A history of healing

A century of medical care

By J.M. Simpson on April 7, 2017

The Madigan Army Medical Center just celebrated its 25th anniversary.

A lot of history stands behind that celebration.

Army Medicine walked in the main gate in 1917 with the construction of Camp Lewis. By the time the camp was renamed Fort Lewis in 1927, there were four dispensaries, which comprised the Fort Lewis Station Hospital.

During World War II, the Army began construction of a semi-permanent brick and clay tile, one and two-story facility labeled a "Type A Mobilization General Hospital."

Comprised of 68 buildings, the 1.5-mile long, multi-corridor hospital opened in February 1944 and was called Section V of the Fort Lewis Station Hospital.

In August of that year, the five sections were consolidated and placed under one command, the Fort Lewis General Hospital, with a combined total of 250 buildings and 4,300 beds.

On Sept. 22, 1944, the War Department issued General Order Number 76 to change the hospital's name to Madigan General Hospital.

Doing so honored Col. Patrick Madigan, who is remembered as the father of Army neuropsychiatry. His work foreshadowed the approach Army psychiatrists use today to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The new hospital received patients from battlefields in the Pacific.  They arrived at McChord Field and were transported to Fort Lewis on special trains.

To meet the need of the number of returning wounded and former prisoners of war, the hospital expanded by 812 beds, created a separate convalescent hospital, and reclassified itself as the Madigan Hospital Center.

It was also during this time that general of the Army and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower twice visited Madigan.

The center also received significant outside support to include boat rides, hunting and fishing trips, and dances and other events put on by the United Service Organizations (USO).

It also emphasized physical fitness to help wounded soldiers recover.  In 1946, a gymnasium, swimming pool, sports field and pitch-and-putt golf course were built.

With the advent of the Korean War in 1950, the Madigan Hospital Center grew to become a regional hospital to serve active-duty soldiers, dependents, veterans and retirees.

Change came rapidly.

By 1969, the Madigan complex had increased to 88 buildings, and in 1973 Madigan was restructured as a medical center that assumed the healthcare for beneficiaries in Alaska and four northwestern states.

In 1974, the new Health Services Command took responsibility for what was then (and now) called the Madigan Army Medical Center.

During the 1980s, the center modernized, and by 1985 it was treating one million outpatients. To meet the need of patients, it had to grow.

In 1985, ground was broken for a new 1.2-million square foot, 414-bed medical center.  Construction costs were slated to be $280 million; however, the work was completed $95 million under budget.

The "new" Madigan Army Medical Center opened Feb. 28, 1992, as the Army's most modern military center.

During the 1990s, Madigan became part of the Tacoma Trauma Trust and partnered with two civilian hospitals in Tacoma.  This arrangement marked the first time that Madigan offered emergency care to non-beneficiary patients.

For its work in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Madigan was awarded the Army Superior Unit Award in 2005.

In early 2010, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base merged into Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

A tertiary care and Level II trauma facility, Madigan today provides an array of medical services ranging from general medical care and specialty clinics to behavioral health and wellness services.

The first 25 years of the "new" Madigan is based on 75 years of continued medical service.

Credits:  The JBLM Cultural Resources Program and Dr. Duane Denfeld.