Barton’s Diamond Jubilee — Sixty years of community health care

Submitted to the Tribune
Construction officials join Alva Barton (left) and Fay Ledbetter (right) for the groundbreaking of Barton Memorial Hospital.
Provided/Thea Hardy

Rooted in the community, Barton Memorial Hospital opened its doors sixty years ago, on November 23, 1963—and from that first day, Barton’s commitment to Lake Tahoe has never wavered.

Motivated by stressful trips over mountain passes for emergency medical care or childbirth, residents began talking about the need for a hospital in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Barton-Ledbetter family recognized the opportunity to provide an essential asset to their community, and in 1961, donated a six-acre parcel on which to build the hospital, setting the stage for everything that followed: 60 years of progress and pride, growth and change, occasional setbacks, and incredible advances.

Completing the hospital was a true community effort; early physicians, Drs. Lawrence Janus and James Whitely built the case and laid out the needed services, prominent residents and business leaders formed planning committees, and the Women’s Auxiliary (now Barton Auxiliary) kicked off fundraising efforts. The initial, 38-bed acute care hospital consisted of 26 medical/surgical beds with six private rooms, four pediatric rooms, and eight obstetrical beds in the maternity area. The cluster of patient care areas, designed for optimum patient security and comfort, were shaped like pentagons, and from above, took on a snowflake look, a fitting mountain aesthetic.

In the early years, the emergency room was covered by every physician on the hospital medical staff—their specialties didn’t matter—even orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Paul “Papa” Fry II, delivered babies when needed.

With the heightened interest in alpine skiing after the 1960 Olympics, the ski industry boomed and the need for orthopedic surgery in Lake Tahoe grew rapidly. Dr. Fry, soon joined by Dr. Richard Steadmen, pioneered orthopedic services in the region. Dr. Steadman served as a physician for the U.S. ski team, and soon athletes from around the world were seeking treatment in Tahoe.

Champion skier and Olympic medalist Cindy Nelson was an early patient who came to Tahoe after suffering a serious ankle fracture in Europe, and World Cup and Olympic stars Phil and Steve Mahre both traveled to Tahoe for orthopedic surgery. As the high-profile patients increased, athletes from other sports sought care, including Emil Boures, offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Dan Marino, superstar quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.

In 1973, Elvis Presley performed at Sahara Tahoe Casino in Stateline and to thank Barton, where his late mother, Gladys, had undergone orthopedic surgery with Dr. Fry, Elvis donated souvenirs and collectible items to the Auxiliary. The concert revenue, along with souvenir sales, financed construction of a new cardiac and intensive care wing, which opened in 1975.

Elvis Presley donates in 1973.
Provided/Thea Hardy

As the region continued to grow and experience year-round visitation, the hospital prioritized growth, improved technology, and high-quality care, and after its 1993 expansion, morphed from a community hospital to a full-fledged, independent health system with comprehensive medical services for patients across their entire life, from the Family Birthing Center to the Skilled Nursing Facility.

Healthcare today looks very different than sixty years ago, and in 2012 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, a purposeful shift has transpired within the healthcare industry. A focus on proactive health management through annual wellness visits, preventative screenings, key relationships with primary care offices, chronic care navigators, and population health teams has changed the way patients interact with health systems—today, fewer people receive care in hospitals and most care is delivered in a doctor’s office, at a surgery center, or in a walk-in or urgent care clinic.

Barton’s planned Regional Expansion Project reflects this shift in healthcare and will broaden regional medical services while simultaneously rebuilding the hospital facility. The expansion will allow for updates to aging infrastructure, while providing state-of-the-art technology and facilities to meet health needs in Lake Tahoe for the next sixty years.

Decades ago, the people of this community envisioned local health care services and then built it with their time, energy, contributions, and commitment—in doing so, they ensured a better future for themselves, their families, and future generations. And from the moment it opened in 1963, Barton Health has remained steadfast in its dedication to that same community.

Learn more about Barton Health’s rich history in Lake Tahoe at

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