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St. Luke’s Celebrates A Century Of Caring

A hundred years ago, three women from All Saints Episcopal Cathedral provided $900 to start the Spokane Protestant Sanitorium in a two-story building on the corner of Sprague and Madison.

The health-care facility has since undergone three name changes, moved twice and evolved into St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute at 711 S. Cowley.

Before the doors opened on Sept. 2, 1897, the three women - Sally Rutter, Imogene Stone and Bertha Turner - rolled up their sleeves to work alongside a crew of church members to scrub and paint the building, transforming it into a 15-bed institution.

During its first year, hospital personnel cared for an average of 11 patients a day at an average daily cost of $1.24. Records for the month of October 1898 show the hospital had an operating cost of $652.48, with a debt of $313.24.

By the turn of the century, Spokane was experiencing a short supply of hospital beds and the sanitorium had outgrown its facility. So, in 1900, St. Luke’s Hospital was born, and its first move was made to Summit Boulevard, where it served as a landmark for decades.

Donations to help build the new facility came from all over and in a variety of forms: linens, glasses of jelly, flowers … and, of course, money.

During its first century, St. Luke’s has celebrated a number of “firsts,” said Pam Pyrc, St. Luke’s spokeswoman.

It was the first hospital to have a resident physician. Dr. Andrew Aldridge Matthews, one of the Northwest’s most widely respected surgeons, was on his way to Seattle to hang out his shingle, but stopped to visit friends here. That was in 1904, and he went no further, pressed into service with St. Luke’s.

It boasted the city’s first incubator, donated in 1906.

It was the first hospital to accept psychiatric patients. An October 1932 article in The Spokesman-Review announced that the hospital would open “a clinic for the observation and treatment of nervous diseases.”

By 1941, it had established the area’s first recovery and psychiatric wards.

St. Luke’s opened the first school of medical technology in the city and was one of the first in the nation. The school was headed for years by Jacqueline Behrenberg, who became a legend in her own time.

Everyone in the medical community knew and respected “Mrs. B.,” as she was fondly called.

During the nation’s polio siege, St. Luke’s was designated as the main treatment center for Inland Northwest patients.

It was the first hospital in the Western states to open a physical therapy department.

A nurse’s training school was begun with the new century. One nursing student from an early class wrote:

“We work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with two hours off six days a week, but four hours off on the seventh day, provided we are not too much rushed. Many times we had to spend the time off, or after-duty hours, in washing up soiled linen or cleaning up a room for new patients.

“Our patients had little hand bells, and we recognized the calls not only from the direction from which it came, but also from the tone of the bell and the mannerisms of the individual ringing it.”

As often happens during an institution’s history, St. Luke’s experienced a devastating fire, but it recovered even stronger than before.

Nurse Johanna Burns was a hero during the 1917 fire that destroyed the hospital’s top two floors. Helping assure that no one was seriously injured or killed, Burns organized the staff into rescue parties and helped remove patients to safety.

The ashes from the fire hadn’t cooled before St. Luke’s trustees met to discuss building an “entirely modern,” fireproof building for $1 million.

One of the hospital’s greatest feats in its history, Pyrc said, was to welcome the Shriners Hospital in 1938. Had St. Luke’s not offered beds to the Shriners, the institution might not have been based here, she said.

In 1967, plans were made for a new structure on South Cowley, and a building fund was established. Because so many contributions were made as memorials, trustees elected to rename the new facility as St. Luke’s Memorial Hospital.

In 1985, St. Luke’s merged with the Deaconess and Valley medical centers to create Empire Health Services.

These days, St. Luke’s has yet another name and a new focus: St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute. It ceased being an acute-care hospital in 1992 and donned its latest “hat” as a facility dedicated to providing medical rehabilitation.

Earlier this year, St. Luke’s officials found it necessary to lay off some personnel to remain competitive and viable, Pyrc said. The number of patients and their lengths of stay had dropped during the past three years, leaving the institute overstaffed.

But St. Luke’s remains alive and healthy, the spokeswoman said.

“St. Luke’s is known for providing high-quality rehabilitation care to people in Eastern Washington and beyond,” said Leslie Thorpe, director of public affairs for the Washington State Hospital Association in Seattle.

Last year, a $5 million remodeling project was completed. It involved 100,000 square feet in the hospital and 26,000 square feet in the medical building.

St. Luke’s officials buried a time capsule filled with uniquely 1990s items last spring to commemorate the remodeling project.

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