Kalispell Regional Medical Center: Our History
By Sister Roxanne Dolak
August 17, 2012
Kalispell Regional Medical Center was born in 1910. In August of that year, a group of businessmen in Kalispell formed a board of directors, which became the Kalispell General Hospital Corporation. Hearing of their desire to open a hospital, John Carroll, Catholic bishop of the Helena diocese and after whom Carroll College is named, asked Mother Mary Gertrude at Sacred Heart Convent in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to consider sending sisters to Montana for that purpose. And so the Corporation entered into a contract with the Sisters of Mercy to construct and operate a new hospital. One of the members, Judge Smith, rented a cottage on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Third Street East to serve as a temporary hospital.
On a rainy September 1, 1910, at 11 a.m., three nursing Sisters of Mercy, motivated by a vision and faith in God’s Providence, arrived by train from Iowa to start the operation. Sisters Mary Philomena, Clement and Vincentia had just settled down for lunch at the cottage when a call came from Dr. O’Neil. He had a patient who was very sick with typhoid fever. The man was promptly admitted, and Kalispell General Hospital became a reality. He was cared for and then discharged as improved on September 12. His total bill for those 12 days was $28.
Eventually the cottage was moved to the site where construction was started on a new hospital at 745 Fifth Avenue East. It was completed in May 1912 at the cost of $46,000. $20,000 was contributed by the people of Kalispell and $26,000 by the Sisters of Mercy. The medical staff was organized in 1922. On their executive committee was Dr. A. Brassett, in whose honor was later established the Brassett Award, given each year to the employee of the year, who has been recommended by peers.
Through the years, additions were made to Kalispell General Hospital, including a new wing on the south side in 1949 and a convent wing on the north in 1963. It has also been through some interesting events, including two earthquakes and a dynamiting when a woman got a boy to put a lighted fuse through a window. She was trying to get rid of her husband, who was a patient.
In September 1973, the collaboration between the Sisters of Mercy and Kalispell came to an end when plans were made to build a new hospital on Buffalo Hill on the north side of town, and the Sisters decided not to be involved. Several Sisters continued to work at the newly named Flathead Health Center, including Sister Mary Brendan, after whom Brendan House has been named, and Sister Mary Regis, a native of Whitefish. George Clark was the new administrator.
On January 17, 1976, the building was complete, and the new Kalispell Regional Hospital, located at 310 Sunnyview Lane, was ready to render patient care. The old hospital became Courthouse East and was used by the county for various offices until a new courthouse building could be constructed. Eventually it was bought by some businessmen who completely renovated it and turned it into Eastside Brick, which houses condominiums and offices. So that old building that contains so much old hospital history still stands today.
Although the Sisters of Mercy no longer operate the hospital in Kalispell, the vision and faith of those pioneers continued under the guidance of George Clark and down through the present day by Velinda Stevens and her administration. They have constantly put the health care needs of the people of northwest Montana at the forefront.
Today, Kalispell Regional Medical Center is the core of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, a health care system that has grown from the addition of many services over the past 35 years, including:
- A.L.E.R.T., the nation's first rural hospital-based helicopter ambulance service, flew its first patient.
- A medical/surgical ICU was added. The following year the corporation reorganized and formed Northwest Healthcare as a nonprofit parent corporation. The new board of directors was charged with long-range planning to expand services beyond the scope of a traditional acute care hospital.
- Brendan House, an extended care facility, was opened. That same year wellness programs and preventive medicine were offered to the community at the Health Promotion Center. In addition to community health education, a vast array of rehabilitative programs was introduced through the Health Promotion Center.
- The hospital became the first in the state of Montana to install an MRI. A cancer treatment center was added, and a new freestanding obstetrics department was opened. KRH also opened the area's first hospital-based home health agency, and A.L.E.R.T. purchased a new helicopter, a Bell LongRanger.
- Dialysis and inpatient rehabilitation facilities were added. Previously, patients were forced to seek these services out of the valley at great additional expense to their families.
- KRH tripled the size of its Emergency Department because of a rapidly expanding community. KRH purchased a psychiatric and chemical dependency hospital, and renamed the facility Pathways Treatment Center, focusing on the treatment of adults and adolescents.
- Keeping an eye toward the future, KRH purchased nearly 50 acres adjacent to the hospital to develop the property into residential and commercial sites and funnel the profit into a planned major renovation and expansion of the campus.
- The Summit Community Center for Health Promotion and Fitness opened, combining the services of Second Wind (fitness) and the Health Promotion Center (community health education and rehabilitation) into one 84,000-square-foot building.
- The corporation reorganized again and changed the name Kalispell Regional Hospital to Kalispell Regional Medical Center to better represent the wide range of regional service offerings to neighboring providers.
- An indoor tennis facility was added to The Summit, increasing the total square footage of the facility to more than 100,000 square feet.
- KRMC transferred ownership of its dialysis services to a national nonprofit agency specializing in dialysis.
- Because of increased patient demand and the need to improve capacity and technology, the A.L.E.R.T. helicopter was upgraded to a larger, faster Bell 407.
- Open heart surgery became a reality at KRMC after an affiliation agreement was signed between KRMC and the International Heart Institute in Missoula. A cardiac catheterization lab was completed shortly after the open heart program was launched.
- The Northwest Healthcare Foundation was established to enhance philanthropic support of health care services.
- The new cancer treatment center with intensity-modulated radiation therapy capability began treating patients.
- A special relationship was forged with Native Air (OMNI Flight) of Mesa, Arizona, to complement the A.L.E.R.T. program’s helicopter service with a Pilatus PC-12, when weather grounds the rotor craft. Native Air also provided the long-range critical care transport of a fixed-wing air service to our community.
- Northwest Healthcare established Kalispell Professional Staffing Services to help regional health care providers with temporary staffing.
- Image-guided radiation therapy technology was implemented at the KRMC cancer center.
- The Winkley Women's Center, a mobile mammography coach, hit the road and began offering digital mammography, ultrasound and bone density screening to women in rural communities.
- Kalispell Regional Medical Center expanded its birthing center to include a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the services of a neonatologist.
- Kalispell Regional Medical Center expanded with the addition of the Bass Breast Center to offer comprehensive breast health care to the women of Montana.
- The HealthCenter opened The Montana Center for Wellness & Pain Management, providing traditional and alternative treatment for people with chronic pain.
- Kalispell Regional Medical Center added surgical oncology, physicians who specialize in the surgical treatment of cancer, to its menu of cancer services.
The first robot-assisted surgery was performed at The HealthCenter, using the da Vinci Surgical System.
- Kalispell Regional Medical Center broke ground on a new surgical tower, its largest expansion to date.
- Kalispell Regional Medical Center's mobile nuclear medicine coach was launched to provide nuclear medicine services to patients at neighboring hospitals.
- Kalispell Regional Medical Center added a new electrophysiology lab and the services of an electrophysiologist to offer local care for patients with heart rhythm disorders.
- The Neuroscience & Spine Institute was established to provide comprehensive care to patients with neurological disorders.
- A.L.E.R.T. ll, a new airplane, was added to the A.L.E.R.T. program to provide medical transport.
- Northwest Healthcare's cancer program earned accreditation by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.
- Northwest Healthcare changed its name to Kalispell Regional Healthcare to align the health care system name with the hospital at its core.