L-R: Marilyn Hiebert

Still open, 40 years later (minus the ER most days…)

Community celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Stuart Lake Hospital on Oct. 13.

It has been 40 years since the opening of the Stuart Lake Hospital, and while the old building has fallen on tough times, it was still an occasion to be marked.

Head Nurse Amanda Edge arranged a 40th anniversary party to mark the occasion, and it was a party worthy of note.

There were women who had worked at the hospital when it first opened, old pieces of hospital memorabilia, from medical equipment, to manuals to surgical instruments no one seems to remember the function of, and old nurses uniforms.

A nurse’s cape which belonged to the late Janet Goodwin was on display, as were a large collection of photos and clippings from the hospital’s history.

April Hughes from Northern Health made the occasion especially memorable when she made the announcement a fifth physician had just signed on to come to the community of Fort St. James.

There was punch and birthday cake, hospital auxiliary members, and mini “candy-stripers.”

But the highlight of the event was the stories.

Beth Ann Derksen is now the executive lead for critical care for Northern Health, but she started out in 1976 at the Stuart Lake Hospital.

“We did everything,” said Derksen, recalling the broad range of experience she gained under the guidance of experienced and supportive nurses at the facility.

She said there was really “no ‘scope of practice’ then, if it came through the door, you dealt with it.”

“This was the best thing that could have happened to a new grad,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had the courage to step out and try things if I hadn’t started in a small community.”

Sue Amyot started at Stuart Lake Hospital in May of 1972 and worked at the hospital until 1995, where her husband also worked maintenance.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “We were filled to the rafters.”

She said they did all types of procedures, from basic surgeries to traction to maternity.

“It was a fun place to work,” said Amyot. “It upsets me sometimes that we’ve gone from such a booming, thriving little hospital.”

She recalled having to put gates up in the hallways to keep the children penned into the pediatric area.

The nurses also had more adventures working in the hospital back then, because they were also sometimes called to go out to remote areas to pick up patients.

She recalled a particularly intrepid young mother who had a premature baby at around seven months into her pregnancy in Germansen Landing, and when the nurse arrived the woman was out in the sun, with the baby on her chest, as if it was no concern.

Marci Whitford came to the hospital in 1973, worked for a year, left, then returned in 1976 and stayed until 2011.

“We had 25 beds, lots of deliveries,” she said. “We were really busy in those days … we had fun too.”

One of the most interesting stories came from Sherry Nielson, from the hospital auxiliary.

“I came here pregnant with no hospital,” said Nielson. She was considered a prime candidate to help a group formed to assist the local physician, Dr. Bowers, find things for the clinic he ran out of his home, the future Stuart Lake Hospital Auxiliary.

The group held fundraisers and awareness to help have the hospital built, and in 1972 the dream they had worked for became a reality.

The group then helped to organize the Candy Stripers, later renamed the Junior Volunteers, for youth in the community interested in potentially pursuing a career in the medical profession.

Now, 40 years later, Nielson is still working with the group, as they continue to raise funds for medical equipment, with over $350,000 raised over the years.

The event also included the recognition of some employees for long service awards with Northern Health. Karen Sabo, Tina Auchstaetter and Keith Forbes all received 20-year service pins.


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