Photos by Tim Hall Photos by Tim Hall Photos by Tim Hall
History of GRH

History of GRH

The Early Years

In 1907 Drs. Richardson, Molitor and Bacon incorporated to form the first hospital in Union County. The articles of incorporation recorded by the Secretary of State’s office read, in part:

"...the name assumed by said corporation is—The Grande Ronde Hospital.
The duration—perpetual..., a general hospital for the treatment therein
of persons and people afflicted with disease, and performing
therein.... surgical operations and treating the same..."

On March 1, 1907, the newly elected Board of Directors purchased two acres in the "Grandy's second addition" for $910. Today this area is the site of the West Birch Manor apartments at the west end of Adams Avenue. However, the community had to wait to build the hospital on this site. The first structure that held the hospital was a rental house at the corner of Third and Penn, across from the First Christian Church. Records show that the first employees were hired on May 27, 1907, and that the first patient entry was on June 6, 1907.

Construction proceeded at a rapid pace as the new hospital began to take shape in October of 1907. The Observer reported that "The hospital is to be modern in its truest sense." GRH was completed and occupied at its new site on April 8, 1908. The local newspaper, The Observer, reported the following:

"The last load of equipment and the seven patients have been
moved from the old Grande Ronde Hospital to the splendid new structure
at the head of Adams Avenue, known as the new hospital."

On May 10, 1908, GRH reached a milestone by recording the first birth in the new hospital: Genevieve Ruth Hanna Rogers.

A mere seven years later in 1914, GRH undertook its first major addition. To help finance the addition, the Board authorized the sale of what were termed "Grande Ronde Hospital Tickets." The holder of these tickets gave the purchaser a stipulated amount to be used for medical attention, medicines, surgery and room if needed, and board and nursing care at the institution. This was the first type of insurance sold in Union and Wallowa counties to help finance GRH.

In 1929 GRH expanded for a second time, adding on a north wing to house more surgery space. La Grande was growing, and so was the use of the only hospital in Union and Wallowa counties. However, this was the last major construction on the facility before relocating Grande Ronde Hospital to its present site.

Dr. Richardson, the last remaining original stockholder, and his wife were the sole owners for 30 years until 1949 when they sold the corporation to Dr. C.L. Gilstrap and Stanley Johnsen, an anesthetist at the hospital since 1937. During Richardson’s tenure in 1939, GRH was officially designated a nonEprofit corporation.

The Years From 1962 to Present

In 1962 both Dr. Gilstrap and the hospital were in failing health. He and Johnsen donated the Grande Ronde Hospital to the Eastern Oregon Community Medical Center, Inc., which had been formed by the La Grande-Union County Chamber of Commerc for the sole purpose of keeping the hospital open. A decision was made to build a new hospital, as the current 55-year-old one was in disrepair and was too small to serve the needs of the community. It was decided that the only course of action was to build a new facility.

The fundraising drive for the new hospital was a combination of federal Hill-Burton construction funds and community fundraising. The $260,000 needed to match the federal government funding was reached mid-campaign, thanks to the outpouring of community support from businesses and individuals. When the campaign ended, $465,000 had been pledged and all but three percent was finally collected. Two community members, Gale Beals and David Baum, stood out during this campaign for a new hospital. Beals was the fundraising chair of the hospital campaign and worked long, hard hours to exceed the original campaign goals. Baum was president of the local industrial development group, and at the start of the campaign he set his goal to make Grande Ronde Hospital the "medical center of Northeast Oregon." Baum served as the first chairman of the new Grande Ronde Hospital Board and the only one until his death in 1977. During Baum's tenure, he established the Foundation and Auxiliary, and acted as the hospital administrator.

The new 39-bed GRH opened on January 16, 1966, in its present day location. There were 70 full-time employees and 14 physicians on staff, with a combined annual payroll of $200,000. It was apparent within months that the new hospital could not keep up with the growing medical needs of northeast Oregon. Within two years the Alex McKenzie Memorial Wing was built to bring the bed total to 49. La Grande’s St. Joseph Hospital was built in 1938 but closed in 1971, which created a space shortage for patients in Union County. The Grande Ronde Hospital hired all of St. Joseph’s employees who wanted a job, and converted private rooms to double rooms to make 65 beds.

From 1970 to 1977 hospital admissions doubled, surgeries quadrupled, and emergency department visits jumped 32-fold. The number of physicians also increased dramatically. The growth from 17 in 1970 to 30 physicians in 1977 was a result of the hospital recruiting young doctors, many of them specialists, to Union County.

GRH has continued to grow and expand to meet the community’s health care needs. Intensive and cardiac care units, physical therapy, nuclear medicine, new surgery suites, and business offices were added, pharmacy and laboratory areas were renovated, and emergency and radiology departments expanded. These represent just a a few of the changes in the 1978 David Baum memorial wing project, which added a two-level, 2,600-square-foot addition to the hospital.

GRH continued to grow. A new addition in 1982 provided 12 additional beds, and comprised the second floor wing. The floor included the much-needed room for an expanding Medical/Surgical service and a modern Critical Care Unit. The floor continues today to provide the modern care necessary for the people of Union County and the adjoining Wallowa and Baker counties.

In 1992 GRH went through another major remodeling project and added a third floor. This addition houses the Family Birthing Center, a c-section surgical suite, and Community Health Education classrooms. Presently the hospital is in the construction phase of expanding the Emergency Services Department, adding onto the Admitting area, and remodeling the Admitting/Radiology Waiting area.

Since 1907 GRH has been a vibrant and essential part of Union County. Today there more than over 400 full-time and part-time employees with an annual payroll of more than $10,000,000. GRH is a 25-bed Critical Access Hospital. There are 41 physicians on the active medical staff represent 16 different medical and surgical specialties. The hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission, is a member of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Healthcare Systems (OAHHS), and is a member of the American Hospital Association (AHA).

Your health care is always, and will continue to be, a priority to GRH and to our staff as we continue to provide the best care to our community.

Back to the top