ST. GEORGE – The 40th anniversary of “a promise and a handshake” between Intermountain Healthcare and Washington County to provide and expand healthcare in the region was observed during a short presentation Tuesday morning.
Aug. 2 marks the 40th anniversary of Intermountain Healthcare’s partnership with Washington County and its acquisition of the then newly-built Dixie Medical Center.
“There was a promise and a handshake that Intermountain would invest significantly in healthcare in Washington County,” said Steven Caplin, chairman of Dixie Regional Medical Center’s Governing Board. “Over the last 40 years that’s exactly what has happened.”
During an early-morning program held over breakfast at the Dixie Regional Medical Center’s Health and Performance Center, speakers shared their thoughts on the advancements Intermountain has made in Washington County since 1975. One of the individuals was David Jeppson, former vice president of Intermountain Healthcare.
Intermountain Healthcare had only recently been organized at the time and was taking over a number of hospitals once owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While tending to the facilities in the northern part of the state, Jeppson noted Intermountain didn’t have a presence in southwest Utah.
“I could just sense what was going to happen in southwest Utah,” Jeppson said. “So I paid attention to where the growth opportunities were.”
By 1975, Washington County used a bond to build Dixie Medical Center, which was built onto what had been the Dixie Pioneer Memorial Hospital on 400 East. Intermountain acquired the medical center from the county for $2.65 million on Aug. 2, 1976.
The acquisition of the new hospital was also done through the oft-mentioned “promise and a handshake” between Jeppson and then Washington County Commissioner Murray Webb.
The promise Webb had Jeppson shake on was threefold: Intermountain would keep healthcare affordable and quality high, bring in new hospital services as they become available, and take care of everyone, regardless of ability to pay.
“I guaranteed it,” Jeppson said.
None of the county commissioners involved in Dixie Medical Center’s transition from the county to Intermountain Healthcare are alive today, Jeppson said. However, at nearly 81 years of age, he said he is happy to see the promises of 40 years ago come to fruition.
“I’m thrilled to be able to see those promises fulfilled,” he said.
Washington County Commissioner Zachary Renstrom spoke on behalf of the county and said, as a lawyer, people in his profession tended to dislike oral agreements made on handshakes due to how easily they can be broken. Keeping to the oral agreement rests on the integrity of those that enter into them, he said.
“Intermountain Healthcare, 40 years ago, said based on their integrity, ‘We will make certain promises,’” Renstrom said. “Have they kept those promises?”
Renstrom said Intermountain not only kept its promises to the county, but exceeded them.
“We have the most outstanding health care in the nation,” Renstrom said.
Since the original purchase of Dixie Medical Center, Intermountain expanded that facility and renamed it the Dixie Regional Medical Center. It was eventually joined by the larger campus on River Road in 2003.
Dixie Regional Medical Center went from a small community hospital to a tristate regional center that includes open-heart surgery, newborn intensive care, advanced brain and spine surgery, stroke treatment, complete Life Flight services and major trauma care, not to mention innovative cancer care, including care being developed by Intermountain Precision Genomics that is based in St. George.
The River Road campus of Intermountain, which has become the primary campus, is undergoing a major, $300 million, 500,000-square foot expansion. This will help bring patient services now spread between the two campuses together.
A new, standalone cancer center is being built on the campus. This facility will utilize genomic research, immunotherapy and also be the site of collaboration with Stanford University on related projects. The cancer center will also be home to Precision Genomics of Intermountain Healthcare.
The hospital has grown exponentially in size and services, while still preserving the culture and heritage that is unique to southern Utah. In 1976, Dixie Medical Center had 65 patient beds and 17 physicians. Now, between the two campuses that are being consolidated to the River Road campus, the hospital has 245 beds, more than 300 physicians, and is the largest employer in Washington County.
“To me it’s just another example of…the wonderful opportunities that we have here with medical care that is unsurpassed for a city our size,” St. George City Manager Gary Esplin said.
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