Today our Diocese is blessed with two strong Catholic hospitals. St. Bernardine Hospital in San Bernardino began in 1931 and recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary. St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley began in 1956 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. This article will focus on past efforts to begin other Catholic Hospitals.
Mercy Hospital, San Bernardino
In 1891, the Sisters of Mercy were asked to begin a Catholic hospital in San Bernardino. Rev. P. J. Stockman, pastor at St. Bernardine Parish (1874-1895), personally donated $1,000 to support the project. A good size frame building was erected with accommodations for 30 patients, mostly miners. The location was on one of the many properties once owned by the wealthy Aeneas Quinn in the city, at the corner of 7th Street and “E” Street in San Bernardino.
By 1897, the silver mines were closed. The closure, along with a number of railroad strikes, created conditions detrimental to the financial health of the hospital. The religious community decided to discontinue the venture. The building and land were later sold.
St. Thomas Aquinas Sanitarium, Mentone
Southern California was often a place sought by people who were suffering from respiratory problems, especially tuberculosis. Shortly after their arrival in Redlands to open the Sacred Heart School in 1897, the religious community of Ursuline Sisters were considering to erect a sanitarium in the city. While most would associate a sanitarium as a facility for the mentally ill, in earlier days sanitariums also offered treatment to those with physical illnesses. Such was the case with the Mentone facility.
Over the next ten years, there was continued discussions among Redlands leaders on how best to serve the many ill people who had arrived in Redlands due to its great reputation as a health resort.
A large hotel in Mentone was purchased along with 12 acres of land to begin this new sanitarium. The Sisters of Mercy of Los Angeles were willing to staff this new heath facility and sent five sisters. The sanitarium opened in November 1911 to full capacity.
Unfortunately, the majority of patients could not meet even the moderate rates that were charged. Others with financial capability found that the long period of enforced rest exhausted their funds. The religious community had no choice but to close the facility on June 1, 1917. Eventually the building and land were sold.
Santa Anita Hospital, Lake Arrowhead
The owners of the Lake Arrowhead resort complex, the Los Angeles Turf Club, announced in the mid 1940’s that a hospital would be built in the San Bernardino mountains. The plan called for the club to finance and build the project, and then turn the hospital over to a non-profit to administrate the facility.
In 1951, the 29 bed hospital was built on six acres of land on the north shore of Lake Arrowhead. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange agreed to staff the new hospital. Bishop Charles Buddy of the Diocese of San Diego dedicated the new Catholic hospital on June 10, 1951. Since the Turf Club also operated the Santa Anita racetrack, their latest project was appropriately given that name. Sister Mary Alma Bachand was the first superintendent.
From the beginning, the hospital experienced operational struggles. The number of medical procedures were not enough to create compensation beyond the usual expenses. Adequate staffing and the lack of patients became a chronic problem. The workload was seasonally unbalanced, with heaviest demand coming from skiing accidents in the winter and water sport accidents in the summer. In 1956, St. Mary’s Hospital in Apple Valley opened, thus further reducing the admissions at Santa Anita.
A Board of Advisors and hospital auxiliary were formed in 1957 to assist the hospital. An effort was made to establish a program of long term convalescent care to increase the usage of beds, but this initiative did not really improve the cash flow problem. By the early 1960’s, the Sisters of St. Joseph were seriously contemplating leaving the hospital if conditions did not improve.
The hospital continued to operate at less than 50% annual occupancy rate. A decision was made in 1964 to put the hospital up for sale. Several attempts were made to find a purchaser with no success. Finally, the local community of Lake Arrowhead and its neighbors came together to purchase the hospital. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange left the hospital on June 1, 1965, after 14 years. The hospital continues to operate today as a community hospital.
These three initiatives by religious communities to build health facilities are a testimony to their commitment to serve the sick and ill among us. We are grateful for their health focus ministry to previous generations in the San Bernardino area.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.