Julie McDonald: Medical care grew locally from doctor’s offices to large hospitals


Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the French-Canadian Sister of Providence who started nearly 30 schools, orphanages and hospitals in the Pacific Northwest during the 19th century, never started a hospital in Lewis County, but she did oversee construction of St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia.

After the Sisters of Providence began a boarding school in Olympia in 1881, local citizens begged them to build a hospital and even offered to donate land for it, saying they’d give the Methodists the opportunity if the nuns didn’t do it.

Mother Joseph responded by raising $2,250 through subscriptions from residents to purchase land near the Providence Academy, Catholic Church and Capitol, and on April 7, 1887, she began construction of a 30-bed hospital, according to a recently compiled history of Providence South Puget Sound St. Peter and Centralia hospitals.

The hospital added a school of nursing in 1919. Students boarded at the hospital, worked 12-hour days and studied at night. The Sisters of Providence paid $12,000 for land on Main Street (today Capitol Way) to erect the second St. Peter Hospital in 1924, a five-story brick building on Sherman Street. After training 341 students, the nursing school closed in 1953 because it could no longer obtain accreditation.

A community board of 16 members formed in 1965 to help the Sisters of Providence manage the hospital and recommended construction of a new building to accommodate growth. The following year, in 1966, Providence purchased land on Lilly Road and built a $6 million, 150-bed hospital, which is the present-day St. Peter Hospital. Three years later, they added three additional patient floors, which boosted the cost to $10 million. It opened on Jan. 6, 1971.

“Providence St. Peter Hospital, which has undergone several expansions since the 1970s, is Providence’s second largest Washington state hospital,” the recent Providence South Puget Sound history states. “Providence St. Peter features 390 beds in the medical/surgical tower with 42 private rooms in the emergency department (including a four-bed locked mental health evaluation unit), more than 40 observation beds, 18 beds in the psychiatry building, and 42 beds in the critical care unit.”

In Lewis County, early doctors provided medical care and overnight stays to early pioneers. Smaller towns also had doctors who kept patients overnight in small hospitals, such as the upper floor of the Toledo Hardware store, which Dr. Glen H. Matthis used as a hospital.


Chehalis hospitals

Dr. Guy W. Kennicott, who graduated from Rush Medical School in 1885, rode horseback, forded rivers and operated by lantern to treat patients in the east end of the county, according to the 1985 History of Lewis County by Alma and John Nix. Kennicott built the first hospital in Lewis County in 1903 next to his home at Prindle and State streets in Chehalis, the book states.

On Dec. 11, 1907, the Dominican Sisters of Holy Cross opened the four-story St. Helen Hospital in Chehalis. It was built at the request of local citizens and the Union Pacific Railroad to care for the elderly and the poor. Local residents raised $11,000 and local mills contributed lumber while three benefactors and a bank loaned the Dominican Sisters $19,000, according to the South Puget Sound Providence history. Father Francis Moens, a priest at St. John’s Catholic Church in Chehalis, helped secure the loan, oversaw construction and did the carpentry work without payment. The first patients treated at the new hospital were a young brother and sister with meningitis who both recovered and returned home, according to The Daily Chronicle’s July 1976 Bicentennial Edition.

In 1927, a new two-story reinforced concrete building at 1332 Washington Ave. replaced the original St. Helen Hospital, which was later bulldozed to make room for parking.

St. Helen Hospital underwent renovations and expansion again in 1952, bringing total beds to 79. In 1960, it added a laundry building, and in April 1964, the Sisters of Providence opened the $735,000 Rosary Manor nursing home with 53 beds in a wing annexed to the hospital, according to the Oct. 22, 1965, issue of the Catholic Northwest Progress. In July 1970, a million-dollar remodeling relocated the maternity ward and added a new surgery unit, lobby, pharmacy, chapel, and parking spaces, the 1976 Bicentennial Edition article states. Sister Virginia Pearson, one of five nuns who worked there in 1976, described the organization as “just getting by” with 58 hospital beds and 41 in the nursing home. It employed 164 full-time and part-time employees with a $1.2 million payroll.


Centralia hospitals

Meanwhile, in Centralia, Dr. J.H. Dumon ran a hospital at Pearl and Pine streets until purchasing the former Northwest Baptist seminary in 1907. He turned the seminary, built in 1890 but by then a private residence, into a general hospital and called it Centralia General Hospital. When he retired in 1913, he sold the property to the Lumbermen’s Association.

Five or six years later, according to the 1976 Chronicle Bicentennial Edition article, Dr. Lee Scace, a surgeon at the Lumbermen’s hospital, purchased the building and closed it after constructing a new hospital at First and H streets, called Scace Hospital. Dr. Scace died two years later, but his hospital, known as St. Luke’s Hospital and Sweet Clinic, continued operating and added a new wing in 1923.

In the early 1940s, the Archdiocese of Seattle bought St. Luke’s Hospital in Centralia, and for three years, the Carmelite Sisters of New York tended the elderly in the building at 701 H St. called St. Luke’s Infirmary. When Carmelite nuns returned to the East Coast in 1945, Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy of the Archdiocese of Seattle asked the Sisters of Providence to temporarily run the 70-bed home. They agreed and purchased St. Luke’s from the archdiocese in 1953, sending six sisters to staff the home until it closed in 1969.

“We finally came to the conclusion that the cost of renovating the building to bring it up to standard would be as great as building a new home,” Provincial Superior Sister Cecelia Abhold said in 1968. “Actually, we didn’t have the money to do either.”

Until the 1940s, Dr. D.O. Nugent also operated a small hospital on South Gold Street and another at Tower and Maple.

In 1926, a couple of blocks away from St. Luke’s, six doctors opened Lewis County General Hospital at Hanson and Iron streets in Centralia, which they turned over to Lewis County in 1940. The county added a new west wing in 1953. Then, in September 1957, the Stewards Foundation of Chicago purchased the 65-bed hospital for $100,000. The foundation, established in 1945 by the nondenominational Plymouth Brethren Church, also operated a hospital in Auburn. But the old hospital also showed its age, unable to meet minimum state standards, so in March 1969, the Stewards Foundation released an artist’s conception of a new $1.4 million Centralia General Hospital off Cooks Hill Road. At the time, the hospital had 47 beds and a staff of 90. The new Centralia General Hospital opened on Aug. 25, 1971, and by 1976, it employed 127 people with an annual payroll of about $1.1 million.

In July 1983, the Sisters of Providence bought St. Helen Hospital and, five years later, in January 1988, they filed paperwork to purchase Centralia General Hospital, which officially became Providence Hospital Centralia on April 1, 1988. The two hospitals combined under Providence Centralia Hospital later that year, and gradually consolidated all functions in Centralia, while the Chehalis campus housed Providence Addictions Recovery Center and Sound Home Care and Hospice.

In the mid-1990s, Providence launched a $15 million expansion and renovation at Centralia that added a new emergency room, a surgical services department, the outpatient surgery center, diagnostic imaging services and another 60 beds. In 2002, another remodeling added a 24-hour kitchen, therapy offices, spiritual care space and a medical records department, according to the Providence history.

In 2007, Providence spent $7.2 million to expand the Emergency Department to 15,000 square feet with 22 beds, two major medical and trauma rooms, and an expanded triage area and waiting room.

Two years later, in May 2009, Providence sold the old St. Helen Hospital campus for $2.5 million to the operators of American Behavioral Health Systems treatment centers.

“Providence Regional Cancer System teamed with RadiantCare and Washington Orthopaedic Center to open the $6 million, 17,000 square-foot Lewis County Cancer Center in 2009,” the Providence history states.

Today, the not-for-profit Providence Centralia hospital has 128 beds and provides emergency, diagnostic, cancer, birthing and surgical services.


Morton hospital

Morton General Hospital, known since January 2019 as Arbor Health–Morton Hospital, opened in 1937 with 11 beds to serve East Lewis County residents. Dr. C.B. Ritchie and Gladys Howlett, a registered nurse, cared for the patients and Howlett lived in the adjacent house with her family and cooked meals for the patients and did the laundry, according to the Arbor Health website at https://tinyurl.com/mvt4x3yh.

Other doctors joined the hospital, including Dr. Leonard Asmundson and later Dr. LeGrande Anderson, who bought out Dr. Ritchie’s share and, in 1946, purchased Asmundson’s share as well. He operated the hospital until adding Dr. Brandt Bede as a partner later that year. Dr. J. Arnold Wark bought out Dr. Anderson’s share in 1950. For nearly three decades, Drs. Wark and Bede ran the hospital and constructed a new building in 1952.

Then, in 1978, the East Lewis County community created a hospital district to purchase the private hospital at Morton and run it as a public healthcare center, which today includes the Randle Clinic and the Mossyrock Clinic (formerly Riffe Medical Center). In 1992, the hospital district built a 30-bed long-term care addition, which was converted later into hospital rooms. In 2006, the district replaced the 1952 brick building with a larger hospital, which opened in January 2007 with 25 acute care beds and more room for imaging, labs, and a cafeteria.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.