Miracle in the mountains: How fundraising in the 1950s made Barton Health possible
60 Years of Barton Health
60 years ago, the community’s dream of a local, Tahoe-based hospital became reality. Barton Health has assembled a collection of articles to commemorate 60 years of quality and compassionate health care for our community and its visitors. Beginning with the 1950s, an article outlining the events of each decade will be published monthly, culminating with the 2020s on Barton’s official 60th anniversary in November. Follow along this historical journey each month and learn more at BartonHealth.org/History.
This year Barton Health celebrates its 60 year history — Barton Memorial Hospital officially opened on November 23, 1963 — which began with a culmination of community efforts to raise funds for and build a local healthcare facility, ensuring nearby and timely access to medical care.
And this week, during Volunteer Appreciation Week, I’d like to spotlight a group of volunteers who journeyed alongside the health system from its conception through today. The Barton Auxiliary, originally known as The Women’s Auxiliary, in addition to volunteers with the Barton Health Foundation, Barton’s Skilled Nursing Facility, Home Health & Hospice programs, among others have contributed their skills and time to further our community’s health over the past sixty years. And when people come together for the benefit of others, we can move mountains.
Though in this case, The Barton Auxiliary’s goal was to keep people from having to cross mountains to access needed health care and help finish the fundraising efforts to build what is now known as Barton Memorial Hospital.
In the middle of last century, as the population of full-time residents of Lake Tahoe grew, a need for local, accessible health care was identified. Residents experiencing sudden illness or injury had to travel hours over rough mountain roads to hospitals in the neighboring valleys. In 1959, Carson Hospital recorded 1,500 emergency room visits from South Lake Tahoe — accounting for nearly one-third of their volume.
While the need for a local hospital was obvious, it was an expensive undertaking and to be eligible for federal and state funding, local fund-raising would need to make up at least one-third of the total. Estimates put the hospital cost at more than $1 million, establishing the community’s fundraising goal at $422,011. And the deadline was just four months away.
Fay Ledbetter and Alva Barton, daughters of local ranchers William and Ouida Barton, officially launched the fundraising effort with their six-acre land donation, the future home of Barton Memorial Hospital, valued at $200,000.
To raise the remaining funds, fundraising teams focused on distinct areas including special gifts, employees, absentee homeowners, public schools, businesses, and clubs / organizations, with residential oversight landing with The Barton Auxiliary.
Auxiliary fundraising efforts included the Winter Wonderland Fashion Show and Luncheon, the Headdress Ball, Christmas Tree Festival, bake sales, auctions, and plays. The Auxiliary’s “Flying Squadron” picked up and dropped off pledge cards and donations from residents, making it easier for community members to contribute to the campaign.
A week before the deadline, the fundraising goal was met, ensuring federal funding and construction of the longed-for hospital could commence. And just over a year and a half later, Barton Memorial Hospital opened its doors and has been providing timely and high-quality health care to Lake Tahoe’s residents and visitors ever since.
Importantly, the volunteer efforts that began during the health system’s initial conception, are still prominent and effective today. In recent years, the Barton Auxiliary has provided scholarships for local students pursuing medical fields, funded state-of-the-art medical technology upgrades, and supported community health programs like the wellness labs and blood drives.
Larry Coffman is the Barton Auxiliary President. Since 1960, Barton Auxiliary volunteers have supported the health system and community through a variety of fundraising and philanthropic efforts. Learn more about the Barton Auxiliary or how to become a member at BartonHealth.org/Auxiliary.
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