For over 90 years, Primary Children’s Hospital has served children from the Intermountain Area without regard to race, religion, or ability to pay. Recognized among the top pediatric hospitals in the country, Primary Children's Hospital is the only full-service children's hospital between Denver and the West Coast, serving the largest geographic area in the United States for children. Rarely is there a family from Utah, parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Nevada that has not had a personal experience at this children’s hospital.
A Story of Love
Primary Children’s Hospital began not as a love story, but a story of love. Almost a century ago, Louie B. Felt and May Anderson, President and First Counselor of the General Primary Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were walking in Salt Lake City when they saw a child who appeared to suffer from the affects of polio. His struggle pulled their heart-strings, and they approached LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith with a plan to serve children without regard to race, religion, or the ability to pay. As a result, a charity care ward, dedicated exclusively to children opened in LDS Hospital in 1911.
A decade later, the Hyde Home, a stately mansion across from Temple Square, was converted into a convalescent facility for children. For the next 30 years, children suffering from polio, rheumatic fever, Perthes, and other chronic illnesses and birth defects were cared for there. The average length of stay during those years was 158 days.
Eventually the Hyde Home became inadequate for the numbers of children needing care. Nursing Superintendent Anna Rosenkilde, lovingly known by her patients as Mamma Rose, asked, “Are children not our most precious possession whether they are rich or poor or possessed of a broken body?” Her plea was heard and a new hospital was built on the Avenues of Salt Lake City.
Built by Children for Children
Children literally helped to build the new Primary Children’s Hospital by purchasing bricks for 10 and 20 cents. In all, 120,148 red bricks were purchased by children and their families. At the time, the structure was considered “more than a convalescent home; it actually is a way of life.” And, so it was for the next 38 years.
Shortly after the hospital on the Avenues was completed, it filled to capacity. Additional space was developed in 1961, and by 1966 a five-floor west wing was added. From 1970 to 1990, every inch of space was utilized, remodeling bathrooms and waiting areas into offices and examination rooms. Even an abandoned elevator shaft was converted into an office for purchasing and supplies. Eventually 90 percent of the old Veteran’s Administration Hospital, located within walking distance of the hospital, was occupied by offices and divisions of Primary Children’s Hospital.
Pediatric Medicine Evolves
In the 1960’s, Primary Children’s introduced pediatric cardiology. In the 70’s other specialties were launched such as pediatric surgery, newborn intensive care, and pediatric neurosurgery. Then came outpatient surgical services and a pediatric oncology/hematology program. The much beloved old red brick building could not keep pace with the ever-growing medical needs of children.
It took three years to build the new Primary Children’s Hospital located on the University of Utah campus. Relocating a hospital was a complicated, but carefully orchestrated event. Beginning at 6:00 a.m. on April 23, 1990, patients, accompanied by nurses and physicians, were transported by an ambulance caravan to their new destination. Almost simultaneously as the last surgery was being performed in the old building, the first surgery began in the new one. And the spirit of love and hope felt in the old building was transferred to the new building, blessing children for generations to come.
Recognized for Excellence
Today, Primary Children’s Hospital is owned by the community and managed by not-for-profit Intermountain Healthcare. As a teaching facility, Primary Children’s is affiliated with the University of Utah School of Medicine, integrating pediatric programs, research and training for childhood illnesses and injuries.
While many advances have been made over the years, love for children and the hospital’s policy of providing medical care regardless of a family’s ability to pay remains the same.
- Primary Children’s Hospital is one of about 50 free-standing, full-service pediatric hospitals in the United States.
- Last year, the hospital expended $12.4 million to cover 13,587 hospital visits by needy children. Physicians donate their expertise for charity patients.
- Primary Children's is named among the top children's hospitals in the country.
- Of the nation’s freestanding children’s hospitals, Primary Children’s has the seventh highest level of acuity (most critically ill) in the nation and yet has the lowest charge per case.
- Engraved in stone at each hospital entrance is the motto, “The Child First and Always.”