From the Archives: Extra, Extra! Read all about it! No more waiting lines!

This was big, big news for Oregon. In 1954 the newspapers reported that, for the first time since the University TB Hospital opened its doors in 1939, there was no waiting list for new cases. University of Oregon Medical School Dean, David E. Baird, said in a report to the State Board of Control, that the disappearance of the waiting list was due to several advances: the expansion of the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem, decreased periods of hospitalization thanks to the introduction of antibiotics such as streptomycin and viomycin in combination with the "wonder drug" (a compound made from para-aminosalicylic acid and isonicotinic acid hydrazide), and advances in surgical procedures. Early detection and isolation also reduced exposure for much of the uninfected population. However, this didn't mean that there were fewer TB cases reported; it simply meant that patients were being treated with less advanced stages of the disease and therefore hospital stays were shorter.

Though tuberculosis was evident in the Northwest Indian populations, the first officially reported case was Fort Vancouver physician, Meredith Gairdner, in 1833. Reported cases continued to rise and consumption was the cause of 11% of deaths in Oregon by 1860. At the time, most patients were treated at home. Those who were financially able were advised to seek drier climates. During the years 1904-1906, 774 deaths due to tuberculosis were reported in Oregon. What was most needed was a place in which to house and isolate victims of this very contagious disease.

The Oregon Deaf-Mute School, which had opened in 1894, was soon abandoned because of inadequate roads to its relatively secluded location. The newly commissioned Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital, the first state owned and state run TB hospital in Oregon, took advantage of the empty school. The hospital began admitting patients in November of 1910. The building soon filled to house and treat victims of "the great white plague".

University TB Hospital 1939During the first few years patients came very slowly as the idea of a tuberculosis sanatorium was new to the public. Soon, however, the hospital was forced to form a waiting list, and the demand for treatment exceeded the supply of beds. Starting with only fifty beds in 1910, the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital expanded to 120 beds in 1920, many of which were in open-air pavilions. In 1932, a new two story hospital was erected but by 1933 cases exceeded beds and 15 beds were installed in the Administration building.

For the next few decades, the hospital continued to have a significant waiting list. Some relief came as the hospital expanded its facilities. The construction of the 270 bed Eastern Oregon TB Hospital in The Dalles also helped to relieve some of the pressure for beds. With the opening of the University TB Hospital on Marquam Hill in 1939, the waiting list at the Salem hospital became nearly non-existent.

By the end of 1959, the Oregon TB hospitals had assisted over 8,000 Oregon residents to regain their health. In 1963, the State Legislature combined the Oregon State TB Hospital in Salem with the UOMS TB Hospital. As a result, patients located in the University TB Hospital were transferred to Salem.

If you look south across the canyon, and shift your gaze just east of the OHSU School of Nursing, you can still see the old University TB Hospital looking just as it did when it housed and treated tuberculosis patients. 

By Karen Lea Anderson Peterson, MA – OHSU Archivist, Assistant Professor