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Hospital growth is off the charts

The health care sector is Southern Oregon’s largest employer, and both Providence Medford Medical Center and Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center are poised for growth to meet the demand.

“Health care is the No. 1 industry in our region,” said Colleen Padilla, executive director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development.

“In the current forecast period for 2020-2027, health care is projected to be the fastest-growing industry in the Rogue Valley, and we’ve seen that over the last 20 years as well,” said Guy Tauer, regional economist with the Oregon Department of Employment. “The sector tends to grow with population and demographic trends.”

The Oregon Department of Employment has projected an 18% increase in health care and social assistance jobs by 2027, bringing the number of Jackson County jobs in this sector to 24,610.

Over the last century, hospitals in Medford and Ashland have leapfrogged each other to build new facilities and deliver health care. Each time, construction campaigns have asked for public and private contributions.

Ashland was the first to have a purpose-built hospital — the Granite City Hospital was constructed on Siskiyou Boulevard in 1910, completed just a year after the Fordyce-Roper home burned, a building earlier converted to use for the sick. By 1910, the pear industry was exploding and so was Southern Oregon’s population.

Medford physicians would have been reluctant to send their patients to Ashland, where the Granite City Hospital advertised that it was the most modernly equipped hospital between Sacramento and Portland. But Ashland’s hospital primacy was short-lived, because by 1912, Medford’s community raised $150,000 to build Sacred Heart Hospital run by the Sisters of Charity of Providence.

Sacred Heart Hospital was the only hospital in town until Medford Community Hospital opened in September 1922 at 843 E. Main St. At the same time, Jesse Winburn bought up Ashland’s Granite City Hospital and made it a gift to the community. “It will be neither a Methodist nor a Presbyterian institution, and will also be minus the designation of any saintly patronymic, both Jew and Gentile being welcome within its walls,” the Tidings reported.

Medford Community Hospital expanded again in 1925 with a $20,000 community investment and boasted a full surgical suite, lab and X-ray equipment and obstetrical services. Capitalizing on its location and physical facilities, Medford Community Hospital’s advertising cited its cool, clean and airy rooms with scientifically prepared food and hospitable atmosphere. The hospital cited its on-staff nutritionist in 1925 advertising.

Advancements in medicine and technology have meant that over the years hospitals have needed more manpower, more highly trained workers and different kinds of health professionals.

Today, the Oregon Department of Employment tracks more than 40 types of health care workers. Registered nurses, medical secretaries and medical assistants made up 45% of the health care workforce in 2018, with a median hourly wage of $41.62 for registered nurses, $16.52 for medical secretaries and $17.91 for medical assistants. ODE reports that in 2018 pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants earned the highest median hourly wage at $67.58, $57.88 and $56.41 respectively.

By the 1950s, both of Medford’s hospitals were aging and running out of space. The Hill Burton Act brought funds to the table and Medford rallied again. Medford Community Hospital was renamed Rogue Valley Memorial Hospital, and in 1958 at a cost of $1.2 million, constructed new facilities at Barnett and Murphy, its current location. The sewers, water lines and power needed for the hospital opened up Medford’s east side of town for residential and commercial development, and in 1961 the first facilities of Rogue Valley Manor opened to the public.

In 1964, Sacred Heart Hospital celebrated renovation, new construction and expansion at 1111 Crater Lake Highway in Medford and reopened its doors as Providence Hospital. The new hospital cost $2.123 million.

Today, Providence Medford Medical Center has 168 beds, with services ranging from emergency medicine, stroke care, cardiac and vascular care, a birth center, total joint replacement services, spine health program, pain management, comprehensive rehabilitation services and robotic surgery. Twenty-one clinics and 114 providers are affiliated with Providence Medical Group, and the medical center’s latest bricks-and-mortar addition is Providence Stewart Meadows Medical Plaza on Riverside Drive in Medford.

In 2012, Rogue Valley Medical Center was rebranded as Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, and in 2020 it announced a $1 billion investment in new construction and renovation projects in Jackson and Josephine counties over a 10-year period. The largest project is an expansion of RRMC in Medford, increasing patient beds, services and enlarging the emergency room.

In addition, a $64 million project called Asante Forward will fund an 80,000-square-foot building that will bring outpatient cancer services, imaging, radiation, chemotherapy and more into one location, making treatment easier for patients and caregivers. Clinics for bone marrow transplants, gynecologic oncology, space for support groups and educational programs and telemedicine are also planned.

“As our population has aged with its large cohort of baby boomers, and as our population grows, we require more health care services, and that growth has helped boost economic output and the health care industry,” Tauer notes. “If you look at the downturns we’ve had in our economy, health care has tended to be immune from those business cycles’ ebb and flow; it’s recession resistant.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

A postcard from 1922 shows Medford's Sacred Heart Hospital. Mail Tribune / file photo