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A brief history of Moab’s medical facilities and governing boards…

With the sale of the former Allen Memorial Hospital site in the news and editorial pages recently, it’s an opportune time to provide some history about Moab’s medical facilities and how the management and different boards associated with these facilities has evolved.

The Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District (CHCSSD) is a government board, separate from the county, that ensures a range of healthcare services are available in Grand County, and the board members are appointed by the Grand County Council.

CHCSSD is a completely different entity from Moab Valley Healthcare Inc. (MVHI), the board that provides governance for Moab Regional Hospital.

The former Allen Memorial Hospital property, located on 400 North, was owned and sold by CHCSSD, and proceeds from the sale of Allen Memorial Hospital will be used to further serve the scope of healthcare needs of Grand County.

Moab has a long legacy of government and citizen groups working together to ensure healthcare is available in Grand County. In 1896, the early settlers of the area formed a citizens committee to recruit a physician, and the Grand County Commissioners voted to allocate $150 a year as the salary. The following year, Dr. J.W. Williams arrived by stagecoach to serve as Moab’s first doctor. He made house calls throughout Grand and San Juan counties, visiting sheepherder’s camps, mining towns, and cowboys on the range. He traveled by horse and buggy or simply on horseback, with his saddlebags packed with bandages, remedies and medical supplies.

In 1919, a group of citizens organized the Moab Hospital Company and constructed Moab’s first hospital, Grand County Hospital. Dr. I.W. Allen arrived in Moab in 1920 to begin his medical career, which spanned 28 years of service to the community. In 1924, the Moab Hospital Company offered to sell the hospital to Grand County and the decision was put to vote in the January election of 1925, with 85 percent of the community voting in favor of purchasing the hospital.

Although Grand County Hospital had undergone several expansions, advances in technology and the population explosion from uranium mining necessitated a larger hospital. The Moab Chamber of Commerce met with the Grand County Commissioners and pledged to raise $100,000 if the county would underwrite the balance needed for a new hospital. In 1954, voters in Grand County authorized a bond for building a new hospital and in 1957, Allen Memorial Hospital opened.

Allen Memorial Hospital was owned and operated by the Hospital Special Service District until 1995. When a property tax for healthcare failed to be reapproved by voters, the Grand County Council found the hospital heavily straining the county’s budget and still struggling to operate. It was decided that a board strictly focused on successful hospital operations was needed, so MVHI was formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to manage the hospital. The Hospital Special Service District retained ownership of the building, which was leased to the hospital.

After over 50 years in operation, the time came again to replace the hospital in Moab, and on Feb. 14, 2011, Moab Regional Hospital opened. Unlike the former Allen Memorial Hospital building, the new hospital facility is owned by MVHI, made possible by generous community contributions and financing through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Canyonlands Care Center (CCC), the long-term nursing care facility attached to the hospital, is owned and operated by the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District.

The special service district and hospital boards continue to work together to ensure healthcare needs are being met in our community. The special service district now provides the seed money required for the hospital to participate in the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program, which brings in much-needed funds to help with the high volume of uncompensated care the hospital provides due to the high poverty rate in our area. When the special service district was questioning the idea of bringing in an outside company to provide management for the Canyonlands Care Center, they requested the hospital’s assistance in hiring and managing the CCC Administrator. The hospital agreed to collaborate to ensure that this valuable resource remains in our community.

Rural healthcare has always been, and will continue to be, a challenge in our isolated area. Looking back allows us to move forward more thoughtfully. The hospital board is saving now for the hospital we will inevitably need in the future, due to advances in technology and growth to come.

Openings on both boards become available from time to time and are difficult to fill, so if you have an interest in serving on either of these volunteer boards, contact either the hospital or service district boards and let them know.

For over a century, private organizations, government entities, and dedicated citizens have worked together to accomplish big projects in Moab. That same dedication and cooperation will be necessary in the future in order to provide the best healthcare possible for our community.

Jen Sadoff is the director of community relations for Moab Regional Hospital. She has lived in Moab for 14 years.

ByBy Jen Sadoff