A history of healing

Valley Community Hospital: Evolutions

DALLAS -- U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield was born there. So was singing legend Johnnie Ray.

The hospital in Dallas has gone by different names and a succession of owners. However, for the past 90 years, it has been the place where babies are born, broken bones are set and lives are restored.

It has seen some Polk County residents from the womb to the tomb.

It has been the local hospital.

Back at the turn of the 19th century, there was no hospital in Dallas. Local doctors used their own homes as makeshift medical facilities.

That changed in 1912.

Doctors Bollman, McCallon, Starbuck and Staats joined together to raise money to build a hospital. It took them two years to gain proceeds from the sale of stock and a $5,000 loan to buy the property and build the beginnings of Dallas Hospital.

The whole project cost about $13,000.

The hospital struggled from the beginning. Dallas residents donated food, paint, labor, anything and everything, to keep the hospital going.

During the Depression, employees took a 30 percent cut in pay. But with the support of the employees and the community at large, the hospital survived and flourished.

Tony Branson and a silent partner bought Dallas Hospital in 1964. For awhile, the old wood two-story building was known as the Polk County Hospital.

Helen Wassum worked in the office when Branson ran the hospital. Life at the old hospital under "Mr. B" was wonderful, Wassum recalled.

"We had fun. It was fun to go to work. It truly was a family."

The old building was pretty funky. Wassum particularly remembers an idiosyncratic elevator. "You kind of worked it by hand."

Somehow, she misses that old elevator, the basement cafeteria where everything was cooked from scratch -- and the old hospital itself.

Her daughter was born there. Family wasn't allowed in the maternity ward back then. So she shared news of the birth with her sister by shouting out a second story window.

"It just had a charm and a warmth just like someone's country home."

Kelly Anderson began at Dallas Hospital as an aide. She went on to become a nurse and eventually became throughout the community as Nurse Kelly, the heart and soul of the OB unit.

Many expectant fathers learned about the rigors of childbirth in her prenatal classes when she made them push an orange through a tin can.

Anderson also fondly remembers the Branson years. "He was a very nice person. He was very much for the employee and the patient. He was also a very directed person. He had a goal and he would go for it."

In most measurable ways, Valley Community is a superior facility to Dallas Hospital. But Anderson can't help feeling nostalgic about the old hospital and its administrator.

"As an administrator, he was very much in tune with what was happening in terms of the wonderful patient care."

After Branson bought Dallas Hospital, he immediately saw the need for a new, bigger hospital. Other attempts to build a new hospital had failed.

Branson sold the hospital to Sedco, a California-based company, in 1971. He sold it only on the promise that the corporation would build a new hospital and aggressively recruit physicians.

Sedco officials, however, were the only ones who guaranteed they would build a new hospital.

Mark Hatfield was on hand when the new building was dedicated in August of 1973.

"It was remarkable to witness the transformation of the Dallas Hospital from the two-story wooden structure I knew growing up in Dallas, to a hospital that would serve as Polk County's sole health care facility."

The new Valley Community Hospital had a lot to offer. Physicians were attracted to the town and its location near the ocean and the cities of the Willamette Valley.

The hospital opened its doors to different kinds of physicians. It was one of the first hospitals to welcome osteopathic physicians and podiatrists. There were physicians covering just about every specialty.

Sedco eventually merged with Hyatt Medical Enterprises. Hyatt owned the hospital until 1982 when it was purchased by American Medical International.

American Medical owned the hospital for only two years before it was sold to Nu-Med. In 1994, Nu-Med sold the hospital to VCH, a local nonprofit corporation.

The hospital was sold to Salem Hospital in 1999. Under the agreement, Salem Hospital bought Valley Community's buildings and equipment for about $2.4 million. Then Valley Community leased them from Salem Hospital.

The agreement also gave Salem Hospital a voice in managerial decisions about the Dallas-based community hospital.

A year ago, hospital volunteers were raising money to build a new hospital in between Dallas and Monmouth. Thousands of dollars were raised toward the effort.

Executives at Willamette Industries contributed more than $200,000.

However, the hospital was hit by a series of financial setbacks. The OB unit was cut. In October, more than 30 employees were laid off.

Hopsital Board Chairman Lane Shetterly said the purchase of the Valley Community by Pacific Health Horizons ensures the survival of a tradition of local health care that began 90 years ago.


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