For 7,000 years Catalina Island has been inhabited. Vast communities of people were born here, lived here and died here, creating a society that lasted for hundreds of generations. While that society has left evidence of its existence, it has left little to tell us what medical care was like.
The first written evidence of doctors on the island dates back only to 1889, long after the island’s native inhabitants had been forcibly removed from their island home. More than a century ago, physicians were treating patients both at Two Harbors and in Avalon.
By 1915, a clinic had been established in Avalon’s famous Metropole Hotel. Unfortunately, Avalon’s massive fire that year burned the Metropole, and most of the town, to the ground.
Shortly after that, Dr. Chapman began seeing patients in the Strand Hotel, located where Catalina Transportation Services’ offices are, just upstairs from J.L.’s Locker Room.
Medical care was provided there for just a few short years, until the Catalina Island Hospital was established at the old Banning residence on Sumner Avenue, near where the courthouse now stands. Patients were seen there, at a converted residence, until the late 1950s.
At that time, a dedicated group of volunteers decided Avalon needed its own formal hospital, a place where patients could be treated on an emergency basis as well as in an in-patient capacity.
That group was led by Joe Arno, but as Don Haney, then the editor and publisher of The Catalina Islander, said in a story announcing the hospital’s opening, “To list the many who contributed would take reams of newsprint.”
Avalon’s original hospital featured six beds and had a capacity for eight. The original structure included the emergency and operating rooms as well as what is now the laboratory, x-ray and observation room. The lobby, kitchen and receptionist area are also part of that first structure.
The original hospital served the community for nearly two and a half decades. Then, in 1984, the Avalon Municipal Hospital Auxiliary spearheaded a major expansion. A new wing was added, which included several patient rooms, the physical therapy room, the Oak Room for patient activities and an administrative office.
Nestled beneath that wing was the Avalon Clinic, which had been moved from its location on Metropole. A lobby, offices and several examination rooms meant that Avalon’s health care was now centralized in one location. Laboratory and x-ray services were easily accessible to doctors diagnosing their patients.
As the community continues to grow, the hospital and clinic have continued to grow with them.
In 2003 a much-needed clinic expansion provided greater capacity at the doctor’s offices. In 2004, the hospital was renovated, with new rest rooms, improved access and a complete renovation of the emergency and operating rooms.
For thousands of years, health care on the island has evolved to meet the needs of its community. As long as the community continues to see the importance of providing health care for its citizens that evolution will continue to ensure that generations of island residents receive the health care they need.