By Mick Woodcock

Efforts by the Yavapai Chamber of Commerce and others to have the Whipple hospital permanently transferred to the United States Public Health Service were successful.  On February 15, 1920, the hospital was formally transferred to the United States Public Health Service, to be operated under a permit from the War Department.

During the time that the U.S. Public Health Service operated the Whipple hospital, that agency erected numerous new structures; most notable were new TB wards, which brought the bed count to 900, and personnel quarters built in 1922.  The facility became one of the most complete sanatoriums for the treatment of tuberculosis in the country.

But then, Executive Order 3669 signed April 29, 1922 transferred the permit and functions of the hospital to the newly established U.S. Veterans Bureau.  The Veterans Bureau allotted $150,000 for improvements at the Whipple hospital.  Construction Superintendent Charles Isbell was sent from Washington with instructions “to make Whipple the most beautiful hospital in the United States.”  Buildings constructed in 1918-1919 were improved or demolished; a central steam heating plant was installed.  The auditorium and Red Cross buildings were enlarged and improved; roads were paved and the board sidewalks were replaced with cement; trees, shrubs and flower gardens were planted.

In 1930, the Veterans Bureau was one of the overlapping agencies merged to create the Veterans Administration.  Land and facilities were transferred to the Veterans Administration on March 3, 1931.  Following this transfer, many of the facilities, including all of the tuberculosis wards, were torn down.  In 1937 the present main hospital was constructed and in 1939 the main dining hall was completed.  These structures partially cover the site of the original fort.

The domiciliary function was started after WWII as a program to allow veterans with medical conditions that did not require full inpatient treatment to reside in a medical setting. These veterans were required to be self sufficient in normal day-to-day functions with only minimal supervision.  Program intent was to allow veterans with medical or mental health conditions to transition from full hospitalization back into the community.

The 1939 hospital building offered full medical and surgical care to veterans.  The VA hospital complex consisted of a medical/surgical building, domiciliary program, chaplain program, and a large housing complex for medical staff and a full administrative support structure.  This remained relatively static through the early 1960s, when changes in the delivery of medical care required construction of outpatient facilities.

The current Medical Center complex contains an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), inpatient wards, Radiology/CT diagnostic services, Primary Care Clinics, Specialty Clinics, and Physical Therapy/Rehabilitation Therapy, as well as a full range of medical care services.  Extended care services include domiciliary, homeless veteran services and Geriatric long-term care unit.

Changes in pharmaceuticals over the past eighty years, as well as changes in lifestyle and general health awareness, have resulted in the current use of primary care clinics to promote outpatient maintenance of healthcare and substantial reduction in the need for inpatient beds and hospitalization. As the care emphasis shifted from tuberculosis patients to surgical and domiciliary care, so entertainment changed. Groups came from Prescott, around the county and even out of state to perform. Athletics were a rarity. Today, there is a large greenhouse where active residents can cultivate plants, and the theatre has been adapted for auditorium use.

The mission and services provided by the VA have changed over the years as the medical needs of the veteran population have changed.  The Vietnam-era veteran population resulted in the development of the Vet Center Program, which provides counseling services to the veteran population in the communities as well as at the Medical Center. Aging of the veteran population has resulted in construction of Extended Care facilities such as the current geriatric and dementia unit. This Extended Care program offers traditional Nursing Home care, a full Dementia Unit as well as a Hospice Unit, all housed in a state-of-the-art facility constructed in 1989 and expanded to its current size in 1997.

Whether as a frontier military post or modern veterans’ hospital, Whipple—now formally known as the Bob Stump VA Medical Center—continues to serve the Prescott community and Arizona after 151 years.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.