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The 'Original' Holy Family Sister

Providence Holy Family Hospital in Spokane, WA celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2014.

As Holy Family Hospital celebrates its 50th anniversary, one Dominican Sister reflects on having been there “the whole time.”

By Kate Vanskike

While a studying at Sacred Heart School of Nursing in 1964, Sister Maureen Healy, OP, was a student nurse at Spokane’s brand-new Holy Family Hospital.

“I worked in any area that needed help,” she says.

Sister Maureen Healy (right) with Sister Alberta Nett, 1960s.
Sister Maureen Healy (right) with Sister Alberta Nett, 1960s

That even included running the switchboard once.

“There I was – like Lily Tomlin – running a switchboard with 18 incoming lines,” laughs Sister Maureen. “I had my nice operator voice and answered each line but then had no idea how to transfer them anywhere.”

There was a short stint in the 70s while Sister attended Montana State University that she was not serving at Holy Family, but she was working for a home health agency and always sent money back to support the Holy Family ministry.

Once settled at Holy Family, she found herself most at home in the emergency room.

“That’s what I love,” Sister says. “The pace and the staff and the patients.”

Her ER training happened quickly. While meeting the staff on the swing shift, the charge nurse passed out and the baton was handed to Sister Maureen.

“That’s rapid advancement!” she laughs.

Eventually, she represented all Spokane hospitals on an emergency medical service consortium for Eastern Washington, a role Cathy Simchuk, also from Holy Family, previously held, even though larger hospitals typically filled that post.

“That was exciting for us,” Sister Maureen shares. “Having also worked at our Sisters’ hospital in Tonasket, I had a vested interest in the rural hospitals and to make sure they got the funding they needed.”

75 Years a Sister: Sister Alberta was obedient, joyful and fearless

It was Sister Alberta Nett who responded to local physicians who begged for a north side hospital in the early 1960s. She was the Prioress for the Dominican Sisters and determined that their band would shift its focus from building a school to constructing a hospital instead.

This year, as Holy Family turns 50, Sister Alberta celebrates her 75th jubilee as a Dominican Sister. At St. Joseph Long-term Care in Chewelah, Sisters and friends gathered to honor her life of service. The priest who shared her legacy said she could be described by her obedience to the Gospel, joyfulness and fearlessness.

The Dominican Sisters originally settled in Kettle Falls, WA, upon their arrival from Germany, before beginning ministries like Holy Family Hospital in Spokane.
Sister Maureen Healy, with other Dominicans, on the hills of Kettle Falls, Wash. where they settled.

“That was all of us,” reflects Sister Maureen. “But those early Sisters who came from Germany, they were kind of breathtaking in their fearlessness.

These young ladies, just starting their training as teachers, thought they were coming to the land of promise to teach Native Americans. A couple of them had finished a bit of nurses’ training, but when they arrived in the Northwest, it would be on-the-job-training.

“They had to learn everything about medicine and caring for patients while still learning English,” shares Sister Maureen. “Fearless, for sure. They were also tough and smart and hardworking.”

There were about 120 Dominican Sisters settling in the Kettle Falls, Wash. area who set about running schools and hospitals at the same time. Women trained as teachers found themselves doing hospital administration, admitting, payroll and accounting.

They never said, “I can’t do that, I wasn’t trained for it.”

The German Sisters had a vocation booklet given to novices upon stating their interest in taking vows. Inside the cover was the slogan, “Work is [our] vocation.”

“I should have paid attention then,” Sister Maureen jokes. “I was in for a surprise – just how much they loved to work.”

Claims to Fame for Holy Family Hospital

In addition to offering a number of programs unique to the region, Holy Family Hospital had many firsts among Spokane hospitals. Sister Maureen Healy remembers her hospital being first to:

  • allow nurses to wear scrubs in the ER.
  • provide urgent care.
  • have triage nurses in ER to expedite care.
  • offer the assistance of a social worker in the ER. (“That I’m really proud of,” Sister notes. “It was really critical. We had to have a way to do something for patients when they left.”)
  • have air conditioning.
  • remodel the majority of rooms into one-bed rooms for patient privacy and comfort.

Sister says these things were possible because the hospital had “a very responsive and fantastic administration that was willing to be innovative.”