125 years of hospitals in Aspen
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What: Aspen Valley Hospital 125 Years of Service Celebration
Where: Hospital parking lot
When: Saturday, Sept. 10, 1:25 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: Suggested $1.25 donation
Details: Grilled food will be served. Kids activities include “Buttons” the Clown, games, face-painting, balloon animals, bounce houses, a photo booth and temporary tattoos. Twirp Anderson also will perform. Participants are encouraged to take a bus, bike or walk to the event because of limited parking.
Medical care was just as important to Aspen’s rough-and-tumble crowd in 1891 as it is today, but the injures and treatments could be quite different.
Whiskey — remember what Grandma told you? — helped sooth pain and served as an anesthesia. Lost limbs were commonplace among workers who hacked timber for the silver mines. And there were the occasional shoot-outs at the saloons and explosions in the mines in the seat of a county that pushed a population of 14,000.
But prior to 1891, Aspen, originally known as Ute City when the miners settled here in 1879, had no hospital. It wasn’t until 1889 that a group known as the Citizens’ Hospital Committee began raising money to build a hospital. By 1890, construction on the Citizens’ Hospital, located between Red and Smuggler mountains, began. It opened its doors in September 1891.
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was the chief reason for Aspen’s prosperity. But three years after its passage, in 1893, the act was repealed and silver was demonetized, sending Aspen into an economic freefall as mines were shuttered and residents sought to live elsewhere.
Those anecdotes and others are spelled out in “The Hospitals of Aspen,” a book released in 2002 that captures the first 111 years of hospitals in Aspen.
From 1:25 to 4 p.m. Saturday at its parking lot, Aspen Valley Hospital will celebrate 125 years of hospital patient care in Aspen. Speakers will talk about the history of the hospitals in Aspen at the family-friendly event.
“We have always been an integral part of the community, and we thought 125 years was an opportunity to celebrate our history and have fun with the community,” said Ginny Dyche, who runs the hospital’s community relations division.
Aspen’s hospitals have gone through different names, leaders and financial challenges over the years, starting with the Citizens’ Hospital in 1891, which went under the county’s control in August 1946. Then, it was renamed Pitkin County Hospital and was partly supported through a mill levy that lasted until 1974. Today, the hospital still relies on a voter-supported mill levy that has gained approval in five-year increments dating to November 1995.
Meanwhile, the old hospital was razed starting in 1959 with the construction of the so-called “middle hospital” that was finished in 1962. The facility would officially be called Aspen Valley Hospital thanks to Eloise Ilgen, who won a hospital-naming contest.
“It was shortly after that the skiing industry really took off,” Dyche said. “The old hospital was getting outgrown pretty rapidly.”
The hospital also had been under new management in 1961 when the county turned the reins over to the Mennonite Church. That alliance lasted until August 1970, when it was run locally. In March 1975, the Aspen Valley Hospital District, which comprises all of Pitkin County with the exception of Redstone, was formed. The first iteration of the modern Aspen Valley Hospital on Castle Creek Road was completed in October 1977.
Nurse Linda Spada-Magill joined Aspen Valley Hospital in 1976 before the new one was built. She left the hospital in 1989 and returned in 1992, “long enough to lose my seniority,” she said.
She remembers making the big move to the new address at Castle Creek Road.
“We literally carried things into the new hospital,” she said.
But it was a needed move. The smaller hospital was pushing its limits.
“I remember in the wintertime we’d be so busy we’d have beds in the hall,” she said.
A patient with a broken leg back then could spend a few nights in the hospital for treatment. These days, same-day surgeries for such injuries are the norm.
The Aspen hospitals have certainly seen a share of well-known patients. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 restricts medical providers from publicly identifying patients, but Spada-Magill volunteered the name of one patient in the 1970s who sneaked her dog into the hospital.
It was Lucille Ball.
“I remember taking care of her,” she said. “She was not very nice.”
Health care regulations and rules are much tighter than they once were.
“It was really different back then with health care,” she said. “Everything now is so regulated.”
Today, the hospital has a critical-access status and is more than halfway through a four-phase expansion. Its total operating revenue in 2015 was $82.2 million, according to an auditor’s report.
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