The Origin of Rio Grande Hospital, Del Norte

Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited

St. Joseph Sanitarium

In November 1907, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, Kansas, opened the first hospital in the San Luis Valley — St. Joseph Sanitarium of Del Norte. Del Norte is about 31 miles west of Alamosa in south-central Colorado, in a mining district on the west end of the San Luis Valley.

Sister Elizabeth Mansfield was the administrator; Sister Hubertine Devaney and Sister Christina Murphy were nurses; Sister Brendan Murphy ran the kitchen; and Sister Alexius Krobst supervised the laundry and the grounds. People in the San Luis Valley volunteered their services and regularly donated flour and produce as well as feed for the chickens and cows.

The Jesuit priest who was pastor of Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church in Del Norte, Father Good, had asked Mother Bernard Sheridan, the leader of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, to send Sisters to establish a hospital. A group of businessmen in Del Norte had bought property from Colonel John Shaw, a founder of Del Norte who had decided to retire in California. The sanitarium was housed in Colonel Shaw's home until the new building was completed in 1908.

Physicians from towns including Alamosa and Monte Vista brought their patients to St. Joseph Sanitarium.

In November 1908, the Sisters of St. Joseph completed their new 30-bed, two-story sanitarium building in Del Norte. It was the first hospital in the San Luis Valley, and had been built with donated stone by people from the area who donated their services.

Mother Bernard Sheridan, former leader of the Sisters in Wichita, supervised the construction in Del Norte and led the local community of Sisters, which included those at the hospital and those who were now teaching in Del Norte's schools.

Sister Elizabeth Mansfield, administrator of St. Joseph Sanitarium of Del Norte, had died of tuberculosis in September and was buried in the cemetery in Del Norte. Mother Bernard Sheridan, an experienced hospital administrator, became the new administrator of St. Joseph Sanitarium, and she now had the assistance of Sister Loyola O'Keefe and of Sister Flavia Valdez, who joined the staff as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients.

St. Joseph Hospital

In 1955, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita — who had come to Del Norte in 1907 and opened St. Joseph Sanitarium, the first hospital in the San Luis Valley — opened their new St. Joseph Hospital in Del Norte. The four connected wings were for medical (seven private rooms), surgical (seven private or semi-private rooms), maternity (four two-bed rooms), and pediatric (6 beds) patients. There were operating and delivery suites, an emergency room, X-ray department, and a wing for kitchen and dining rooms.

A unique feature that had been use at the sanitarium prior to the construction of the new hospital was the teletype system that connected the Del Norte hospital with all the other hospitals operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita. The teletype was used not only for administrative purposes, but for consultation with physicians and surgeons at the Sisters' other hospitals.

In 1993, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, Kansas, closed Del Norte's St. Joseph Hospital. The Sisters had been in the San Luis Valley since 1907.

Rio Grande Hospital, Del Norte, Colorado

In January 1996, Del Norte's Valley Citizens Foundation for Health Care opened Rio Grande Hospital in the old St. Joseph Hospital building. Del Norte is 31 miles west of Alamosa in south-central Colorado.

Dr. Norman Haug (family medicine) and Dr. Conrad Fitz (internal medicine) joined the Rio Grande Hospital staff that year.

Acknowledgements

Sister Romona Seidl, CSJ, archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wichita, provided friendly and professional guidance and sent information about the Sisters who were in Del Norte for 86 years. Greg Porter, CFO at Rio Grande Hospital in Del Norte, went out of his way to find information and point me in the right direction.

Contact book [at] coloradohealthcarehistory [dot] com or @ColoradoHealth on Twitter with additions, corrections, suggestions, or for more information. Thank you!

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