Hospital to celebrate 80th annivesary
St. Mary’s Hospital is commemorating its 80th anniversary with a public reception in their Dining Room on Thursday, November 4th from 3:00 to 4:00.  The reception will be hosted in conjunction with the Monastery of St. Gertrude’s.  A blessing and short program will begin at 3:30.  Everyone is invited.A photo of Dr. Wesley Orr hangs in the hospital.  His influence prompted the Sisters of St. Gertrude to first open a hospital in 1930.
The history of St. Mary’s Hospital begins with the arrival of Dr. Wesley Orr to Cottonwood in 1912.  He urged the Sisters of St. Gertrude to build a hospital to take care of the more acutely ill patients in the area.  In 1927, the Sisters were awarded a house in a bankruptcy case.  They decided to convert the home to a hospital.  Those renovations included converting the space into a four bed patient ward, another room for four bassinets, a nurses’ station, X-ray room, waiting room, chapel and a room for the chaplain.
On November 3, 1930 Our Lady of Consolation Hospital opened its doors and on November 4th  two patients from Grangeville were admitted for surgery as the first inpatients with some of the sisters serving as nurses.  Other staff included Sr. Rose Schraecher as the bookkeeper and admissions clerk, Sr. Veronica Ottinger as dietitian and Anna Walser Kolbeck as laundress.  Kolbeck currently lives in the SMHC condominiums and is invited to attend the reception.  On December 2 of that year the first baby, Robert, was born to Mr and Mrs Gus Darland of Ferdinand.
Nine years later, in 1939, due to consistent overcrowding the sisters decided to build an annex to the hospital.  It doubled the space, added a modern surgery unit and an electric elevator to serve the three story building. Coincidentally, the annex also opened its doors on November 4.  
In 1954 the hospital had 1515 admissions, 577 surgeries and 2534 outpatients treated.  In 1957 the name was changed to St. Mary’s Hospital.  In the early 60’s it was evident the physical facility could no longer be considered state-of-the-art.  The sisters decided to construct a new facility by starting a pledge drive and submitting an application to receive Hill Burton funds for construction.  The names of the 400 people who pledged were engraved on a plaque in the hospital lobby.  In 1963 the Sisters bought the old school property for $700,000 and construction began.
On March 18, 1965 a dedication was held for the new 24 bed facility which included four extra rooms for long term care, a chapel and a residence for some Sisters.  It also contained a new lab, x-ray rooms, an OR and a number of other modern features. On March 21 the move from the old to the new facility began with the first patient being a premature baby who rode over in an ambulance.
In 1965 six licensed practical nurses graduated at the hospital.  That same year four additional rooms were set aside for long term care.  The cost was $10 per day, plus medicine.
Ambulance services were turned over to the hospital for insurance reasons and in 1972 the SMH Guild donated $500 towards the purchase of an ambulance and the hospital’s EMT service was established that same year.  The clinic at Nezperce opened in 1979 and the hospital’s first health fair was held which attracted over 300 people. The hospital began administering the Kamiah Medical Clinic in 1983 and, shortly afterwards, the Cottonwood clinic began seeing patients in the rooms that formerly served as sleeping rooms for the Sisters.
In 1982 the Lions Club laid a helipad and helicopter transports joined the ambulance service as one way to transfer patients to tertiary care units in other locations.  
St. Mary’s Hospital joined the Benedictine Health System in 1989.  By 1995 the art of medicine had changed.  Hospital stays were reduced and many procedures that had been done on an inpatient basis were now being done on an outpatient basis.  Our figures in 1995 reflected the growing trend.  The hospital had 862 inpatient admissions and clinic visits at the three clinics totalled 16,500.
The Craigmont Clinic opened, bringing the number of satellite clinics to four.  SMHC also began collaboratively providing medical care at the medical clinic in Elk City.  
During this time SMHC began administering the Grangeville Physical Therapy Clinic.  When the outpatient Cottonwood PT Clinic was established in the refurbished Orr Building the space was arranged to include a wellness center for use by patients, former patients and employees.  A third PT clinic was established in Kamiah, shortly thereafter.
St. Mary’s also initiated their Home Health program that began providing in-home and end-of-life care to people living on the prairie and along the river.
In 1998, Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics in Orofino became an associate member of the Benedictine Health System, Duluth, Minnesota.  The two hospitals formed an equal partnership with a joint management team to form a regional healthcare system. Reimbursement structures were changing and many other rural hospitals were closing their doors or being transformed into referral centers for larger, urban hospitals with fewer services.  Collaboration rather than competition reduced overhead, strengthened services and allowed both facilities to enter service contracts and obtain equipment at more favorable rates.
The contract for the $1.2 million dollar Meditech software system which is currently being phased in was purchased ‘two for the price of one.’   Identical CT scanners for both facilities were purchased in 2004 which allow for instantaneous readings and 24/7 availability.  New X-ray equipment was also purchased jointly for the two facilities.
In May, 2002 after years of planning SMH held a community groundbreaking for their new 12,000 square foot, two story medical clinic which houses 12 exam rooms, two nursing stations, a procedure room and physician offices.  Area Lions Clubs raised funds locally and arranged for a donation from the Lions Club International Foundation to present SMH with $27,000 to help equip the new clinic.
In FY 2010 inpatient admissions totaled 1,120 with 3,717 patient days; 572 surgeries and scopes, 2,380 ER visits; almost 25,000 clinic visits; 15,000 other outpatient visits and 69 births.  The hospital employs 160 full time staff members including 7 family practice physicians and three family nurse practitioners.
The past ten years have brought many changes, challenges, rewards and awards.  St. Mary’s Hospital received the Governor’s Brightest Star Award in 2002 and was designated as one of the nation’s Top 100 Hospitals in 1995 and 2000.  That award is no longer given to hospitals under 25 beds.  SMH also received a regional benchmark award in 1998.  In 2005 the 17 member joint management team of St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics received national recognition when HealthLeaders magazine named them the Top Leadership Team for 2005 in the small hospital category.  
To celebrate their 75th Anniversary physicians, staff, volunteers, and board members of SMHC attended an employee appreciation dinner on November 5th.  They also invited the public to share in their celebration at Greencreek Community Hall. 
This past year saw the opening of a fifth satellite medical clinic in Grangeville and expansion of the telemedicine program to include telepsychiatry, telecardiology and telehospitalist services through the hospital’s RP-7 robot.  
Throughout its 80 years of service the Benedictine values of Stewardship, Justice, Respect and Hospitality have inspired the quality health care provided at their facilities.  SMH expresses its deepest thanks to the Sisters of St. Gertrude, to the dedicated staff and to area patients and their families for their years of commitment and support of St. Mary’s Hospital and Clinics.  We’re looking forward to the next 80 years!
Many of the facts and figures for this article were taken from a St. Mary’s Hospital history prepared by Sister Mercedes Martzen.

Cottonwood, Idaho 83522


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503 King St.
P.O. Box 157
Cottonwood, ID 83522-0157
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