Nursing in Boundary County, Then and Now

By:  April Bennett, MSN RN
Surgery Manager, Boundary Community Hospital

Nurses have been caring for the residents of Boundary County in a hospital setting since Bonners Ferry established their first hospital in 1907. Since that time our world has been through two world wars, Vietnam, Korea, and Desert Storm, as well as worldwide pandemics like the Influenza pandemic of 1918 and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Over the years the duties, education, training, and roles of the nurses have evolved. Nurses consistently demonstrate their ability to adapt and change with the health care needs of the community in which they live and work. Recognizing that good nursing care is essential to a patient’s wellbeing and positive outcomes, our nurses are boots on the ground, standing on the front lines ready to care for the community that they serve.

When the first hospital was established the building had no modern facilities, creating duties for the nurse that were far beyond patient care, including carrying bedpans out of the hospital to be disposed of in buildings built for that purpose. In later years it would be the nurse’s duty to keep the fire stoked to make sure that the steam powered elevator in the facility worked properly. Much different from the duties of the nurses today.

Mrs. Bertha Johnson, First Matron of Bonners Ferry Hospital circa 1907 (Photo courtesy of Boundary County Museum)

The first matron of the hospital was Mrs. Bertha Johnson who received her training at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, Washington.  As the matron of the hospital she was the most senior nurse and was responsible for all the nurses and coordinating patient care, as well as making sure the entire facility ran efficiently. Throughout the years hospital matrons have been replaced with superintendents, chief nursing officers, nurse managers, and charge nurses.

As nursing duties and responsibilities have evolved so has the education that nurses receive. There was no formal education for nurses until the mid-19th century. In 1873 the first three organized professional schools for nursing were opened, and by 1960 over 172 college-based nursing programs had emerged. Many early nurses lived in the hospital in nursing quarters and received on the job training and hospital diplomas. Boundary County had many local ladies that received training at the hospital as Licensed Practical Nurses. Today Boundary Community Hospital employs nurses with various educations and backgrounds in nursing. Many hold Associates of Science degrees, Bachelors of Science degrees, and some with Masters of Science Degrees in nursing. They serve as staff nurses, quality officers, primary care, managers, and specialty nurses. Some are studying to achieve their nurse practitioner license so they can serve their community outside the hospital as well.

Rural nurses working at Boundary Community hospital need to be able to critically think and have the skill to take care of patients of all ages, and be able to assist with all types of health care needs. The patient population is diverse with a variety of needs. You never know what you are going to get and some days you may get it all. From a child with a chest cold, to a patient in critical condition that needs to be stabilized and prepared for Life Flight to another facility.

Nursing is a highly respected profession that attracts those extraordinary individuals that have the desire to care for others. The nurses at Boundary Community Hospital are some of these extraordinary individuals, furthering their skills and education to meet the ever-evolving and ever-changing needs of the community they serve.