There was a time not all that long ago when tuberculosis was a leading cause of death, so much so that sanitoriums opened across the nation to isolate and treat patients. The last TB sanitarium in the state of Washington was Edgecliff Hospital in Spokane Valley.
The hospital, located on a 12-acre campus at 601 S. Park Road, closed in January 1978. New antiviral drugs and political action in the state helped bring about its closure, said Dr. George Rodkey, the facility’s medical director from 1957 to 1978.
On the latter front, the 89-year-old physician, now retired and living in Post Falls, said the hospital had been owned by Spokane County and operated by a consortium of 19 Eastern Washington counties. In 1975, the state legislature voted to rescind a measure requiring tax funds from the participating counties to be used for the facility. That left Edgecliff without a financial base and spelled its end, Rodkey said.
Although not the scourge that it once was in the U.S., tuberculosis remains on the top 10 list of causes of death worldwide. The World Health Organization notes that 8 million people contract active TB worldwide annually, and 2 million of them die from it. In 2010, there were more than 11,000 TB cases reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease has been batted down but not eradicated, and Rodkey is concerned about the recent appearance of a very resistant strain of TB.
Continuing for a short time after 1978 as an alcohol rehabilitation facility, Edgecliff lay vacant for a number of years before it was purchased in the early 1990s by Park Place Retirement Community, which after an extensive remodel opened an independent living facility in the former hospital building. It also built two new units, one for assisted living and another as a special Alzheimer’s and dementia care center. In 1996 Brookdale Senior Living purchased the complex, which now has 200 residential living units in place.
At its height as a TB sanitarium, Edgecliff could care for 210 patients, including children who were housed in a special wing. Rodkey said the average stay was about three months, and nearly 10,000 patients were cared for over the years, and many more seen as outpatients – including those coming from Idaho and Montana.
Dr. F.S. Miller, Edgecliff’s medical director from 1917 until Rodkey’s arrival, wrote a history of Edgecliff. He noted that laws were passed in 1913 placing the responsibility for TB hospitalization on county commission boards. A number of women’s groups in Spokane and an organization called the Tuberculosis League began holding fundraising events to buy land for a hospital. Land was bought but, according to Miller’s report, there was difficulty with improving roads at the site, so county commissioners traded the land for the Park Road site. Construction started in 1914 and the first patients were admitted in the fall of 1915.
The hospital initially “consisted of the men’s cottage, women’s cottage and the administration building, including the dining room and the kitchen. … It is interesting to note that our records show that the first 13 patients admitted were men who were transferred to the hospital from the old county poor farm at Spangle,” Miller wrote. The children’s building was erected in 1917, with the Tuberculosis League contributing $6,000.
Miller noted that in 1915 there were fewer than 200 hospital beds in the state for TB patients. By 1950 there were 2,400 beds available. Edgecliff added major buildings in 1919 and 1949, the latter one using state funds to meet rising need and to allow for the admission of patients from surrounding counties.
One of the great attractions at Edgecliff was its parklike setting, a feature today’s retirement residents also enjoy. “We all enjoyed working there,” Rodkey said, noting that they were proud of their safety record in working with the highly contagious disease. In all the years he was medical director, he said, only one employee contracted tuberculosis, and she was someone who had had it previously.
For years after Edgecliff closed, many of the 100 former employees would get together regularly for lunch. In 2011, Rodkey reached out to the remaining Edgecliff employees and hosted lunch at Park Place for them – 30 showed up.
Rodkey has another reason to return to visit: His sister Elizabeth MacNeal lives there now in retirement.