Hospital on the hill Weston County Memorial Hospital - part III

By: 
Bri Brasher with Leonard Cash

By Bri Brasher 

with Leonard Cash

NLJ Reporter 

 

Leonard Cash continued retelling the history of the hospital on the hill for this week’s installment of the History on Main Series, starting again in the mid 1950s. The Weston County Memorial Hospital was up and running in 1949 under the direction of the hospital’s board and run by the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer. 

Cash said the Catholic order started in Hungary in 1912 before coming to the United States, and it was based in Pennsylvania. His research from TribLive, western Pennsylvania’s 24-hour local news source, said the nuns served in Catholic schools and churches and also in the hospital setting, such as the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer who served the Newcastle community at the Weston County Memorial Hospital. Cash’s TribLive research also added additional information to the opening of the hospital. 

The source wrote of the Sisters, “On October 3, 1950, the Sisters completed the first anniversary of their administration of the hospital. Records reveal that in the first year 878 patients had been admitted; 149 surgical cases had been taken care of and 192 babies had been born there. The Sisters feel that they will double these numbers in the second year. By reason of a lack of accommodations many patients had-been refused admission and had been sent to South Dakota. 

At this time the hospital is staffed by nine nurses: one X-ray technician; one registered anesthetist, and one a registered laboratory technician. By this time the hospital is fully recognized on the registered lists of the A.M.A. and the American College of Surgeons. At the present time an organized effort is in progress by interested Protestants and Catholics to erect a suitable convent for the Sisters on the hospital grounds.”

After influential and positive beginnings at the Weston County Memorial Hospital, the sisters endured a much different ending to their time in Newcastle. The first of the group to leave the area was Sister Margaret, as reported in a June 16, 1955, article of the News Letter Journal. Sister Margaret was the first superintendent of the hospital, a position she served in for six years. The News Letter Journal wrote that she left Weston County for St. Louis University in Missouri, and Sister Philomene was to fill the position. 

Details on the sisters were scarce in the news for the next several years, so Cash assumes operations were running smoothly. The hospital also received grant money in December of 1955. The News Letter Journal reported that “the Ford Foundation in a surprise move Monday gave away $200 million to 3,500 privately-supported hospitals throughout the nation to help them improve and extend services to the public.” As a state, Wyoming received $206,300, and Weston County Memorial Hospital was granted $15,000. The money was to be used at the discretion of each hospital’s governing body for any program or improvement. The only stipulation set by the Ford Foundation was that the money could not be used for costs to support services currently in place.

Additional improvements came to the hospital on the hill in November of 1956 when the facility’s parking area was completed through donation. Then on Jan. 17, 1957, the News Letter Journal said that a neon sign was installed at the hospital after a year of planning by the hospital board. The paper reported that the blue sign was 28 feet long by 5 feet high, and the white letters spelling out “Weston County Memorial Hospital” were 16 inches high.

The sisters made the press again in March of 1958 when the News Letter Journal ran an article introducing contention between the sisters and the hospital board over their contract. The article said that “the Daughters were incorporated in Wyoming in 1957 and because of this incorporation in the state, a new contract with signatures of the Wyoming corporation officers became necessary. The Sisters said that they could not operate the hospital under the terms of the old contract so various changes were presented in the contract.” 

The sisters gave the board a 60-day notice, stating that they were not willing to compromise on the two main changes to the contract. The sisters declared that they wanted “sole authority to refuse and deny, for sufficient case, any physician or surgeon the right to practice in the county hospital,” while board wanted mutual authority, according to the News Letter Journal. 

The article also stated that the other contention dealt with the agreement for repairs. The sisters said they were willing to pay $2,000 per year and any additional costs would be deferred to the board. The old contact said the sisters were to maintain the hospital’s interior. At this time, the hospital board began looking into other groups in the area to run the hospital. 

After much negotiation and controversy, the hospital board submitted a new contract to the sisters, as reported by the News Letter Journal on May 1, 1959. The sisters responded on May 8, 1958, with an article the press titled “Sisters ‘Cannot Accept’ Contract.” The article stated that “the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer notified the Weston County hospital board on Thursday, May 1, that they ‘could not accept’ the contract submitted to them by the board on April 28. However, a temporary arrangement has been made between the Sisters and the hospital board for the Sisters to continue the operation of the hospital for another 60 days, commencing from May 4. May 4 was the date when the Sister’s original contract would have terminated under the notice given on March 5.”

“I remember the town was split to about half. There were a lot of hard feelings over it,” said Cash. “Half of the town wanted to keep the sisters and about half wanted a change. In fact, one of the doctors in town left because of it.”

The conversation continued in the News Letter Journal on May 22, 1958, with the article “Sisters Explain Their Position At the Hospital.” The update stated that the while the sisters’ legal obligation to the hospital was through, they believed that the 60-day period of continued operation was their moral obligation. The article also said that “if, at the end of 60 days there is no one to replace the Sisters, the hospital will be closed. The Sisters, from that date, have been allowed a two week period in which to complete their necessary business.”

On June 12, 1959, the News Letter Journal reported that the hospital board had notified the sisters of its decision. The board hired Hospital Administrator Roger VanderBloom and other personnel. The News Letter Journal article said the sisters provided written assurance that they would work with new personnel for two weeks in an effort to make the transition as smooth as possible. The transition was to be official as of July 1, 1958, and the hospital was to be run as a county hospital under the management of VanderBloom.The conversation was still not over, however. On June 26, 1958, an article was published explaining much of the legal battle going on with the hospital’s change in management, because there was discontent over the board’s decisions in the community. Religious discontent on both sides of the argument, as well as doctors willingness to work for the new party, was cited. There was also talk of VanderBloom’s lack of qualifications. 

The issue was so heated that the News Letter Journal said even the judge wouldn’t rule on the case, though he did say that the change in contracts was not illegal. Despite the continued conversation on the matter, the sisters held fast that they would not renew their contract, a decision that went all the way up to the Catholic authorities. 

“You can tell the hate and discontent and the love for the sisters,” said Cash, after reviewing the News Letter Journal articles compiled in his records.

Then on Sept. 12, 1958, it was announced that Dr. E. J. Guilfoyle was leaving Newcastle for a position with the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver. Cash mentioned that a doctor left Newcastle due to the scandal with the Sisters, and Dr. Guilfoyle and his family had been serving Newcastle for the past decade. He is quoted in the News Letter Journal as saying, “Recent events have convinced me that the philosophy of the majority in this community regarding health matters is diametrically opposed to my own thinking and experience in such matters. For this reason, my family and I have decided that we should enter another field of endeavor. Although it means leaving an association with three of the finest doctors I have ever met as well as a pleasant practice of medicine with many good patients and friends, we feel that it is best for all concerned if we make the move.”

While the sisters moved on, the Weston County Memorial Hospital continued in Newcastle under new leadership. Many improvements were made to the hospital over the next several years. Cash will continue to detail the timeline of the hospital on the hill in the weeks to come. 

Category:

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
14 W. Main St.
P.O. Box 40
Newscastle, WY 82701
Ph: (307) 746-2777
Fax: (307) 746-2660

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