100 Years of Caring
Providence St. Joseph Medical Center’s centennial celebration marks the past, present and future of health care
Settlers and homesteaders were still streaming into the American West as the foundations were laid for Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.
In the fall of 1913, Bishop John P. Carroll created the diocesan parish of Polson. The first resident pastor, Father William O’Maley, took possession of this parish on October 5,1913. Father O’Maley managed the new parish only a short time before seeing the need for a hospital in the rapidly growing community. He asked the Sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, based in Ontario, Canada, to come to Polson and establish a hospital. They agreed.
Lilian Byrnes, a registered nurse from Omaha, also saw the need, and bought the Carl Wright house on B Street in 1915. She called it Polson General Hospital. On October 10, 1916, the three Sisters of Religious Hospitallers—Mother St. Joseph, Sister Mary and Sister Gertrude—leased Polson General Hospital and purchased the equipment. They converted the East Side Hotel into a hospital with a capacity for six patients, and called it Hotel Dieu. Their first patient, admitted on Nov. 6, 1916, was a Native American man from the Flathead Reservation.
The Sisters then purchased the A.M. Davidson home, near the present hospital site, in 1921. A wing was added to the house, and the hospital boasted a 17-bed capacity.
In 1930, work began outside of Polson on the Kerr Dam (now known as the Séliš Ksanka QÍispé Dam) on the Flathead River for hydroelectric power. The population of the town increased rapidly and a larger hospital became imperative. Within two years, the hospital broke ground on a 30-bed brick structure. The new hospital opened on October 14, 1933.
By the 1950s, the community had again outgrown its medical facility and needed a larger hospital. With community contributions, federal funds, a Ford Foundation Grant and a loan obtained by the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, a new 40-bed facility was built and opened in late 1959. The name of the hospital was changed to St. Joseph Hospital, dedicated on March 19, 1960.
Within a few years, the picture changed again. The Religious Hospitallers, faced with an aging membership and few younger recruits, had to turn over administration of the hospital to lay administrators. Meanwhile, they tried to locate sponsors who would maintain the philosophy of St. Joseph Hospital. On March 13, 1984, after 67 years serving the Polson community so lovingly, the Hospitaller Sisters transferred sponsorship of the local hospital to the Presentation Health System.
St. Joseph Hospital was in dire economic circumstances in 1990. The Sisters of Providence assumed responsibility for the hospital on March 1, allowing St. Joseph Hospital to continue providing health care services to the community. The Sisters of Providence were not new in this area. Their first mission was to establish a boarding school at St. Ignatius in 1864 at the request of Jesuit missionaries. From there, the Sisters founded Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula in 1873.
Faced with an old building in need of extensive upgrades, the St. Joseph Hospital Board of Directors reviewed options and concluded that new construction was the best solution.
The sponsors recognized that people need health care that meets ever-changing lifestyles and technology. Physicians and patients need modern diagnostic imaging equipment, outpatient surgery, physical therapy, cardiovascular rehabilitation, home health services and wellness and fitness programs.
The resulting vision was one where the hospital and doctors worked together to provide primary health care services in a state-of-the-art facility, designed to meet the health care needs of the growing, diverse and aging community.
The new 22-bed Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, opened in 2000, provides “one-stop-shopping” for medical services, physician offices for patient office visits, a complete retail pharmacy and close proximity to laboratories so patients do not have to leave the building.
The Family Maternity Center was expanded to foster a sacred experience with more family interaction. The new hospital takes full advantage of the beautiful views of Flathead Lake and is filled with natural light. A state-of-the-art surgical suite, an enhanced emergency department and a modern imaging suite help improve the hospital experience.
With its rich history and established tradition of excellence, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center looks forward to serving you as a provider and community partner for many more years to come. We celebrate a century of caring in Western Montana, and honor all of the people who have walked through our doors over the last 100 years.