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50 years of healing

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50 years of healing

Hospital news | Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Contact: Thomas Hottman

Hospital staff and patrons reflected on how far local medicine has come in the last few decades during the opening of a time capsule Tuesday at Sky Lakes Medical Center.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the hospital's founding in 1965, CEO Paul Stewart said opening the capsule provided a "unique" opportunity to celebrate the facility's history.

"This is really an exciting day for all of us affiliated with Sky Lakes Medical Center," he said.

The center was founded Oct. 10, 1965, as Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital and was re-named Merle West Medical Center in the 1970s after late resident Merle West bequeathed $1 million to the organization. In 2007, the facility was re-named Sky Lakes Medical Center amid efforts to focus more on overall medical services as well as hospital treatment.

Stewart noted multiple individuals present for the ceremony had been a part of supporting the center since its founding 50 years ago.

"We're grateful to have with us today a lot of individuals who were present for that opening," he said.

Among such guests of honor were: Dee Burnett, a long-serving registered nurse; Jim Stillwell, chairman of the original funding campaign for the hospital; and Fred Stiverson, who served not only as a member of the hospital's original board of directors but was also the first patient to be treated in its new cancer center in 1990.

"We're grateful to many who have contributed and continue to contribute to this organization," said Stewart.

While opening the capsule itself, Burnett was on hand to assist Stewart in revealing the long-sealed artifacts carefully placed there in 1990.

Among them were a diamond-tipped scalpel used by Dr. Daniel Benson to perform a radial keratotomy (a corrective surgery for nearsightedness) in 1983, the first ever performed in Southern Oregon. The technique had only been developed nine years earlier and was known at the time for being very cost-prohibitive.

Also included were photographs on an angioplasty performed in 1990, showing X-rays of doctors repairing blood vessel blockage on a patient.

There was also a straight jacket acquired in 1977 by the mental health unit, along with a statement from unit staff "gladly" contributing the restraining device as a "symbol of the tremendous strides forward in psychiatry and the humane and respectful treatment of mental illness in the 20th century."

"Thanks to the ever increasing use of psychotropic medication therapy and innovations in psychotherapeutic treatment, its use has not been required," read the statement.

Other artifacts included old medical periodicals, articles featuring the hospital, an old micro-processor, and instruction manuals for staff, among many other documents and photographs.

According to a deed of gifts contained in the capsule, all these items are to be donated to the Klamath County Museum for its general collection.

Though artifacts from a 1965 time capsule had been much-anticipated, and had been expected in a separate containers stored in the 1990 capsule, Stewart admitted they were surprised to find no such capsule upon opening the container. The two were said to have been combined when the 1990 capsule was sealed, but as of the celebration the older capsule remained at large.

Medical center spokesman Tom Hottman said they expect to "ask people who have reason to know" what may have become of the older container and will hope to hold a similar public unveiling after it is found.

Aside from Tuesday's ceremony, Sky Lakes Medical Center hopes to continue celebrating 50 years with a 6K walk/run Saturday at 10 a.m. touring multiple "pivotal" locations in local healthcare history, as well as a new time capsule to be buried Monday at 3 p.m. to be opened itself in 25 years.

For more information, including walk/run registration, visit, or call 541-882-6311.