Special Reports

Lourdes struggled to pay its bills in the early years

Another chapter in the continuing story of Lourdes Hospital that was told in 1949. This one covers the financial struggles the hospital faced in the early years.

Lourdes Hospital record shows series of tough times in area

By the Herald staff

Published on April 29, 1949

Few residents of the Pasco area appreciate the struggles the Sisters of St. Joseph went through in the early 1920s to keep Our Lady of Lourdes hospital open and in operation.

As has been told, the final cost of the building still in use today at North Fourth Avenue and Park Street was vastly above advance estimates, $140,000 instead of $80,000. Not only were the Sisters unable to have all of the interior finished; they were also forced to borrow heavily to pay off contractors and subcontractors.

Judge B.B. Horrigan, who today is chairman of the campaign being organized for funds to build a new hospital, remembers. "It was a constant struggle to prevent foreclosure of liens," he says.

The hospital records offer testimony on the subject. There is a letter from Beezer Brothers, Seattle architects, dated April 14, 1922, which tells the story very well:

"We are enclosing herewith a statement of all bills and notes outstanding at this time," the letter reads. "These total $40,748.04. The proceeds of the Chicago loan will probably not amount to more than $24,250 and we must, therefore, figure as to how the obligations over and above this sum can be most conveniently carried."

Three pages of discussion followed, along with a schedule recommending payment of a number of claims for such things as the hospital elevator, cement floors, doors and windows, hardware, the building's heating system, plumbing, metal lathing, and carpentry.

Meeting the unexpected building costs was only one of the Sister's financial problems. The Pasco bank failures of the middle 'twenties impounded funds urgently needed for current expenses. Once again it was necessary to seek outside help, just to get along. During the first six years in the new building, the Sisters were forced to issue bonds to pay off their most pressing debts. The "Chicago loan" to which the Beezer letter referred and eventually totaled $85,000, and its gradually repayment over many years was a drain on current income the hospital found it difficult to absorb. The last note resulting from the hospital construction was finally paid off in 1941 -- 20 years after the debt was incurred.

But in spite of these troubles, development of the hospital toward its goal of medical center proceeded steadily. Public contributions, largely inspired by Dr. H.B. O'Brien, paid for the first full-sized X-ray for the hospital. It was not the first in the area, however, because Dr. A.G. Tullar of Kennewick was the area X-ray pioneer.

A school for nurse training was established for the first time, in 1922. The hospital has always been proud of its training courses, for its graduate nurses have always been in demand. The training classes were discontinued in the war years because of a shortage of nurse candidates, and because of the growing difficulty of getting certain needed academic courses. Some day, when Pasco is the site of a college, the nurse training will be renewed.

During the depression years the hospital had difficulties with collections, typical of the time. But by this tine the Sisters had become accustomed to tough financial problems, and they worried their way through.

At no time, no matter what the emergency, was the hospital forced to call on the public to aid in meeting an operating deficit.

The war brought problems wholly new. First, the hospital filled quickly to capacity. When all 55 beds were filled, extra beds were crowded into some of the rooms, even placed at screened ends of corridors. Sun porches were closed in, made into rooms. By these devices, the capacity of the hospital was raised to 68 beds -- sometimes even to 70.

But still there was not enough room. Many patients from the northern part of the county were forced to go to Spokane for hospitalization; and since there was no chance to expand or develop Lourdes, even the Pasco and Kennewick doctors sometimes found it necessary to transfer patients to Seattle or Walla Walla.

That situation still continues. Only this week Lourdes has had every bed filled, and the staff wondered what could be done should a serious emergency arise.

That is the reason the hospital is organizing to seek funds to build a new hospital. Officially it will be a wing of the old one, but it will include the latest of facilities for surgery, obstetrics, cystocopy, treatment of fractures and special care for children.