Fort Harrison Veterans’ Hospital Celebrates 100 Years | Montana News
Fort Harrison Veterans’ Hospital will celebrate its 100th anniversary on May 20 with an outdoor event open to the public that includes a health fair with music, ceremony, parade and campus tour.
“We are beyond excited and thrilled,” said Dr. Judy Hayman, executive director of the Montana Veterans Health System, of the Helena area hospital that passed the century milestone.
The festivities begin with a health fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is an anniversary ceremony from 11 a.m. to noon, an emergency services parade at 12:15 p.m. just south of the main hospital, followed by campus tours by the Last Chance Tourist Train from 12:30 p.m. 2 p.m.
The ceremony will be streamed live on the Montana VA Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VAMontana.
Originally named Veterans Hospital No. 72, Fort Harrison began as an army post in 1892. Officials said the original hospital, which still stands, was built in 1895 and is within sight of the current installation. On May 19, 1922, the hospital was taken over by the Veterans Affairs Bureau.
Government officials originally named the fort after Benjamin Harrison, who was the incumbent US President. But in 1906, after realizing that a fort in Indianapolis shared the same name, they renamed it after US President William Henry Harrison, who was Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather.
The original post was 3,809 acres and army troops were stationed there from 1895 to 1892.
The hospital has undergone several changes over the years with several new buildings added and several existing structures serving a new purpose.
The First World War created a great demand for hospital beds. By June 6, 1921, all buildings at Fort Harrison had been adapted for hospital use and it became U.S. Public Hospital No. 72, with a capacity of 150 beds. On June 30, 1923, it was increased to 300 beds and became a designated tuberculosis hospital. But in 1925 the need for these beds diminished and the hospital reverted to a general medical and surgical facility.
In 1932, a new infirmary and clinical hospital building was constructed at a cost of over $500,000.
In October 1935, there were serious seismic disturbances; the epicenter being located approximately 7 miles northeast of the VA facility. On October 31, 1935, the second most severe earthquake cracked the top of the power plant’s chimney and the heating plant had to be shut down.
There were 197 patients in the hospital; some were discharged or transferred to other VA hospitals in Walla Walla, Washington and Roseberg, Oregon.
It was determined that repairs would be made, and the hospital was reopened on February 15, 1937.
In June 1961, a contract was awarded to build a new $4 million hospital that had 96,000 square feet of floor space and 160 beds. It was dedicated on September 29, 1963.
A contract for the second phase of Fort Harrison’s modernization was awarded on June 29, 1963, which included remodeling the interior of the old hospital building to make room for all regional office operations and the medical administrative staff. This building now serves as an administrative building.
Other changes include:
- A new ambulatory addition was completed in 1976 at the rear of the hospital building, providing 13,000 square feet for ambulatory activities. A 5,400 square foot pharmacy addition was made in 1981.
- In 1985, the Montana State Veterans Cemetery was established on the Fort Harrison campus. The first burial took place in September 1987.
- In 1995, a two-story addition was completed to the front of the hospital, providing space for surgical, dental, and radiology departments and a covered entrance for the hospital’s main entrance.
- In 2006, the Liberty House was completed and funded by the non-profit group Liberty House Foundation. This eight-room facility provides free lodging for family members of hospitalized veterans, while their loved ones are cared for at the medical center.
- In 2006, the VBA regional office completed construction of a new 20,000 square foot building located on the Fort Harrison campus and in 2007, 18,000 square feet was added to ameliorate space shortages for areas specialized care.
- In 2019, the original officers’ quarters were renovated and turned into HUD/VASH housing managed by Freedom’s Path. The MTVAHCS HUD/VASH Permanent Housing Program administers housing vouchers statewide. Forty-two of the total vouchers are project-based housing units located on campus.
Construction of a new $12 million primary care building was completed in 2021.
Hayman said the future of the hospital promises changes and advancements in health care and the ability for more veterans to receive care.
She noted that over the past 1 1/2 years, the VA has opened seven new clinics in Montana, “bringing state-of-the-art facilities (closer) closer to veterinarians.”
Associate Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.