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History of North Country Health Services, North Country Regional Hospital

North Country Health Services and North Country Regional Hospital has passed through many changes since formal health care came to Bemidji in 1898.

The intention for NCHS to merge with Sanford Health announced Thursday is another step in the process of providing the Bemidji area health care.

Bemidji had been established for two years in 1898 and consisted of one store, a post office and six homes when a group of Benedictine nuns from the motherhouse in Duluth came to town to start a hospital.

They leased the second floor of a store at the corner of Third Street and Minnesota Avenue and equipped it for temporary use as a hospital. The hospital, which could accommodate 24 patients, was officially St. Anthony's, but was generally known as the "Lumberjack Hospital."

The sisters helped finance the hospital by going into the woods and selling hospital insurance tickets to local lumberjacks starting at $1, although, the price eventually rose to $7.50. A ticket entitled the buyer to ward accommodations, medical, surgical and nursing care and was good for one year.

However, the insurance wasn't good for injuries caused by intoxication or fighting - reasonable exceptions considering there were more than 40 saloons in Bemidji in the city's early years.

Lumberjack tales

The most colorful personality among these nuns was Sister Amata.

According to Beltrami County Historical Center archives, NCRH files and Sara Breeze, who researched and portrayed Sister Amata in a historical re-enactment, this nun was particularly known to the lumberjacks. She stood 6-feet-2-inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. She traveled to logging camps however she could, hitching rides in sleighs and wagons and snowshoeing. Later, when rails were laid, she hopped aboard the caboose to sell the $1 insurance tickets.

Within a few months of their arrival, the nuns ran out of room at the store. They paid $1,000 for land at Eighth Street and Dewey Avenue, now the site of Baker Park Apartments, and built a bigger hospital. They completed this first hospital building in 1899. They added a new wing in 1900 and another addition in 1910. The nuns continued to sell the insurance tickets until an arrangement was made to deduct the insurance payments directly from the workers' wages.

St. Anthony's closed in 1922 when the nuns were called to Crookston to help the hospital staff there. The North Central Lutheran Hospital Association bought the hospital for $25,000 and operated it from then until it was destroyed by fire in 1929.

The Lutheran Hospital Association members collected $25,000 insurance from the loss and built a new, three-story, fireproof building on the site. The open house was Dec, 13, 1930.

Health care grows

The Lutheran Hospital Association was replaced in 1975 by the Bemidji Community Hospital Corporation, and a new $8 million hospital was built on 150 acres on Anne Street Northwest in Northern Township. The new Bemidji Community Hospital opened Oct. 29, 1979.

The Bemidji Community Hospital Corporation became known as North Country Health Services in 1981 and the hospital name was changed to North Country Regional Hospital.

In 2004, a 90,000-square-foot hospital addition was completed, and the Neilson Place replaced the former North Country Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

In addition to these additions, NCHS also operates North Country Home Care and Hospice, North Country Peak Performance, Senior Behavioral Health Unit, Baker Park Apartments, Bemidji Medical Equipment and North Country Health Services Foundation.

More recently added have been WoodsEdge of Northcountry, a 27-unit memory care studio apartments named Trillium, and WindSong, 80 one- and two-bedroom apartments offering catered living. This year, NCRH also opened a healing garden with perennial plantings, a labyrinth and waterfalls.