Our Heritage of Healing

hospital-on-blocksA Heritage of Healing
A century ago Walla Walla, Wash., was a bustling commercial hub, serving farmers for a 75-mile radius. Wheat was king in the "valley of many waters," and the development of a side-hill harvester in 1891 made it possible and profitable to cultivate the gently rolling hillsides.

As more and more acreage was planted the valley's population increased, and in the last two decades of the nineteenth century the town's size doubled to some 10,000 people. Walla Walla's dirt streets were clogged with farm wagons, horse-drawn buggies and hundreds of newly popular bicycles. The first automobile—a steam-powered contraption—chugged down Main Street in 1899.

Medical Treatments Sound Bizarre
Medical treatments of that era seem as outdated today as the horse and buggy. A patient with asthma might be sent to the tobacconist for a cigarette. Treatments for tuberculosis and meningitis included iodine and turpentine massaged into the skin. Alcoholics were advised to suck an orange and drink a pint of hot water before meals, or to take a dose of opium.

But a radically new concept of health care was gaining attention in the United States. In England the word "sanatorium" was applied to a health resort for invalid soldiers. It usually designated a small hospital near the seashore where a healthful climate was part of the cure.

In 1876, a variation of the English term was applied to the first Seventh-day Adventist health care institution called the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. Within a few years it became a world-renowned health center under the direction of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

Treatment at the sanitarium usually began with a complete physical examination by a trained physician, followed by a variety of treatments. These included relaxation in a beautiful setting, therapeutic water and electric treatments, a simple vegetarian diet, moderate exercise outdoors and trust in a divine power. Patients often stayed weeks or months to slowly recuperate. If indicated, surgery was available, and Dr. Kellogg was considered one of the finest surgeons in the United States.

Walla Walla Sanitarium Opens
In the fall of 1898, Isaac and Maggie Dunlap returned to the Walla Walla Valley from Battle Creek. Dunlap, business manager at Walla Walla College during its inaugural year, had left to study medicine. His four-year training was concentrated at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, with additional clinical experience in Chicago.

The Dunlaps opened treatment rooms in the basement of the college, and during the first year of operation some 3,000 treatments were given. For the first few years the Walla Walla Sanitarium was frequently relocated as it continued to grow.

Sanitarium and Walla Walla General Hospital Growth
In 1906 “the San” purchased the old College Place public schoolhouse, which was then moved to the campus of Walla Walla College, hoisted on jacks, and a new floor was added underneath, preserving the original roof line. It was transformed into a graceful two-story sanitarium with white pillars and wide verandas, reminiscent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. The new institution was dedicated on Monday, June 3, 1907.

By 1919 the facility had been enlarged three more times. In 1931 the San moved off the WWC campus and into a bankrupt hospital building on Bonsella Street—which has now been transformed into a dormitory on the Whitman College campus. Although fully equipped with the latest medical technology and space, this new facility was also remodeled and expanded for several decades to keep up with changing medical and community needs. In 1945 it became known as Walla Walla General Hospital.

It was clear by the 1970s that the current Bonsella Street building could not be efficiently remodeled any further, so plans were drawn for a new facility—something custom-built and ultra-modern, designed to meet the growing demands of 20th-century medical care. Walla Walla General Hospital officials found a perfect 18-acre site on Second Avenue, but the owners were not interested in selling when the health care group first approached them. After making it matter of prayer for several days, hospital officials went back to the owners, this time laying out all their plans for a new hospital. The owners said they had been saving the property for just such a project.

A grand opening for the new Walla Walla General Hospital facility was held on July 10, 1977, drawing a crowd of about 3,000. The campus included a small family practice clinic, which grew into Blue Mountain Medical Group and is now operated by the hospital as Adventist Health Medical Group. The Southgate Medical Plaza was also built at the time and includes the physician offices currently on the campus. For more than 30 years the hospital continued to grow and expand on the Second Avenue site, more recently adding new imaging equipment, remodeling the rehab department, building a new cardiac catheterization lab, and expanding the clinic to include a retail pharmacy.

In 2010, WWGH received $16 million in funds from Adventist Health to expand the hospital facility and update the façade and much of the interior spaces. A ground breaking on July 20, 2011, kicked off the project, which included a new Emergency Center with an expansive, comfortable lobby and twice the space for patients and staff, a brand new lobby, private registration areas, and a gift shop. It also included a new cafeteria featuring healthy vegetarian food options. Additional updates include a remodel of the Birth Center, outpatient rehabilitation, and the med/surg unit.

The NEW Walla Walla General Hospital is expected to be complete in the spring of 2013 with a grand re-opening planned for summer 2013.