The Rim Country’s medical care was a gamble well into the mid-1950s. There were doctors and nurses who made their homes here and worked out of them and made house calls. There were good Samaritans who would transport their neighbors to the nearest hospital if the need arose. But there was no formal facility, and minimal equipment.
Finally, a group of women took it upon themselves to change that.
The story goes that a group of these women were visiting, and Gladys Meredith said they needed a well-baby clinic.
“Someone else said we needed a place to get patched up,” said Pat Cline, one of that industrious group of women.
And so, the foundation was laid for Payson Regional Medical Center — the award-winning, state-of-the-art health care facility Rim residents enjoy today.
Cline, Meredith and several others organized themselves into a Junior Woman’s Club and started raising money to get a medical clinic built.
“We raised money from little theatre and charm school (fashion shows),” Cline said. They put on two different fashion shows around the pool at the Ox Bow Inn, with clothes provided by Goldwater’s Department Store.
The women also worked to find grants for the project; one of those came from Sears & Roebuck, and two of the team traveled to Chicago to collect the funds.
Along the way, the efforts to build a clinic were joined by many in the community. One couple, Steve and Cindy Hathaway, donated two acres on which to build it.
“Kerm Owens (of Owens Bros. Lumber) drew a house plan (for the clinic),” Cline said.
The town’s doctor at the time, Richard Hardenbrook looked at the plans and said they wouldn’t work for a medical clinic; the halls were two narrow.
There was an argument and, before construction started, Hardenbrook left the community to open a practice in Bagdad, Ariz. Cline said when the plans were shown to some authority in the Valley, it turned out Hardenbrook was right, so the plans were redrawn.
When it was finally built, the clinic was very basic — there was an examination room, which also was used as a delivery room and surgery suite, plus a couple of patient rooms, Cline said.
Historian Stan Brown, in his Rim Review “Back When” column, wrote in January 2003 that the clinic also had a waiting room, supply room and emergency entrance. The equipment came from donations by different Rim families and castoffs from other hospitals around the state.
It was used by a variety of visiting doctors, with volunteers — mostly from the Junior Woman’s Club — doing the day-to-day work as nurse’s aides and clerks; cooking and cleaning; taking the dirty laundry home to wash and staying overnight with patients when needed.
The clinic project had a board of directors as well. It advertised for a resident doctor and eventually hired David Gilbert, who had just completed his internship. Gilbert moved his family to Payson — and brought a nurse with him, Cline said — and began his practice. Gilbert was still practicing in the area until the 1980s.
Almost as soon as it was completed, the clinic started expanding. Additions were made in 1959, 1965 and 1967. According to Brown’s research, the Payson Womans Club and the auxiliary of the hospital launched a fund-raising campaign and added a kitchen, solarium, hydrotherapy facility and offices to the hospital.
Brown wrote in 2003 that, throughout much of this time, Nan Pyle was instrumental in keeping the hospital in business and did the groundwork for major growth in later years.
She had come from the East coast, an heiress who married pioneer Lewis Pyle and, over the years, had become Payson’s most active philanthropist.
In his book titled “Nan Pyle, Payson’s Unhappy Millionaire,” Gordon Sabine writes, “In the hospital there was a particular drawer that always had in it the unpaid bills. When it got too full, Nan would take out all the invoices, go down to her friend Anna Mae Deming at the Valley National Bank and ask how much she had in her account. They’d add up the bills and if there wasn’t enough in the Pyle account, off she’d go to talk with her accountant about getting more.”
When Lewis Pyle died in 1975, Nan gave $100,000 from the sale of their ranch in his memory. It was the kick-off for a new building fund, aimed at raising $1.2 million for a major expansion.
In her letter to the board of directors she wrote, “This gift is made to fulfill my husband’s wishes, and to demonstrate his love and affection for all those in the area served by the Payson Hospital.” The expansion was completed in 1978, and was named the Lewis R. Pyle Memorial Hospital. It had grown to 44 beds. The records show that, over the years, Nan Pyle donated over a quarter of a million dollars for the hospital. Mrs. Pyle died in 1985.
Ten years later, in 1995, the largest of all the additions was completed, funded through revenue bonds. It added 57,000 square feet to the hospital and brought the bed count to 66.
Over the years, the hospital and its services have continued to grow. It started using telemedicine in 1996 and in 1998 that program was enhanced by the acquisition of high-grade equipment with funds from the Tonto Apache Tribe and Mogollon Health Alliance. The use of telemedicine has assisted both health care providers and patients.
Payson Regional Medical Center joined the Community Health Systems company in 1998 as well, giving it access to many more resources to benefit the health and wellness of Rim Country residents.
The hospital was deeply involved in efforts to expand Main Street east of Highway 87 starting in 1999. The expansion of the road provided easier access to the hospital and opened property for development. The expansion also was key to growing the hospital again.
While growth of the hospital campus was planned in 1999, it also instituted an outreach in the community, creating the Senior Circle program in 1999. That outreach has not been limited to seniors. The hospital’s Healthy Woman and Tiny Toes programs cover women of all ages and infants; its athletic training program gives it a strong presence among teens; and it reaches students in both high school and at the college level with its education opportunities.
Outreach efforts include offering speakers to clubs and organizations. Marketing Director Cory Houghton is available to speak free of charge on a number of topics related to PRMC services.
As the 20th century became the 21st century, PRMC continued incorporating the latest in technology to better serve its patients. A variety of state-of-the art imaging systems have been brought to Payson over the years. Its Web site — www.paysonhospital.com — helps residents and visitors find a doctor, determine the best course of action for medical situations and much more.
The hospital has also been the key player in recruiting doctors and physician’s assistants to the community.
The ongoing efforts of PRMC to enhance its services for the Rim Country resulted in it receiving recognition as one of the top 100 small hospitals in the country in 2007.
PRMC is one of the Rim Country’s largest employers, and for every dollar it spends, approximately $2.17 is spent in the community, making it a substantial economic engine as well.
To learn more about PRMC, visit the Web site above or call (928) 474-3222.