Beginnings. In March, 1883, a group of settlers under the direction of Thomas Ricks arrived in the Upper Valley and began a settlement along the banks of the Teton River. The city of Rexburg, Idaho, was born.
Growth was rapid. Only five years after those initial settlements, the Ricks Academy (now Brigham Young University Idaho) was founded. Two years after that, Idaho became the nation’s 43rd state, with Rexburg as its second largest city.
Healthcare was an ongoing concern in the area, even in the community’s earliest days. There was a shortage of local doctors, resulting in a number of local midwives who not only delivered babies, but performed other medical functions, including preparing cadavers for burial.
Rexburg’s first hospital was built in 1899 by Dr. Joseph Walker, on the corner of Center Street and E. 1st South, where a branch of Beehive Credit Union currently stands. Dr. Walker’s hospital operated for 26 years. Tragically, the building burned to the ground on Christmas Eve, 1930.
In 1918, a second hospital was started in Rexburg, on the top floor of the Rexburg State Bank building, on the corner of Main Street and College Avenue. It was run by Dr. William Sutherland.
Rexburg’s third hospital was established by Dr. Harlo Rigby and his wife Elsie four years later, in 1922. Averaging more than 400 cases per year, the new facility, known as the Rigby Hospital (in Rexburg), ran continuously for almost 30 years.
A number of other medical establishments flourished in the young community, including several maternity homes. Toward the end of World War II, however, local leaders determined that community needs weren’t being adequately met, and discussions began regarding the construction of a new local hospital to meet the areas ever-expanding needs. Local doctors agreed to close down their own facilities if and when the new, community-wide hospital would be built.
Support from the community. The local Lion’s Club championed the idea and circulated, with the blessing of the county commissioners, a petition, gathering 1,200 signatures. The voters supported a county-issued bond for $100,000, but it wasn’t enough. Another $75,000 was needed. Four prizes were raffled – a Chevrolet sedan, a combination radio/record player, a refrigerator, and a home laundry washing machine. Tickets for the raffle were sold at $10 apiece. The Lion’s Club was able to raise $40,000, a substantial amount of money at the time, but it still wasn’t quite enough.
On September 14, 1948, local voters went to the polls to decide on a tax levy, to provide the remaining funds needed for the new facility. By the end of the day, it was clear that the levy had passed, and construction began shortly thereafter, culminating in a new hospital almost two years later.
A new hospital is born. On Saturday, December 15, 1951, Madison Memorial Hospital, Rexburg’s fourth hospital, held a grand opening ceremony at its new location at the end of Main Street.
- 1 birth
- 1 death
- 5 surgeries
- Total number of patients: 32
- Total number of beds: 29 (8 in private rooms)
- Patient bathrooms: 4
- Monthly revenues: $1,889.35
- Cost of one day of care, per patient: $25
- Total staff: 23 employees
- Total payroll: $2,920
- Length of a nurse’s shift: 48 hours
- Groundskeepers’ wages: $200/month
- Daily NICU charges: $1 per baby
A recurring problem in the summer of 1951, during construction of the hospital, was that a flock of sheep would wander around on the hospital’s hill, eating the clover and devouring the landscaping. A request was made to the Rexburg police department, to keep watch over the hill and prevent any more harassment from the sheep. The following summer, the lawn had to be reseeded.
A second telephone was installed in February, 1953, and air conditioning was installed in May. In 1958, the county levy which had been supporting the hospital was discontinued. From that point onward, the hospital has, for the most part, been entirely self-sustaining.
In 1959, an LPN school was begun, inside the hospital. Each class had 11 or 12 students.
The county commissioners approved a $1.5 million levy for the hospital, to help fund ongoing expenses.
A series of discussions in 1971 led to a proposed alliance between the hospital, the university (Ricks College at the time), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which each entity would contribute 1/3 of the cost of building a new hospital, on campus, to benefit Ricks students as well as the community at large. After considerable debate, the Board of Trustees ultimately decided not to adopt the proposal, instead committing to undertaking further studies of the long-term needs of the community.
Arising from this decision, the administrators and trustees began working toward a big-picture plan which would ultimately incorporate the construction of a new hospital building.
Curtailment of plans in the face of disaster. In 1975, after almost 25 years of continual service to the community, Madison Memorial Hospital was destined to undergo a major expansion, including construction of the brand-new facility which had been envisioned since the late 1960s. Under the direction of Keith Steiner, the hospital administrator, a new design for a 50-bed facility was approved by the public, by a 77% margin.
Groundbreaking for the new, $2.4 million building was slated to begin on June 14, 1976.
As fate would have it, only nine days before that date, the city of Rexburg was struck by the single most impactful calamity in its history. At 11:57 am on that fateful day, the Teton Dam was breached, resulting in a devastating flood which unleashed 80 billion gallons of water.
Eleven people were killed, along with about 16,000 livestock. About 80% of the structures in the greater Rexburg area were damaged or destroyed.
Many of the hospital’s employees became instantly homeless, camping out in the building’s basement (the hospital had been built on slightly higher ground), unable to determine the status of their own homes until days after the flood had taken place.
Needless to say, the 1976 expansion project was put on hold.
Devastated citizens were no longer in a position to financially support the approved expansion, so the hospital ultimately borrowed $500,000 from the FmHA (Farmers Home Administration) to fund its own growth needs.
A brand-new facility. Construction was undertaken the following year, and a grand opening ceremony was held on October 24, 1978, with the move into the new 50-bed facility taking place a week later, on November 1. The old building continued to be utilized for county and hospital needs.
Additional expansion projects took place throughout the 1990s, affecting every aspect of the hospital. A bond election in 1994 provided funding for ongoing remodel projects.
New clinics. The 2000s represented an era of growth-through-acquisitions for the hospital.
In 2005, two staff members at BYU-Idaho created a new logo for the hospital – an update of the ubiquitous blue “M,” which became widely recognized and respected throughout the region.
Major overhaul and remodel. In 2009, a $55 million remodel on the new building was completed, in which 85,000 square feet of existing space was modernized. An additional 76,000 square feet of space was added, as well.
In 2009, Teton Radiology, of which Madison Memorial is a part owner, opened its doors for business. In that same year, the hospital partnered with North Fork Surgery Center, later to be renamed Madison Surgery Center.
Three years after that, in 2012, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for Carriage Cove, a short-stay rehabilitation center, also partly owned by the hospital.
The pandemic. In 2020, community members began to get tested at the hospital for the COVID-19 virus. When the number of patients with the virus reached a critical mass, a specially designated COVID unit was set aside, with temporary plastic containment walls.
At the peak of the outbreak, many hospital services, including non-critical surgeries, were temporarily put on hold. Employees were required to wear masks and receive COVID vaccinations as they became available.
For some years, leaders at Madison Memorial had been considering various ways of helping the public understand that the organization had grown to the point of no longer being accurately represented as merely a hospital. By 2022, the Madison Memorial system was comprised of multiple clinics at half a dozen locations, together with more than 750 employees, 200+ providers with hospital privileges, and a network of affiliate business, suppliers and partner organizations.
After many hours of discussion and contemplation, the decision was made to change the name of the organization to something that would better describe it. And just like that, Madisonhealth was born
Looking to the future
Madisonhealth is ideally poised for continued growth and success. Under the direction of an extremely capable administrative team, headed by the widely respected Dr. Rachel Gonzales, Madisonhealth looks forward to many years of serving residents and visitors in the Upper Valley by providing expert care and an ever-increasing array of services.