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After some false starts, Lubbock became area's medical hub

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

Lubbock's sprawling health care complex resulted in many ways from a simple change more than 50 years ago.

When a federal grant was used to build a new 250-bed hospital on 19th Street, it was required to maintain an open staff, meaning all qualified doctors could practice medicine at the facility, paving the way for sustained growth in the city's medical community, said Dr. Robert J. Salem, chief medical officer emeritus for Covenant Health System.

"Prior to 1954, the hospitals were proprietarily owned," he said. "When Methodist Hospital became an open-staff hospital, that started a great influx of highly trained specialists. It's one of the reasons I came to Lubbock."

Salem has been affiliated with the hospital since his arrival in 1962, and he has seen Lubbock become a high-quality regional health hub in the ensuing years.

Of course, that was almost destined to happen, thanks to the efforts of some of the city's first physicians, said local historian Paul Carlson.

"Lubbock became the regional health hub partly because it was a growing city," he said. "It was the largest city on the South Plains. It was also partly because of easy access. Lubbock was a railroad hub, and then later that continued as highways reached here. It was easy to get here.

"That's just part of it, though. I think the other important fact is some farsighted business people and physicians put together good hospitals."

According to an article in The Museum Journal, published by The Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Texas Tech, the Lubbock Sanitarium and Hospital opened in 1909 in the 2300 block of Main Street. The land for the facility was donated by Dr. M.C. Overton to Dr. J.N. Stoops and Dr. George S. Murphy, but the two-story wooden structure that included an operating room did not do well and closed in 1911.

A year later, according to the article, Overton formed a partnership with Dr. Charles Clayton and opened the Lubbock Sanitarium, but it closed in 1913. Overton, though, refused to give up. He and Dr. C.J. Wagner eventually opened the West Texas Sanitarium in 1916 at a cost of $70,000.

That hospital was unable to meet the demands of Lubbock's growing population, according to the article, and the Lubbock Sanitarium was established in 1918 by Dr. J.T. Hutchinson, Dr. O.F. Peebler and Dr. A.R. Ponton. The 35-bed facility included a laboratory and operating room. In 1920, Peebler and Ponton, who were from Post, sold their interest to Dr. Overton and Dr. J.T. Krueger.

"Hutchinson was one of the founders of the Lubbock Sanitarium," Carlson said. "He and Overton and Krueger

were all farsighted, and each had a different specialty. They were three of the pioneers in the medical community."

The Lubbock Sanitarium flourished under the leadership of the three.

Also enjoying success at that time was the West Texas Hospital, which opened in 1922 and expanded in 1940, 1950 and 1953, according to the museum article.

In 1936, Dr. Frank B. Malone, Dr. Olan Key and Dr. S.C. Arnett formed a partnership and opened a facility known as the Plains Clinic, which enjoyed success in its early years, according to the museum article.

By 1939, the three sought a buyer for their hospital, eventually striking a deal with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Orange, Calif. The group purchased the facility and renamed it St. Mary of the Plains Hospital. Lubbock's first female doctor, Pauline Miller, joined the staff of St. Mary's in the 1930s, according to the book "Lubbock: From Town to City."

Equally important was the founding of the 16-bed Chatman Hospital by Dr. J.A. Chatman to serve the needs of Lubbock's black population.

"He served the African-American community," Carlson said. "Chatman Hospital doesn't get a lot of attention in the history books, but it deserves more attention because of the way it served the African-American community."

Meanwhile, the Lubbock Sanitarium expanded four times between 1925 and 1948. The facility underwent a name change in 1941 and became known as Lubbock General Hospital, which, according to "The First 62 Years: A History of Methodist Hospital," was a title more representative of the wide range of services provided.

Four years later, the name changed to Lubbock Memorial Hospital. According to the Methodist Hospital history book, "The name was selected as a memorial to early day physicians and the medical profession generally."

Throughout that time, hospitals had operated with closed staffs, which meant that only physicians on the staff are eligible to practice and have patients admitted and treated. That changed once Lubbock Memorial Hospital opened its doors Aug. 3, 1953, according to the museum article.

According to "Lubbock: From Town To City," the logistics of the move were impressive as patients had breakfast at the old downtown location and were moved to the new building in time for lunch.

The medical landscape on the South Plains was about to change significantly.

"Without question, the open-staff policy was one of the biggest events to take place," Salem said. "The doctors who came in were well trained with great credentials. They were able to come in and start practicing medicine and performing surgery."

Lubbock Memorial underwent another change in 1954, when the Northwest Texas Conference of the Methodist Church assumed ownership of the facility and renamed it Methodist Hospital, according to the historical account of the hospital. It would undergo another name change in 1998, merging with St. Mary of the Plains to form Covenant Health System.

Long before that merger, though, came another important event in the city's health care timeline, Salem said, with the establishment of the Texas Tech School of Medicine in 1972.

"That was a hotly contested political football at the time because several other cities in West Texas wanted a medical school," he said. "The fact that we got it here was a major boon to the medical community."

The first group of medical school graduates walked across the stage in 1974, once again changing the face of medicine on the South Plains.

"The medical school did two things for Lubbock," he said. "First, we now had medical students and eventually residents in our midst, which created an academic setting, stimulating physicians to learn. They now had to maintain their education and their knowledge base because they were being asked questions by young medical students. They had to stay current."

Perhaps even more important was the expectation the medical school would provide physicians for an area in need of doctors.

"One of the intents was to supply doctors for the region," Salem said. "Typically, doctors who train in a particular area will locate in that area. As they trained here, more and more physicians remained in this area."

Once the school of medicine was approved, an affiliation agreement between it and the Lubbock County Hospital District was signed, according to "Lubbock: From Town to City." The agreement created a partnership between the medical school and Lubbock General Hospital, which later became University Medical Center.

"The emergence of UMC has been another important development in the city's medical history," Salem said. "That and the 1998 merger are both important events."

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