Dauphin General Hospital – the first 100 years

The Dauphin General Hospital - or Dauphin Regional Health Centre as it is now known - as it exists today.

The following history which looks at the first 100 years of the Dauphin General Hospital was compiled by Dauphin residents Robert M. Forbes and J.J. Arthurs.

Throughout the history of the Dauphin General Hospital four problems persisted: shortage of money, staff, equipment and beds. In 1900 Dr. Bottomlay housed a few patients in a house he owned on Third Street North West Soon it was full. A hospital was a critical need.

Property for a hospital was donated by William Whitmore. It was the area between Third Street South West and Jackson Avenue, except for lots already surveyed. Northern boundary was Fourth Avenue South West He also donated property where the Dauphin Medical Clinic now stands. Money for the building came from the Rural Municipalities of Dauphin, Grandview and Gilbert Plains, from the Village of Dauphin, from private donations, and some from the provincial government. Before receiving its charter in 1901 construction began on a 24-bed wooden structure hospital. The cost was$9,000. Soon a nurses quarters residence was added. Patients paid $1 per day. Lamps lit the building. The heat source was wood. Water came from a well. A typhoid fever outbreak filled the beds and hallways. A house was rented for an isolation ward. Patients had to be turned away.

In 1928 a brick building was built. This addition gave a total of 60 beds, operating rooms, and some diagnostic services. Funding came from the town, RM, local service clubs, and a provincial grant of $15,000. A town water line built in the ‘30s now provides water.
In the early ‘30s a laundry was built. Also constructed was a cement roothouse to store vegetables for patients’ meals. Vegetables were donated, received in lieu of cash to pay patients bills, or grown in the hospital garden. This garden was on the property across Third Street South West donated by Wm. Whitmore for a nurses’ residence. Because it was not built the area was used as a garden. Volunteers cared for it.

In 1935, due to population increase, more beds were needed. The 1901 structure was sold, to be moved or torn down. A new red brick building was constructed attached to the north side of the 1928 building at a cost of $39,019.95. Bed capacity increased to 100. A more efficient heating system was installed.

Methods of heating changed from wood in the 1901 building to coal, when the town built the power plant to provide electrical power. This was replaced by oil burning furnaces. Now natural gas is used. Of interest is that large oil tanks still exist which could be used to supply oil to the furnaces if the natural gas supply fails. In the event of a power failure a large diesel power plant cuts in immediately, ensuring no service interruption.

By the 1950s the bed shortage was so acute that people had to be refused care. The board of governors reports from 1954-57 recommended building a new wing running east and west and attached to the 1928 and 1935 structures. The provincial government would pay 80 per cent of costs and locally 20 per cent was to be raised. The Town and RM of Dauphin agreed to pay $230,000. In January 1960 the tender was awarded at a cost of $1,032,263. This was for two stories and a full basement. With construction under way the board requested that a third floor be added. The survey board visiting the site recommended a fourth floor to accommodate extended treatment patients. The facility, when completed, accommodated 104, two main operating theatres, an emergency operating theatre, a special pediatric ward and an airconditioned maternity ward.

The changes made increased the cost to$1,750,000. The increase was mainly funded by provincial grants and guaranteed debenture loans. More than 3,000 people attended the opening in November 1961.
In 1947 the Department of Government Services built the first Rural Public Health and Welfare Unit in Manitoba. It housed the Dauphin Public Welfare Department and Diagnostic Services. Due to its location, south of, and close to the hospital, a short tunnel was constructed linking the two buildings.

In 1960 a new era began with the hiring of John Lysak as hospital administrator. With his leadership the quality of health care improved and the first hospital accreditation was approved. The hospital became one of four major health providers in rural Manitoba. Elective surgery, acute care patients, and an overcrowded pediatric ward stretched accommodation to the limit. The laundry and nurses’residence were inadequate.

There was a nurses’ training program from 1901 to 1960. A total of 165 nurses graduated as Registered Nurses. In its place a licensed practical nurses program was installed and continued for a number of years. In 1952 a three-story house on the corner of Third Street South West. and Fourth Avenue South West was purchased to become a nurses’ residence.

In 1971 a new two-story central laundry was built to service the laundry needs of health care facilities in the Parkland. In 1975 it became known as the Parkland Regional Laundry Ltd. Due to the increased heating needs after the 1961 addition the boiler room was relocated and enlarged.

In 1970 with encouragement from John Lysak the board decided to replace the 1928 and 1935 buildings with a new facility. A planning and construction committee was formed. It’s recommendations were: an improved lab and X-ray department, a pediatric department,increase in male and female beds, an improved outpatient department, psychiatric beds, rehabilitation services, and air conditioning for the whole building. The services of L.M. Architectural Group was retained to provide working drawings. Due to the distance patients were travelling to major health care facilities in Brandon and Winnipeg the board’s desire was for Dauphin to have a facility enabling residents in northwest Manitoba to travel less for health care. With planning just beginning the provincial government, which controlled the purse strings, decided a personal care home was needed more than a new hospital. Lab and X-ray facilities were so inadequate a separate building was erected to enlarge and upgrade this department.

Dauphin’s responsibility for the personal care home was the land to build it on. Four houses were purchased. Funding was provided by Town and Rural Municipalities of Dauphin and Ethelbert. On September 24, 1979 a 60-bed, two-story personal care home was opened.
A construction freeze by the provincial government halted all hospital planning and construction until late 1979. In 1982 a new hospital was approved for Dauphin. With this approval planning began again.

The new hospital was to be built where the 1928 and 1935 structures stood. Before demolition, temporary structures were needed to house the services provided in them. Demolition began in April 1983. Some surgery was performed at Ste. Rose and Grandview during the construction.

Bird Construction was awarded the general contract for the new hospital and the remodeling of the 1961 wing. By December 1985 the new four story 132,000 square foot building was completed. It housed three operating rooms, emergency, intensive care, chemo and dialysis services, administration, lab and X-ray, and a large kitchen with cafeteria services. A chapel requested by the board was refused funding. The Dauphin Knights of Columbus agreed to spearhead a community drive for funds needed. However, funding was provided to enlarge the power house, purchase a large standby power unit and build a tunnel connecting the personal care home to the hospital.

To prepare for the remodeling of the 1961 wing and the closing of its beds two large trailers were purchased and connected to the personal care home. In October 1986 remodeling was completed with a lovely chapel on the fourth floor built and furnished by the funds raised in the community by the Dauphin Knights of Columbus. The official opening of the new hospital was May 30, 1987. Total cost of the finished project was $25 million.

Planning and construction was not yet over for the board and administration. In 1985 a 25-bed expansion to the personal care home was approved. Completion date was set for 1987. Much time was spent planning a public health building to be situated on hospital property between the entrance road to the parking lot and the Vermillion River fronting on Fourth Avenue South West. With working drawings completed the project was rejected by a change of personnel in Manitoba Health Service who desired a building closer to the hospital.
Prior to having a local ambulance, a local funeral home operator provided service to Winnipeg and Brandon. In the early 1970s a public meeting decided an ambulance service was needed. It was to be located at the hospital and administered by it. The first ambulance went into service in 1975.

The Dauphin Medical Group wanted to buy the land east of the hospital which had been a hospital garden. They planned to build a medical clinic. As the donor, Wm. Whitmore, had intended the land for a nurses’residence it was necessary to have the approval of the executrix of his estate, Edith Whitmore, to sell the property. She approved because a nurses’ residence was no longer needed. The new clinic greatly enhanced medical services. On May 20, 1990 an agreement between Dauphin General Hospital and the University of Manitoba set up a family practice program for six MD graduates. These students were exposed to family practice in a rural setting and ensured the area had additional medical staff.

The nurses residence

The Dauphin Hospital Foundation was established September 22, 1988. All money donated to it goes toward the purchases of necessary equipment not funded by Manitoba Health.

Throughout its history the hospital has received tremendous support from the Hospital Aid 1900, later known as the Dauphin Hospital Auxiliary. They are leaders in providing specialized hospital equipment not provided by Manitoba Health.

The addition to the personal care home was delayed until July 1990 and completed in June 1991. This 25-bed addition increased the home’s capacity to 85 beds.

In 1996 the Manitoba government passed the Regional Health Authorities and Consequential Amendments Act. The Parkland Regional Health Authority was formed. It desired to have the Dauphin General Hospital, a corporation, and the Dauphin Personal Care Home Inc. join the Parkland Regional Health Authority. At an extraordinary meeting of the board of governors on April 30, 1997, 80 per cent of the governors agreed to devolve to the Parkland RHA with the following as part of the agreement: “The Authority agrees that if it ceases to use any of the real property titles, including buildings, transferred to the Authority by the Health Corporation and wishes to dispose of the real property titles, including buildings, the Authority shall first offer the real property titles and buildings to be disposed of to the Dauphin General Hospital Foundation for the sum of one dollar”. On December 1, 1997 the transfer agreement was signed transferring ownership of the hospital and personal care home to the Parkland RHA. On November 19, 1998 the corporations which had owned the hospital and personal care home were officially dissolved. Their new name was the Parkland Regional Health Centre.

In June 1997 the Parkland RHA started a major renovation project. It involved a fourth floor renovation to house 10 psychiatric beds, relocation and expansion of the hemodialysis and chemotherapy units, relocation of the chapel from the fourth floor to the main floor, relocation of the intensive care unit and a renovation to house the rehab unit. This work was completed in April 1998. Construction cost was $2.2 million. Major financial contributions were made by the Dauphin General Hospital Foundation and the Martha McDonald Memorial Estate Fund.

A much needed improvement for the diagnosis of health care problems was the approval to install and operate a CT Scanner. In the first half of 1999 a General Electric Hi Speed Scanner was installed. The cost was $1.2 million with major contributions from area residents and the Dauphin General Hospital Foundation.

As the year of 2001 arrived residents of the area could reflect on a century of health care to the residents of Dauphin and surrounding area. From the humble beginning of a doctor’s house and a charter whose board of governors worked tirelessly to have a community hospital, to the present where the Parkland RHA operates a multimillion dollar facility and is one of the largest employer in the area, has been a long journey. The ideal has always been the same: to strive for excellence in health care.

Research for this history was obtained from the books Dauphin Valley Spans the Years, Dogtown to Dauphin, The History of the R.M. of Dauphin, a booklet prepared for the official opening in 1986, in conversation with Edith Whitmore, and from the hospital board minutes.

- Article provided by the Dauphin Herald, originally published on Tuesday March 23, 2004. 

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