The story of St. Charles began in 1918 when the first hospital in Bend officially opened on the banks of the Deschutes River. It started with five Sisters of St. Joseph whose mission was to care for all or care for none. The current location of the Bend hospital opened in 1975. It became a community, nonprofit organization in the 1970s and maintained an affiliation with the Catholic Church until February 2010. The spirit of compassionate caring first fostered by the Sisters of St. Joseph is alive and well at St. Charles today. This is our story.
St. Charles through the years
February 13, 1917
Father Luke Sheehan came to Bend in 1910, one of two Capuchin friars sent by their order to assess the opportunities for establishing missions in the less settled Eastern Oregon. He saw the need for a medical facility that could handle major medical emergencies given the railroad construction risks and hazardous work at the area sawmills, ranches and forests. In 1912, Father Luke appealed to the superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton, Indiana, Mother Gertrude, whom he met on a ship bound for Ireland in 1908. She promised to send nuns to Bend, but died of cancer in 1916. In 1917, Sheehan traveled to Tipton to meet with the new Mother Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Mother Xavier. She agreed to honor Mother Gertrude’s promise and five Catholic sisters arrived in Bend on Dec. 28, 1917.
December 25, 1917
On a cold, bright sunny afternoon in 1917, five nuns boarded the Pennsylvania Railroad at Kokomo, Indiana and headed west to Bend, Oregon. It was Christmas day, but the women had a rendezvous to keep. What they faced was a raw logging town only a decade removed from the wild west. Sisters Theresa Thistlewaite, De Sales Burns, Evangelista McKenzie, Blanche Ress and Brendan Donegan helped found St. Charles Health System.
Read the story about the sisters’ first test with the Spanish Flu.
January 1, 1918
Four short days after arriving in Bend, the sisters took over operations of the medical facility, called the Bend Hospital, on Jan. 1, 1918. When the sisters took it over, they were told they could only take care of the Shevlin-Hixon Company mill workers. They said no. “We take care of everyone, or we take care of no one.”
Click here to read about 1900s medicine in Central Oregon.
Read the story about the first hospital in Bend.
After a population boom in Bend (from 523 to 5,400 in ten years), the sisters knew they were outgrowing the small facility near Mirror Pond. Father Luke Sheehan purchased five acres across from the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church for $1,100 and donated the land to the sisters for a hospital. Local contractor E.P. Brosterhous agreed to build the hospital for $29,850. The Mother House in Indiana contributed $19,639 and the sisters paid the balance in seven installments. In March 1922, Bishop Joseph McGrath and Fathers Luke Sheehan and Gabriel Harrington blessed each room in the newly-opened St. Charles Hospital.
The new hospital’s name honored Bishop Charles O’Reilly of the Baker Diocese who had been instrumental in bringing the sisters to Oregon. Secondly, it honored the hospital’s patron saint, St. Charles Borromeo, a 16th century archbishop of Milan who was known for his work to help the sick during Europe’s great plague.
1934 and 1938
1934 – The first hospital in Prineville, Home Hospital, opens in the Elkins House.
1938 – A second Prineville hospital, the Cornett House, opens.
The U.S. Army started developing Camp Abbot on the site of present-day Sunriver Resort. It was a training facility for engineers. Between 1943 and 1944, an estimated 10,000 soldiers would be stationed there.
Needing a place for its sick and injured, the Army built a 25-bed wooden annex at St. Charles Hospital called Prague Hall. The sisters cared for the soldiers. After the war, the government sold the sisters the annex for $6,000, increasing the hospital’s capacity to 60.
Already battered by the depression, St. Charles Hospital faced some of its toughest years in the 1940s. At the war’s end, the hospital was running on faith. Despite the many patients crowding its beds, many hospital bills went unpaid. The Mother House sought to sell St. Charles to another religious order, but found no takers.
On the evening of March 10, 1948, more than 150 community leaders met at the old Pilot Butte Inn to discuss how to help the hospital. On the table was whether to build a new hospital or add to the existing – and how to pay for either. The Central Oregon Hospitals Foundation was formed in April to oversee the hospital’s finances and to spearhead construction. Editor and owner of the Bend Bulletin, Robert W. Sawyer, was the president of the foundation and Carl A. Johnson was chairman of the fund-raising campaign. They predicted they could raise the needed money in two weeks. Initially, fund-raising was brisk. In addition, the group learned the Sisters of St. Joseph could borrow more than $200,000 toward the project.
That fall, the Oregon State Board of Health approved a $309,000 grant from the federal Hill-Burton Act of 1946. This Act provided money to modernize hospitals neglected during the Depression and war. Combined with the $344,000 the community raised and about $250,000 the sisters borrowed, the money was enough to build the new St. Charles Memorial Hospital.
May 12, 1951
St. Charles Memorial Hospital was dedicated on May 12, 1951. It was built next to the old brick St. Charles Hospital on Hospital Hill near Franklin Avenue in downtown Bend. More than 1,900 people had contributed to the project. At the dedication, Sister Blanche Ress, the hospital’s superior at the time, spoke after the ribbon was cut. “This ribbon will not be needed, for the doors of St. Charles shall never be locked against anyone in need of services, regardless of rank, color or creed.”
Later, in 1958, a 38-bed wing was added to the hospital.
Central Oregon District Hospital was built on 20 acres in the north part of Redmond. The public supported the hospital with tax dollars and community members are elected to serve on the board of directors up until the time of the merger between the Bend and Redmond hospitals. Redmond was the first city in Oregon to form a public hospital district.
February 27, 1967
Mountain View Hospital first opened its doors in Madras on February 27, 1967. The facility was a 25-bed acute care hospital and held a Critical Access Hospital designation.
Old articles in The Pioneer noted, “The completion of the hospital marks the end of a long campaign for such a facility here.”
The drive for a Madras hospital in 1958 failed when voters rejected the formation of a hospital district by the Mountain View Hospital Foundation.
But foundation members didn’t give up. “Three years ago (1964) the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber made the hospital its number one objective,” an article said.
Headed by president Vic Bacon, the chamber pledged funds to finance a hospital drive, and in December 1964 voters approved a hospital district in a 1,313 to 320 vote.
The first hospital board included chair John Brooks, Walter McCaulou, Leonard Conroy, Dwight Macy, and Louis Kinkade. A site was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Al Bean, voters approved a $680,000 construction bond in the spring of 1965, and work was begun May 9, 1965.
Mountain View held a management partnership with St. Charles before joining the health system officially as St. Charles Madras in 2013.
Content pulled from a Madras Pioneer article written by Susan Matheny on March 4, 2007. View the article in its entirety here.
Sister Catherine Hellmann became a St. Charles Memorial Hospital administrator in 1969. The population of Deschutes County was 30,442 in 1970 and planning began for a new St. Charles Medical Center to accommodate the growing area.
During this time, the Bend hospital was remodeled and expanded to 99 beds. The Sisters of St. Joseph transferred assets to a nonprofit community corporation. St. Charles Memorial Hospital, Inc. (later changed to St. Charles Medical Center, Inc.) was formed in December 1971. Hellmann was the president and chief executive officer.
Sister Catherine was convinced Central Oregon needed not just a larger hospital, but a medical center that could provide the latest health care for the growing region.
There was not enough land at the existing hospital site for the kind of expansion she envisioned, so Hellmann looked east of Pilot Butte. The area was farmland and desert back then, but she endured and overcame skepticism about building “halfway to Burns.”
When it was dedicated on Sept. 21, 1975, the new St. Charles Medical Center had 160,000 square feet on four and a half floors, 164 patient beds, a coronary unit, an emergency room and an intensive care unit.
Though others credited her vision, Sister Catherine gave much of the credit to the people of Central Oregon.
“I saw much more community involvement at that hospital than at any other hospital I ever worked at,” Hellmann said. “The people of that community were so open to new ideas. I was kind of like a bird out of a cage there.”
1980 – 1990
Several important services opened during the decade of the 1980s.
- Central Oregon Cancer Treatment Center opened in 1982
- Air Life of Oregon began operations on Aug. 5, 1985
- Open heart surgery program started in 1986
- St. Charles Medical Center Foundation was established in 1987
- The St. Charles Medical Center Rehabilitation Center opened in 1989
January 1, 2001
St. Charles Medical Center and Central Oregon District Hospital in Redmond merge to form Cascade Health Services, which would later become Cascade Healthcare Community
A new $115 million addition to St. Charles Redmond opens
Pioneer Memorial Hospital joined the St. Charles Health System through a lease agreement in July 2008.
“With this lease, we are moving toward creating a truly integrated health system throughout the region,” said James A. Diegel, FACHE, then president and CEO of St. Charles. “We believe the agreement is in the best interest of both communities and will enable our organizations to better meet the health needs of our patients.”
April 1, 2010
Cascade Healthcare Community changes its name to St. Charles Health System.
“In some ways this decision is about us moving forward with a name that embodies our dedication to serving all patients in need and who we are as an organization,” said James A. Diegel, president and CEO of St. Charles at the time.
St. Charles Medical Group begins oversite of Family Care clinics in Redmond and Prineville.
St. Charles Health System grows to include Mountain View Hospital in Madras and breaks ground on a new $12.9 million cancer center
The St. Charles Health System board of directors approves a $16 million renovation to St. Charles Madras that will add 26,000 square feet to the facility and enhance outpatient and primary care services; outpatient rehabilitation services also open at the Madras hospital.
On Sept. 21, Pioneer Memorial Hospital closes and a new hospital, St. Charles Prineville, opens for service.
St. Charles Bend breaks ground on a new three-story patient tower that features 24 new ICU beds, 28 inpatient beds and shell space for future development.
St. Charles Family Care in Prineville announces plans to expand its clinic to include space for additional visiting specialists and make the outpatient rehabilitation area larger.
St. Charles Madras completes a two-year remodel and expansion that adds 26,000 square feet to the facility.
St. Charles celebrates its 100th anniversary! Read more about the party we held at Drake Park in Bend on Sept. 15, 2018.