Uranium Boom brings talk of new hospital; only question is where to put it
Dec 16, 2009 | 1767 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Buckley Jensen

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series which will culminate with the 50th birthday of the San Juan Hospital on January 6, 2010. Last week, we reviewed the history of health care in San Juan up until the 1950’s.)

Believe it or not, there were many people at the apex of the uranium and oil boom of the 1950’s that were convinced that Monticello was going to grow to a population of 15-20 thousand. After all, the assessed valuation of San Juan County had gone from a few million dollars to $132 million in the late 1950’s.

Many new facilities had been built, such as libraries, schools, government buildings and roads. The big uranium mines and oil companies were paying the vast majority of the property taxes in San Juan and some thought the good times would never end; that uranium and oil would be the underpinnings of an indefinite golden future.

In the fall of 1957, the number one priority among political subdivisions in the county was the construction of a modern new hospital and the formal process began.

The hospital board at that time consisted of George Palmer, (Chairman) Lynn Lyman, Phil Hurst, George White, and L.A. (Swede) Odette. These dedicated men were all instrumental in building the hospital.

The major portion of the funding for the new hospital came from the government through Hill-Burton loans. Lewis Eric Sandstorm, of Provo, was selected to be the architect. The general contractor was the Alder-Child Construction Co. of Salt Lake.

Before any of this could begin, however, two things had to happen. First, the County had to pay off the government because the old hospital building and the two nurses houses had not been used for 20 years per their original contract. (See last week’s story) The exact amount of the payoff could not be found.

The second obstacle, and the one which turned the County inside out, was where to put the new hospital. Of course Monticello residents thought they should get it since Monticello was the County Seat. Blanding residents countered with the argument that they were more centrally located in the County.

Both communities were about the same size in late 1957. It was decided that there would be a special election and citizens of the County would vote on whether to put the hospital in Monticello or Blanding.

This may be where the already intense rivalry between the two towns really festered. This writer was 14 years old in 1957. Dorothy Adams was head of the “Hospital for Monticello” Committee and my mother, LaVerda Jensen, was one of her principal aids and supporters.

I remember vividly the never-ending conversation around our table about how important it was for Monticello to win the vote and get the hospital. Nearly everyone who worked at the old hospital lived in Monticello.

The thoughts of all those good people having to move to Blanding was just the first good reason why Dorothy, LaVerda and almost everyone else in Monticello, La Sal, Eastland and Ucola wanted the hospital at the base of the Blues.

And so the great propaganda campaign began. I remember it so vividly because Dorothy was my great Aunt, LaVerda was my mother and I was caught squarely in the middle when it came to a myriad of small tasks they asked my friends and I to do.

At one point in this campaign, Dr. C.D. Goon of Monticello, who was popular, highly respected and the only board certified surgeon ever to practice and live in Monticello, let it be known that he would leave the area if the hospital was not built in Monticello.

Whether or not that had any real affect on the vote I guess we will never know, but it didn’t hurt the cause. His statement certainly fired up the Monticello troops in the trenches working feverishly north of Devil’s Canyon.

At that age, I really didn’t see that it mattered that much where the hospital went, but I was mighty glad to see that election come and go so I could have my life back. Monticello won by a razor thin margin.

I seriously doubt there has ever been an election of any kind before or since that had the kind of turnout the hospital vote garnered. To not vote for Monticello if you lived north of Devil’s Canyon was an act of treason, that made the likes of Benedict Arnold pale in comparison…

We are not sure the exact day construction began. In late December of 1959, the County Commission and the Hospital Board proudly accepted the new 23-bed San Juan Hospital, at 394 West 300 North in Monticello.

It was a state of the art facility for its day. It was fully equipped and ready to go. Its cost was a staggering $750,000.

During the first week of January, 1960, during one of the worst snow storms of the year, the move was made from the old hospital, and on January 6, officials and citizens from far and near pronounced the beautiful new San Juan Hospital open for business.

Few other rural communities in Utah as small and isolated as Monticello or Blanding could have dreamed of such a facility a half-century ago. It was a time of rejoicing. The pioneers would have been proud.

Next week we will remember the many great doctors, nurses, administrators, lab and technical people, along with others, who worked to make the San Juan Hospital one of the finest rural hospitals in the land.

Part I Part III Part IV Part V
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