Health Care in Early Valdez

Health Care in Early Valdez

Health care is a central service that Valdez has always tried to provide for residents. Over the years, health care has been provided here in a variety of ways.

Valdez was established in 1898 as a gold rush tent city and rapidly grew into a bustling turn-of-the-century American city. While the first rush into Valdez was mostly comprised of men, families with children began arriving soon thereafter. Health care for the population became a concern immediately.

The earliest health care provided in Valdez appears to have been by the US Army personnel stationed at Fort Liscum, located on the southern shore of Port Valdez. Soldiers performed rescues and first aid for the miners. Prospectors suffered from injuries, accidents, common diseases of the time such as the flu, and, in some cases, malnutrition and scurvy. A log building called the “Hospital for Destitute Miners” was constructed in Valdez for emergency care in 1898. A large 2-story hospital was built in 1900 on Fort Liscum primarily for the care of the soldiers.

Several doctors served Valdez in the early years. Dr. Von Gunther arrived in 1898. Dr. Damourette advertised himself as a surgeon in Valdez in 1901.

The first “real” hospital in Valdez was operated by the Episcopal “Church of the Epiphany”. This “Hospital of the Good Samaritan” opened in 1903 and operated into the 1940s. It was a neat, 2-story frame building with a pitched roof and a wide front porch.

It had an operating room with one metal bed, electric lights and running water. The operating room had a large window facing the street that allowed natural light in. The hospital rooms were open with movable curtained dividers and single mattresses on the metal bed frames. Windows let in light and electric light bulbs hung over each bed.

The Episcopal hospital’s established rates in 1906 were $2.50 per day for stays in the general wards with extra charges for private rooms, private nurses, special care and surgery. In November 1906, the hospital treated 6 patients. A nurse was on duty around the clock. Hospital visiting days were limited in these early times to Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2-5pm.

The Episcopal Church ran a fund raising campaign each Christmas to benefit the Good Samaritan hospital in the early 1900’s. One year, they raised $135. The Copper River Northwest Railroad that ran between Kennecott mine and Cordova had a form of early health insurance. They deducted pay from employee wages and paid them to the Good Samaritan hospital in Valdez to care for employees who were sick or injured on the job.