Hospital celebrates 30 years of growth, service to central peninsula

CPGH ready for future in Soldotna

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2001

Central Peninsula General Hospital can do more than remove fish hooks, and this year it is celebrating 30 years of growth and progress.

The milestone coincides with the hospital community's 41st annual celebration of Progress Days.

"For a small, rural hospital we have a really well-appointed medical staff covering most of the specialties," said Bonnie Nichols, director of marketing for CPGH. "We are just really fortunate to have the kind of technology that we have here."

Located in Soldotna, the hospital has been community oriented since the first brick of its foundation was laid in the late 1960s.

Today, its logo, "Our family, caring for yours," is truly a reflection of the service received at the hospital, said Nichols.

"You are treated like a family when you come here. It isn't just the hospital, but the entire community. The hospital is a reflection of the community," she said, adding that the very existence of the hospital is a reflection of the dedication early residents had in reaching their goal of building the facility.

In 1964, a group of citizens met at Soldotna Elementary School to discuss the possibility.

A clinic had been built in 1962 and another in 1968, which has since been transformed into Pizza Pete's.

Dr. Paul Isaak -- one of the Kenai Peninsula's first physicians -- and Dr. Elmer Gaede delivered babies and performed surgeries in the clinics, which was an improvement on the health care that existed before Isaak moved to the Kenai Peninsula.

In 1957, he and another doctor from Seward took turns visiting Soldotna and Kenai, which "was just a wide spot in the road, with only one public nurse and no facility at all," according to Isaak.

Three years later, Isaak moved from Seward and set up an office in a house on the highway. Gaede joined him a year later, and both doctors flew their patients to the hospital in Seward when the need arose.

In 1964, construction plans were proposed and $350,000 was borrowed from the federal Small Business Administration. In order to qualify for the loan, the community was required to match the borrowed amount with a 10 percent, or $35,000, contribution.

The newly organized General Hospital Association managed to raise nearly five times the amount -- $170,000 -- through donations and promissory notes. In an official groundbreaking ceremony, Isaac, Gov. William A. Egan, the contractor and architect, Linn Forest, laid the building's cornerstone in 1966.

An auxiliary was formed to assist the hospital.

"One of the things I remember most clearly from the days before the hospital opened is the concern in the community to see the construction finished," said Peter O. Hansen, a family physician. "Dr. Gaede, Dr. Isaac and I would hold meetings in that unfinished cold shell of a building and wonder how we could get the hospital finished. Community groups kept the hospital construction project alive -- with car washes, dances and raffles."

Beyond raising money, the benefit efforts were successful in selling the community on the idea of the hospital, said Mrs. Steven Booth, the auxiliary treasurer at the time.

In 1969, a public relations effort with slogans such as "Vote yes on the hospital proposition, the life you save may be your own" and "Vote yes Oct. 7, 1969, to save a life" successfully approved the creation of a hospital service area.

The hospital became the property of the newly formed Kenai Peninsula Borough, which proceeded to spend an additional $870,000 to finish the construction.

A dedication day was held June 12, 1971, and 450 people, nearly half of Soldotna's population, attended the open house. Minutes after the doors were opened, the first patient was admitted, and that same day, the first baby was delivered by staff.

In the past 30 years, CPGH has established a reputation for itself.

"I've watched this hospital grow from its very beginnings," said Isaak, who celebrated his 80th birthday July 10. "We now have all the medical specialities that could be imagined in a hospital this size."

The hospital has changed a lot over the past 30 years and will continue to do so.

"We have added higher technological things like the MRI, and a new Spiral CT is on its way. And we really expanded the oncology program," said Nichols. "We are moving into communities where we can be closer to our customers, to make services available."

Nichols said she can foresee the hospital growing into a regional medical center.

"There are always going to be things that aren't going to be done here.

"We hope to recruit more specialty physicians, and I think we are going to be able to meet 90 to 95 percent of the needs of the peninsula."

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