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Our Community History in the Pacific Northwest

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace have founded healthcare in small communities throughout the Pacific Northwest since 1891. In 1976 they decided to consolidate the healthcare ministries of their Western Province by forming a not-for-profit system, Health and Hospital Services, which was renamed PeaceHealth in 1994. PeaceHealth now operates ten medical centers, a multi-specialty medical group practice, home-health services, and other services in both urban and rural communities throughout the Northwest (and beyond), each with its own history.

Our Communities

Bellingham, Washington

From Frontier Outpost to Regional Medical Center

In August 1890 two members of the fledgling order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace traveled west from their home in Atlantic, New Jersey. Their mission was to establish a hospital in the fishing and lumber town of Fairhaven, Washington, later part of Bellingham. Once there, Sisters Teresa Moran and Stanislaus Tighe began raising construction funds by selling annual hospital "tickets" for $10 each.

The Sisters opened 30-bed St. Joseph Hospital, the first hospital in Whatcom County, in January of the following year. It was staffed by seven nuns and a lay cook. Hospital food included fresh vegetables from the Sisters' own garden.

In 1901 St. Joseph Hospital moved to a larger 53-bed facility on Forest Street, built for $21,000. To help finance the new facility, the Sisters once again sold hospital tickets, venturing as far away as Alaska to collect funds from gold miners in the Klondike. The Forest Street hospital was expanded four times in 65 years before it was replaced in 1966 by a new 81-bed facility on Ellis Street (the hospital's current location).

After several major expansion projects and the purchase of St. Luke's General Hospital in 1989, St. Joseph became a two-campus hospital: Main Campus and, at the former St. Luke's site, South Campus.

The hospital continues to change and expand to meet the needs of growing communities in northwest Washington. In 2003 a major expansion project was completed that added a parking structure, new surgical suites and the Cardiovascular Center, and two more floors to the South Tower. In 2007 the emergency department was expanded and named the Haggen Family Emergency and Trauma Center, in commemoration of a major gift from the family.

In July 2008 PeaceHealth acquired the assets of Madrona Medical Group and combined the Madrona providers and the St. Joseph Medical Group providers to form PeaceHealth Medical Group.

Florence, Oregon

A Community Collaboration

PeaceHealth's presence in the Siuslaw region dates to 1979, when Western Lane Hospital District contracted with PeaceHealth to provide management services for publicly owned Western Lane Hospital. PeaceHealth already owned and operated Sacred Heart Medical Center in nearby Eugene, along with three other hospitals in Alaska and Washington.

By the late 1980s, however, community leaders recognized that the 1956 hospital was no longer adequate to meet residents’ needs. Florence civic leaders approached PeaceHealth with a request to build and operate a new facility.

PeaceHealth's governing board agreed, and local leaders launched a fund-raising campaign to build the new hospital. Aiming at $500,000, they succeeded in raising $1.2 million from local residents. The doors of Peace Harbor Hospital opened on July 14, 1989. In the mid-90s PeaceHealth formed Health Associates of Peace Harbor, a multi-specialty medical group known today as PeaceHealth Medical Group Florence.

Friday Harbor, Washington

Meeting Island Health Care Needs

The Inter Island Medical Center (IIMC) was built in 1973, when the population of San Juan Island was 2,300, and it served the community well for over 30 years.

By 2006, however, it was evident that the IIMC was no longer adequate to serve the much larger population, nor was it adaptable for new advances in technology and medical treatment. Furthermore, the IIMC could not continue its level of operation under the current financial model of a rural health clinic.

Therefore, beginning in 2006, a group of concerned Islanders began exploring options for meeting current and future health care needs.

A 2007 study determined that the IIMC could not be easily or economically upgraded. The best solution seemed to be the creation of a Critical Access Hospital (CAH), a federal designation for certified small rural health care providers. Critical Access Hospitals are eligible for cost-based reimbursement for services to Medicare patients, essential to restore financial stability to San Juan County Public Hospital District #1 (SJCPHD#1), which is responsible for health care to the community.

In order to build and operate an appropriate new facility, a relationship with a well-established mainland health care provider was needed. Of the several providers with whom discussions were held, PeaceHealth clearly had a mission, vision, and values that seemed to be particularly appropriate for the Island.

The positive results of an exhaustive feasibility study led to the development and approval by the Boards of SJCPHD#1 and PeaceHealth of a 50-year cont​ract​, which provides that PeaceHealth will build and operate a new medical center for the community and that SJCPHD#1 will subsidize the contracted services to an amount not to exceed the current Inter Island Medical Center tax levies.

Longview, Washington

Longview Memorial Hospital - 1924

It was in 1943 that J.D. Tennant and other Longview civic leaders invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace to come to Longview to reopen a failed hospital, Longview Memorial, built in 1924. The Sisters already had a presence in the Northwest, running hospitals in Bellingham, Washington; Eugene, Oregon; and Ketchikan, Alaska.

St. John's Hospital - 1943

The sisters agreed. Within six months they had launched a subscription drive, purchased the hospital for $85,000, and — in December 1943 — reopened the facility under the new name St. John Hospital.

Because of the war, only a handful of doctors were living in the area. Thousands of loggers, mill workers, and other local residents were without adequate health care. The sisters worked as nurses, caretakers, laundry workers, fund-raisers and clerks. Doctors visited from Portland to perform surgery.

The first major expansion was completed in 1952, adding 60 inpatient beds, expanded obstetric services and new operating rooms. Later hospital expansions included construction of a seven-story patient tower in 1968. In 1982 the Intensive Care Unit and the surgery area were expanded.

A 62-provider multispecialty medical group, PeaceHealth Medical Group, was formed in 1992.

PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center - today

In September 1999 a $54 million expansion added PeaceHealth Professional Building, new operating rooms, a four-level parking structure, and other services to what's now known as PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center.

Southeast Alaska

From Little Flower to Ketchikan General to PeaceHealth Ketchikan

In 1923 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace opened the Little Flower Hospital in Ketchikan. It was named after Saint Teresa, who proclaimed herself "a little flower in God’s garden." The Sisters already had a small presence in the Northwest, having opened St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, Washington, in 1891.

Little Flower wasn’t Ketchikan’s first hospital; Episcopalians had built a hospital here in 1904, followed in 1922 by one built by the Catholic Society of Alaska. But that same year, recognizing the need for more medical services on the remote Alaskan island, Bishop Joseph Crimont traveled to the Sisters’ U.S. headquarters in New Jersey to ask for their help, which they agreed to give.

A small addition was made in 1927, followed by a long-needed pediatric wing in 1941. But by this time Ketchikan was booming, and the hospital was already inadequate and in need of repair. Work on a $100,000 expansion began in 1943; the result was a 75-bed hospital, the largest privately owned hospital in Alaska.

By 1960, however, Little Flower Hospital had outlived its usefulness, and the Sisters who owned and operated it could not afford to replace it. Citizens rallied to form a hospital advisory council, and a new hospital site was chosen. The city council agreed to build the new hospital with funds from a one percent sales tax, and the Sisters agreed to lease the property from the city and operate the hospital debt-free, providing all necessary charity care.

Ketchikan General Hospital, now known as PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, opened its doors in 1963, and a long-term care wing opened in 1968. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, through their hospital services now known as PeaceHealth, continue to operate the hospital with the same lease agreement approved by the city council in 1960.

In 2010, PeaceHealth Medical Group; Prince of Wales was opened in partnership with the City of Craig to provide primary-care services, opportunities for telemedicine, and space for visiting specialists to meet with patients. The clinic is staffed by a full-time family medicine physician, a full-time acute care nurse practitioner, and a full-time registered nurse with imaging and laboratory capabilities onsite.

Vancouver, Washington

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center has a proud heritage. Originally called St. Joseph Hospital, it is the first hospital in the Pacific Northwest, established in1858 by then Sister Joseph of the Sacred Heart. In 1967, the Sisters of Providence officially transferred the institution to the St. Joseph Community Hospital Association.

Clark General Hospital opened in September, 1929. Trustees changed its name to Vancouver Memorial Hospital in 1945 to honor veterans.

In 1977, St. Joseph and Vancouver Memorial Hospitals merged, forming Southwest Washington Hospitals. In 1989, the name was changed to Southwest Washington Medical Center to reflect a major expansion in services.

In the fall of 2010, Southwest entered into affiliation discussions with PeaceHealth. After an extensive due diligence review, the two hospital systems agreed to move forward with affiliation effective January 1, 2011.

With more than 150 years of continuous service, PeaceHealth Southwest has the distinction of being called by some the oldest surviving hospital west of the Rocky Mountains.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Answering a Call to Preserve Local Health Care


In 1936, at the request of local physicians, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark (later the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace) agreed to buy Eugene’s financially and structurally ailing Pacific Christian Hospital for $50,000, renaming it Sacred Heart General Hospital. With hospitals in rural Washington and Alaska, the sisters were widely respected in the Northwest as health care administrators. On July 7, 1936, four young nuns arrived from Bellingham, Washington, to take over hospital operations and serve as administrator, nursing superintendent, bookkeeper, and receptionist/admissions clerk.

With the help of community wide fund-raising efforts, Sacred Heart began an extensive program to enhance the 75-bed hospital. By 1941 a new six-story wing had been completed, adding 100 beds and much-improved surgical and laboratory services. Many more expansions followed. ;Eventually the community's needs outpaced the hospital's ability to expand at its traditional local on Hilyard Street in Eugene. In August 2008, a second hospital campus — Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend — opened on 181 acres on the McKenzie River east of Interstate 5 in Springfield. The original hospital facility continues to operate as Sacred Heart Medical Center at University District.

PeaceHealth Medical Group, the oldest and largest multispecialty medical group in Eugene, was founded in 1922 as the Eugene Hospital and Clinic. It began as a partnership of six practicing Eugene physicians who felt that, by pooling their resources, they could provide a more efficient, better equipped hospital. In 1988 the group’s hospital services were consolidated with those at Sacred Heart. In 1995 the Eugene Clinic joined with PeaceHealth to become PeaceHealth Medical Group.

Cottage Grove/Creswell

After a series of small doctor-operated hospitals opened and closed early in the 20th century, Cottage Grove had been without a hospital for some 30 years when 32-bed Cottage Grove Hospital opened to patients on April 21, 1950. Local businesses and individuals pitched in to raise the $220,000 needed to build the hospital.

In the 1990s the hospital fell on hard times and wound up in bankruptcy. PeaceHealth took over management of the hospital and its associated medical clinics in 1998. The hospital closed to all but part-time urgent care in August 1998, while the clinics continued operating as South Lane Medical Group, now known as PeaceHealth Medical Group — Cottage Grove/Creswell. The hospital reopened 15 months later with 24-hour care. A local grassroots effort was undertaken to fund construction of a comprehensive new medical facility. Cottage Grove Community Hospital opened on Oct. 7, 2003, in the new 40,000-square-foot, $12.7 million Cottage Grove Hospital and Clinics building.

El Salvador Health Mission

While our health care ministry is primarily focused on communities in the Northwest where we serve, it has also been extended to El Salvador. PeaceHealth and the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace jointly established a health care mission in El Salvador in January 2001. The El Salvador Health Mission provides an opportunity for PeaceHealth, through the volunteer participation of employees and affiliates, to bring human and material resources to people in a country with inadequate health care.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace have been a presence in El Salvador since the mid-1980s, a time of civil war, and have continued this mission through natural disasters and reconstruction. The health care mission is an extension of the Sisters' relationship with the people of El Salvador.

The compelling motivation for the project is the fact that overwhelming numbers of persons in El Salvador live in unemployment and poverty, particularly those living in rural areas. These people have little or no access to the limited health services provided by the government and by non-governmental organizations.

A second compelling motivation for the project is what it does for PeaceHealth and its participants. We believe it enriches the soul of our organization by deepening our own understanding of the PeaceHealth Mission. It does so in a social and historical context that is not available in our own regions, or indeed in our own country. Participation in a health care mission trip to El Salvador confronts our project volunteers with fundamental moral issues regarding war, poverty, justice and faith. Intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, volunteers gain a deeper and richer understanding of the PeaceHealth Mission. This deeper understanding in turn enriches our work in our own regions and assists us in defining and implementing opportunities to further our Mission with the underserved in our own service areas.

Learn more about PeaceHealth's El Salvador Health Mission.