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Holy Family Hospital marks its 50th year

Providence Holy Family is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The 138-bed North Spokane hospital was founded by German-heritage Dominican Sisters and dedicated August 29, 1964.

A Community Celebration  from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30, in its north parking area includes health screenings, CPR demonstrations and tours of the remodeled maternity center.

Recently Dominican Sister Judith Nilles and Barbara Savage, who was a registered nurse at Holy Family, shared about the early years with Anne McKeon of Providence Holy Family public relations:

Sr. Judith, now on Providence’s Community Ministry Board, was a young sister when Holy Family opened. She and another sister helped clean for the first patients.

“There was no room in the convent next to the hospital for us to stay, so we were given a second-floor room,” Sr. Judith said.  “We were the first people to sleep in the hospital.” 

She never worked there but later, as a leader in the Dominican community, she was on the health care boards.

Sr. Judith remembers the vision, discernment and financial sacrifices that made the hospital a reality.  It began in 1940 when the Provincialate bought 40 acres on North Division for about $13,500.  The Dominicans were then in Kettle Falls. 

“In the 1940s and early 1950s, the sisters started talking about how to use this land,” she said.

In 1957, 17 doctors petitioned them for a North Side hospital. The sisters built a convalescent home in the 1960s as a precursor and began planning for the hospital. They mortgaged their property to build the hospital.

“We had to save every penny. I was teaching.  Our food bills and everything were scrutinized to see how much we could contribute to the building fund,” Sr Judith said.

Holy Family has prospered since 1964, when the sisters headed all departments, she said.

In 1993, the Dominicans transferred Holy Family Hospital to the Sisters of Providence.  Sr. Judith is pleased that the compassionate service that was important to the founding sisters is maintained in the hospital.

Barbara, now a Providence sponsor, started her career in 1968 at Holy Family as a registered nurse and served in several clinical, educational and mission leadership roles.

She appreciates that Holy Family continues the family environment that began with the Dominican Sisters.

“I knew I was a part of a family and that the sisters cared for us, loved us and knew each of us by name,” Barbara said.

In the early days, sisters lived in a convent on the hospital grounds.  They used the proximity to help hospital employees.

“The sisters were always extending themselves. It wasn’t unusual to see a sister cruising the hallway, even at night, just to check how the employees, patients and families were doing,” she said. 

“I worked evenings as a nurse in ICU. Often the staff would not go out for dinner, so a sister would be there, and end up in trouble herself, because she would raid the kitchen and bring us sandwiches, fruit and, of course, dessert, said Barbara.

“In 2010, we had one of those dreaded, unannounced Joint Commission surveys. A doctor was the lead surveyor. When the surveyors reported to the administrative team, the doctor said: ‘Before I start my report, I want to express to you how deeply impressed and touched I have been by the compassion I have seen shown here staff to staff, staff to patients and staff to families.’

“He choked up and had to turn it to the nurse and have her report out. To me this is evidence of the continuation of that loving, caring, compassionate community family begun by the Dominican Sisters,” Barbara said.  “This family community must be nurtured and tended carefully so that 50 years from now, people will still be able to say, ‘Holy Family Hospital is a family.’”

For information, call 474-2397.

Copyright © September 2014 - The Fig Tree