Blanding. They served for years until they were replaced with more modern units. When the new ambulances arrived, we tried to park them in the nice new ambulance garage, but found they were too tall and would not fit into the garage.
Once we got ambulances, we needed someone to drive them. The first people identified for help were local law enforcement. They were not always available so we would get whoever was available.
One time, I was the only one available to go to an auto accident. When I got there, I realized I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately a motorist coming by was helpful and we were able to handle the situation. I realized that we had a serious need for trained personnel. Since then, well trained Emergency Medical Technicians have been organized.
With the advent of Medicare, it became necessary to meet many administrative requirements. We met the new requirements, but nurses complained that they were treating “paper” more than patients.
We were proud to meet the requirements of Joint Commission Associations of Hospitals. They have strict requirements to become part of an elite group of hospitals. Few small community hospitals met these requirements.
Speaking of ‘pride’, especially in the early years of the hospital, we would often have visitors comment on what a wonderful hospital we had. George Palmer, chairman of the hospital board, would respond with pride “Why shouldn’t we have as good a hospital as anyone else.” I was pleased with the progress.
In the late 1970’s, I began to feel that due to the advance in technology and the financial limits on small hospitals, something should be done to help us keep up with the larger hospitals.
Feeling that perhaps we could work with a large hospital and obtain some of the benefits from that relationship, I suggested we check out that idea with some of the large hospitals. As a result, Intermountain Health Care was contacted and a contract made to come in and run the hospital.
Soon after they took operation of the hospital, I found that the liberal method of operation did not agree with my conservative method and I was terminated.
Part I Part II Part III Part V