As Whitman Hospital and Medical Center (WHMC) celebrates our 125th anniversary, it gives our staff a great feeling of pride to reflect on the hospital's rich history. The successes and tribulations WHMC has endured throughout its evolution have all contributed to its current level of excellence and philosophy of success based on people, teamwork, and our fantastic providers who have committed to making our rural community second to none.
It was 1892 when the Catholic Church began searching for a location for a hospital in Whitman County. In June of that year Colfax was selected. In May of 1893 the Sisters of Charity of Providence arrived in Colfax and opened a temporary hospital in a little frame building about the size of a one car garage, and started construction on a new hospital. They cared for a total of 10 patients in the first month and 62 by the end of the year. The original two-story St. Ignatius hospital was complete in 1894 and housed 145 patients in the first 18 months.
In 1917 the 1st addition (from the entrance of the hospital to the West End) was added with several more additions and renovations over the following 25 years (lower left). By 1964 however, the hospital faced losing its license unless the building was brought up to code, so it was decided to relocate the hospital. With a recommendation that the Sisters operate the new hospital, the community conducted several fundraising efforts to raise $600,000 and by 1965 the community was eligible for federal matching funds in the amount of $400,000.
Construction of the newly named Whitman Community Hospital was completed and officially dedicated on November 3, 1968 (lower right).
By 1984, however, hospital reserves were almost exhausted and the low point hit in November of 1987 when the Lewiston Tribune headline read, "One of Three Palouse Hospitals Likely to Close." Soon after the Whitman County Hospital Association formed a nine member Board and decided to seek Public Hospital District (PHD) status, a taxpayer supported governmental entity. The creation of a 1,200 square mile PHD known as Whitman County Public Hospital District No. 3 was created in 1989 to directly serve the communities of Colfax, Endicott, LaCrosse, Steptoe and St. John.
In addition to support from the taxpayers, three doctors contributed greatly to the turnaround of the hospital all with hometown ties. Dr. Robert Closson, a 1974 Colfax High School graduate; Dr. Robert Tulin who taught science classes at Colfax High School before entering medical school; and Dr. Bryan Johnson, a 1978 Colfax High School graduate. All three of them helped to turn the fate of the hospital from near closure in 1987 to a Top 100 Benchmark Hospital in 1994 and 1995. It was during this timeframe that the hospital took on the dba Whitman Hospital and Medical Center.
In 2003 WHMC achieved designation as a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) under a federal program enabling cost based reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid patients. With the CAH designation, services were extended to 24 hours per day 7 days per week for Emergency Services, Imaging Services, Laboratory, Respiratory Therapy and Surgery. These much needed services continue to this day allowing people access to excellent healthcare close to home.
Over time the hospital had outgrown its original 1968 design with an overcrowded emergency room, lack of patient privacy and inadequate space for new technology. After extensive work with administration and staff, WHMC’s Board of Commissioners approved a 48,700 square foot expansion involving 16,500 square feet of remodeled space. The vision for a new two story facility by way of a bond measure went to voters in September of 2006 and passed! Construction started in June 2007 with Phase I complete in 2008 and Phase II complete in summer of 2009.
Whitman Hospital takes great pride in providing excellent healthcare to the residents we serve. Recognized by the National Rural Health Association in 2013 and 2014 as one of the Top 20 Critical Access Hospital in the nation in the area of Patient Perspective, and one of 50 CAHs to Know by Becker’s Hospital Review in 2015 and 2016, our hospital is dedicated to meeting the needs of our patients now and into the future.