The History of Minidoka Memorial Hospital

A Snake River Saga

 
Minidoka Memorial Hospital is the joint operation of Minidoka County's only hospital and nursing home located in Rupert, Idaho. Services offered at Minidoka Memorial Hospital include surgery, obstetrics, inpatient and outpatient treatments, long-term care, home health, ambulance, and occupational health. The hospital employs over 200 people, making it one of the county's larger employers.
 
In spite of being widely considered as a valued community asset, there's no history of Minidoka Memorial Hospital, or it's predecessor organizations. The purpose of this work is to document and make available a brief history of the hospitals in Minidoka County.
 
It should be noted that a history of the hospitals in Rupert must include some information about the community of Rupert, plus the people involved, including doctors and administrators.
 
The community of Rupert was developed as a result of the Minidoka Project, which was created under the Reclamation Act of l902. This act, signed by Teddy Roosevelt, made it possible to irrigate and "reclaim" desert ground for agricultural purposes. The Minidoka Project began in l904 and consisted of the construction of Minidoka Dam and associated canals northeast of Rupert in Minidoka County. That same year, the first church was established in Rupert, and the first school opened in town.
 
As the town grew, the need for healthcare increased. A physician named Frazier saw the need for Rupert to have a hospital and proceeded to build one. Some say they started building Dr. Frazier's hospital in l922. However, it was not finished until l926. The doctor did the architectural work himself. It stood on the corner of what is now 6th and G Streets. The hospital was known as the Rupert General Hospital. It was two stories high of solid brick with bright green asphalt composition roof. The foundation was 40 by 70 feet. It included a basement, electric elevator, attic, 24 rooms, six bathrooms, and 17 hospital beds. The hospital was heated by a circulating hot water system. Dr. Frazier owned and operated the Rupert General Hospital for two years after its completion.
 
In about l926, the hospital was leased to the Lipps family, who operated the hospital for 10 years. In 1936, a woman named Minnie Rasmussen leased the Rupert General Hospital. She eventually purchased the hospital in l942 and was both owner and operator for an additional 10 years. In 1952, Jacquelin Byrd, Superintendent of the Cottage Hospital in Burley, bought the Rupert General Hospital from Mrs. Rasmussen and continued to manage both organizations until 1960 when Minidoka County built Minidoka Memorial Hospital on Rupert's west side. 
 
A fair amount of information is available about Minnie Rasmussen, the operator of the Rupert hospital for 16 years. Before coming to Rupert, she worked as the supervisor of nurses at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. She also worked in that same capacity at the Utah State Mental Hospital. Mrs. Rasmussen spent some of her career in the Army Nurse Corps and served in other supervisory positions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Pocatello. It was said that if "Aunt Min" didn't like you, you didn't get admitted to the hospital. The same applied to the doctors. She did not care for obstetrics. However, due to the ongoing demand to deliver babies, "Aunt Min" offered limited OB services.
 
Because competition with the medical community of Burley has influenced medical services in Rupert, a very brief history of the hospitals in Cassia County is included. The Cottage Hospital was built in Burley at about the same time as the Rupert General Hospital. Maternity services were also available at the Christensen Maternity Home, which closed in l956. In the l940's, Drs. Kelly and Terhune thought that Burley would be the future center of growth in the Minidoka and Cassia County region, and they decided to move their practices to Burley. They took many Minidoka County patients with them. This created a rift between Rupert and Burley healthcare that, in many ways, continues today. 
 
The 1950s brought talk of a new, more modern county hospital in Cassia County. This prompted serious discussions in Minidoka County about building a competing hospital in Rupert to retain physicians and patients. A long-time Rupert physician, A.F. Dalley, made several passionate speeches in support of a Minidoka County Hospital, comparing the Rupert/Burley situation with Aberdeen and American Falls. When American Falls built their hospital, the medical practices in Aberdeen soon moved to American Falls, and the community of Aberdeen was left with no local physicians. 
 
Also, with the expansion of the farms north of Rupert, it was thought that Minidoka County would experience substantial growth during the late 50s and early 60s. Some believed Minidoka County would even surpass Cassia County in population and economic growth. Combined with Dr. Dalley's effective arguments to retain physicians in Rupert, it was decided to build a new hospital on the west end of Rupert. In l960, Minidoka Memorial Hospital was completed. The Minidoka and Cassia County area now had two very equal county-owned hospitals.
 
With the construction of Minidoka Memorial Hospital completed, and similar hospitals in both communities, it was decided to contract with the hospital administration arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for the management of both institutions. At that time, the Church owned and managed a number of hospitals in Utah and some in Idaho. Since however, the Church has divested itself of hospital management, selling the business to Intermountain Health Care (IHC), a non-profit Utah corporation.
 
Mr. Harrison was the first administrator from the Church hospital management service. He was followed by Mr. Barton, frequently referred to a "Black Bart." In the early 70s, Barton proposed maintaining the hospital in Cassia County and turning the hospital in Minidoka County into a nursing home. This met with adamant resistance from Minidoka County residents, and it was decided to extinguish the association between Minidoka Memorial Hospital and the LDS Church Health Care Management Services.
 
The Minidoka County Commissioners appointed 10 county residents as hospital trustees to oversee the operation of the hospital. A new administrator was needed. After a lengthy search, Ed Richardson was recruited as the Minidoka Memorial Hospital Administrator. Mr. Richardson served as Administrator until 1991 when his health deteriorated and required that he retire. Randy Holom was then retained as Minidoka Memorial Hospital Administrator. In l997, he resigned to take a similar job in Montana. After another extensive search, Carl Hanson was appointed as Administrator and continues to this day.
 
Cassia County continued its hospital management association with the LDS Church. In the late 70s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints decided to divest themselves of hospital ownership and management. Church-owned hospital facilities and management contracts were turned over to Intermountain Health Care (IHC). Later, Cassia County agreed to turn ownership of the aging Cassia Memorial Hospital over to IHC, and the Utah Corporation constructed a new hospital in Burley, naming the new organization, "Cassia Regional Medical Center."
 
Minidoka Memorial Hospital continues to be owned by Minidoka County. Rather than building a new hospital, Minidoka County has opted to remodel and build additions when needed. Prior to l977, the nursing home division of Minidoka Memorial Hospital operated at near 100% capacity. In 1977, the east wing of Minidoka Memorial Hospital was completed, more than doubling the number of available nursing home beds. An intensive care addition was added in 1984, and a CT room was created in l993. 1986 saw an increase in liability costs for physicians practicing obstetrics, which prompted the establishment of the Minidoka Memorial Hospital OB Clinic. In l998, a 15,000 square foot surgical and obstetrical addition was added onto the west end of the hospital building with funds borrowed from the Idaho Health Facilities Authority. Future plans include expansion and remodeling of the emergency department. 
 
One of the most important services provided by Minidoka Memorial Hospital is recruiting and retaining physicians. Currently, the hospital has 51 physicians on staff. The Medical Staff includes 7 family physicians, 1 general surgeon, 1 internist, a radiologist, and numerous consulting physicians, including 2 orthopedic surgeons. 
 
Although the projected growth in Minidoka County has not been realized, the medical care available for County residents has grown to meet and often exceed the needs of a region and population of this size. The reason for this benefit is the existence of Minidoka Memorial Hospital in the competitive medical environment in Rupert, Minidoka County, Idaho.