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Salem Health celebrates 125 years of care

07 May 2021

Pick up a commemorative lanyard on campus

By: Shannon Priem, senior content specialist for marketing and communications

“We opened our doors before we had multiple floors.” With all the major tower construction in recent years, that theme seems appropriate to celebrate 125 years this May.

You’re invited to launch our “birthday party” on May 10 by getting your commemorative lanyard at the Farmers’ Market near Building M (rehab center). Or, when you’re on campus, ask for one from the Medical Staff Office, or at a nurse’s station.

Salem Health’s journey began in 1896 with about $752 to turn the former Oregon School for the Blind into a five-bed hospital. It was on 12th Street, near the current Willamette Heritage Center. Founders just needed linens, blankets and furniture. Mrs. J.J. Murphy, wife of the chief clerk of the Oregon Supreme Court headed up the fundraising effort. A group of physicians had attempted, but failed at this task – but Mrs. Murphy knew people. 

Our first patient was Fred Demeter, 65-year-old sewing machine salesman. He paid $5 for hip surgery and $1 a day to recover for 28 days.

The rest is history, with competition, mergers, floods, pandemics, wars, depressions, the creation of health insurance, Medicare, vaccines, vitamins -- and technology.  Today we employ about 5,200 and have 494 beds, with 770 on the medical staff. As a Level II trauma center, we’re the busiest ER on the west coast. In 2020, we discharged 23,897 patients (and no doubt treated far more).

Take a “walk down memory lane” by visiting our history wall, sponsored by the Foundation, at the north end of Building B. And explore the key dates and themes over the years on our new 125th anniversary Webpage on the Salem Health website.

Happy birthday, Salem Health!