Health Care Dilemma of 1950’s

Health Care Dilemma of 1950’s

In the 1950’s, Valdez was a small community of about 500 people at the end of the gravel Richardson Highway. Access to reliable health care had been a problem since the Episcopal Church’s Hospital of the Good Samaritan closed in the 1940s.

In a period of just about a decade, over 5 doctors came and went from Valdez. In an effort to provide suitable health care, the community tried to interest various religious groups in operating the Valdez Community Hospital, which was located in a retro-fitted two-story building in Old Valdez.

During this period, Alaska grappled with numerous communicable diseasessuch as tuberculosis, polio, measles, rubella, and mumps. Though remote villages were most hard hit by these diseases, early diagnosis and treatment were also critical elsewhere to prevent epidemics.

In 1954, the community began negotiations with the Central Alaska Missions Group in Glennallen to operate the Valdez Hospital. The negotiations didn’t result in an agreement, so the City continued to operate the hospital itself.

In 1955 the Valdez City Council succeeded in recruiting a doctor, Dr. R.H. Delafield, to be the hospital’s administrator. Dr. Delafield succeeded in stabilizing the hospital’s finances through tight budgeting.

That same year, the community of Valdez finished construction of a new hospital. It was a one-story cement block building with a flat roof located on the corner of Wickersham and Hobart Streets. The new hospital had 15 beds. This new hospital was modern and had a larger capacity than the old hospital, but was more expensive to operate and caused some residents to grow concerned about the sustainability of this facility. There was a 1% sales tax proposed that would have raised $15,000 dollars annually for the operation of the hospital. The Territory of Alaska also provided about $2,000 each year for hospital operations.

In 1959 Valdez experienced a critical health care situation when there was no doctor in Valdez. Two nurses were in charge of the hospital and patients had to go to Glennallen to see a doctor. The nurses, who by necessity were called upon to handle emergencies, deliver babies in a pinch, and perform other medical procedures, sent a personal letter to Governor Bill Egan, to help find a doctor.

The 1964 Earthquake left Valdez struggling to recover. When the town was relocated to its present site, a new state facility was constructed to house both Harbor View Center – for developmentally disabled residents – and the community hospital.