People have lived on Catalina Island for more than 7000 years. The original inhabitants were born here, lived here and died here, creating a society that lasted for hundreds of generations. While that culture has left evidence of its existence, it has little to tell us about what medical care was like.
The first written evidence of doctors on the island dates back to 1889, long after Catalina’s native people had been forcibly removed from their island home. More than a century ago, physicians were treating patients at both Two Harbors and in Avalon.
By 1915, a clinic had been established in Avalon’s first permanent structure, the Metropole Hotel. Unfortunately Avalon’s massive fire that year destroyed the Metropole and burned most of the town to the ground.
Shortly after that time records show that a Dr. Chapman began seeing patients in the Strand Hotel, located on Sumner Avenue.
Medical care was provided there for a few short years, until the Catalina Island Hospital was established at the old Banning residence on Sumner Avenue, near where the Avalon courthouse now stands. Patients were seen there until the late 1950′s.
At that time, a dedicated group of volunteers decided Avalon needed an actual hospital, a place where the sick and injured could be treated on an emergency basis and offered in-patient care.
The founders group was led by Joe Arno. 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 building featured six beds and had a capacity for eight. The Falls Canyon 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 facility.
The original hospital building served the community well for nearly 25 years. Then, in 1984, the Avalon Municipal Hospital Auxiliary spearheaded a major expansion. A new wing was added, which included several new patient rooms, the physical therapy room, the Oak Room for resident and hospital 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 made 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.