Their story is our story.
Groundwork for excellence
It was a foggy, cold night in January 1954. Dr. Richard Ettinger, the new kid at St. Charles Memorial Hospital, had drawn the emergency rotation.
“I got a call to come to the emergency room. There had been a bad accident,” he remembered 48 years later. “There were five stretchers on the floor in front of the emergency room.”
The car crash victims were in bad shape, and Ettinger knew he would need help. He summoned all seven of his new colleagues from Bend Memorial Clinic.
Just a year out of post graduate studies at Northwestern Medical School in Chicago and a week or two into his career at St. Charles, Ettinger would see masters at work that night. Drs. Clyde Rademacher, Max Hemingway, Lorance Evers, Bradford Pease and Richard Robinson, who founded Bend Memorial Clinic in 1946, along with Drs. Ettinger and Al Moody, waded in and started taking care of the injured.
Several had served as military doctors during World War II, so they were old hands at both team medicine and trauma cases. The others had become well-acquainted with both. At that time, St. Charles did not have full-time emergency physicians or nurses. Everyone took turns on the ER rotation.
“They were excellent physicians. They could do so many things,” Ettinger said. “I think working with that group made me a better physician. They were very well trained.”
Their ability had lured Ettinger to St. Charles and Bend Memorial Clinic in the first place. He interviewed during the winter. The mountains were shrouded in clouds, so he saw little of the area. He saw enough of what counted, though, and took the job.
“I spent a lot of time with the physicians at the early Bend Memorial Clinic, and I was impressed with their training and practice,” he said. “It wasn’t until the spring came that I realized what a beautiful place this was.”
The St. Charles Memorial Hospital he found was almost new, having replaced the previous building on Hospital Hill in 1951. Sister Madeline Sullivan was the superior. Five or six sisters worked as nurses in addition to lay nurses who were becoming more common at the hospital.
Patient care depended almost entirely upon the skills of doctors and nurses. They had little else.
“In those days, we weren’t so dependent on technology as we are today,” Ettinger said. “We had X-rays and electrocardiograms and that’s about it.”
Helen Richards, a nurse who served at St. Charles, said much the same in a December 2000 interview.
“I think back how if someone had a heart attack, you put them in room 226 or 227 and they rested there and every day we’d give them an EKG…and they just stayed there and then they went home.”
“We didn’t have any ER doctors or any kind of code. If someone started to die in X-ray, well, that’s the way it was. We didn’t have any crash cart, we had nothing.” Richards said.
These post-war years brought substantial changes to medicine. Ettinger said the military’s experience with teams of specialists was quickly adopted in Bend and elsewhere. The pace of technological advancement also picked up and continues to accelerate to this day.
Still Bend was off the beaten path medically and otherwise. Though it had some capable specialists like Pease, a Harvard-trained surgeon; Evers, an eye, ear, nose and throat man; and Robinson, an obstetrician; it lacked many specialties.
“We had to refer a lot of cases to Portland because we didn’t have a lot of specialists,” Ettinger said.
That would become an impetus for the development of St. Charles Medical Center on the east side of Bend. Doctors like Ettinger, as well as future administrator, Sister Catherine Hellmann, were frustrated by the risky journey patients faced. Another vexation in the 1950s and ‘60s, according to Ettinger was the difficulty attracting new physicians.
“For many years, Dick Woods and I did all the internal medicine. We worked every other night and every other weekend,” he said.
The hospital and clinic sent letters to medical schools across the country.
Local merchants offered physicians discounts. Ettinger said doctors weren’t well paid by today’s standards. The problem was deeper: Bend wasn’t on the medical map and the community would do what it could to keep the physicians it had.
“I don’t think physicians realized good medicine could be practiced in remote areas,” he said.
At the same time, the ground-work for Central Oregon’s transformation from a logging and cattle economy to tourism and growth was being laid. Mount Bachelor ski area opened in 1958, with Dr. Pease as one of the backers. The first condos were built at Sunriver in 1969.
By the early 1970s, momentum started to build on several fronts. Medical technology was advancing and becoming available to smaller hospitals. Tools like the defibrillator required medical providers to seek extra training.
Bend was discovered as a good place to live. Ettinger said by the time he retired in 1998 the community had no trouble recruiting good doctors in most specialties.