Virginia Mason History
Established in 1920, Virginia Mason began as an 80-bed hospital with six physician offices. It was named after the daughters of James Tate Mason, MD, and John M. Blackford, MD, who co-founded the clinic with radiologist Maurice Dwyer, MD. The founders' vision was to provide a single location where patients could receive comprehensive medical care, a "one-stop shopping" place for virtually any medical problem or need.
Virginia Mason Hospital Established
Virginia Mason Hospital opened with the Mason-Blackford-Dowling Clinic offices on the first floor. In opening a combined group practice specialty clinic with a hospital, the physicians created a new type of health care system for Seattle, one with a collaborative approach focused on maintaining the most innovative technology and highest quality facilities.
School of Nursing
Anna Fraser, RN, superintendent of Virginia Mason Hospital, took on the additional role of director for its newly established School of Nursing. By providing training to nurses, the hospital secured a stable but inexpensive supply of nursing staff, while also ensuring the quality of the nursing services provided to its patients. Nurse Fraser served in her position through retirement in 1944.
Insulin for Patients with Diabetes
Lester Palmer, MD, became the first doctor in the Pacific Northwest to administer insulin for diabetic patients. This important act marked the beginning of a tradition of providing the highest level of comprehensive diabetes care at Virginia Mason. By 1929, Dr. Palmer was offering a regular series of classes to instruct patients on managing diabetes through diet and insulin treatment.
First Deep Therapy X-ray Machine
Radiologist Maurice Dwyer, MD, offered the first deep therapy X-ray treatments in a Seattle hospital. The use of radiation "for the treatment of malignant and other amenable conditions" was still in its infancy.
Training of interns began in 1925 with two new graduates. By 1931, when this photograph was taken, four interns per year were accepted. Many early interns came to Virginia Mason as a result of connections the Mason Clinic physicians had with the University of Virginia, and later the University of Michigan. By 1937, the hospital had invited two interns to stay on the following year as medical residents. The surgical residency, established in 1938, is the oldest active program in Seattle.
First Intravenous Injection of Sodium Amytal for Anesthesia
In 1929, Virginia Mason surgeons attempted the first intravenous injection of sodium amytal for anesthesia west of the Mississippi River. An innovation in surgical anesthesia, sodium amytal had been shown to reduce risks associated with other anesthetics. In this photo, Dr. J. Tate Mason wears the surgical visor while Joel W. Baker, MD, a recent intern, administers the injection.
Mason Clinic Founders
This photograph, known as the "founders photo," is one of the only images that includes all eight original clinic physicians. The original hospital entrance behind them is still visible today at the corner of Spring Street and Terry Avenue.
Innovation During the Great Depression
Virginia Mason met the challenge of the Great Depression by contracting with regional employers such as Boeing, the Seattle Police Department and the U.S. Post Office to supply medical care to their staff. This innovation was bitterly opposed by the medical establishment in the region, but the contracts and a growing reputation for quality specialty care kept Virginia Mason viable.
Virginia Mason Hospital Reorganized as Not-For-Profit
To reflect the public trust the hospital had earned during the Depression, the original stockholders dissolved the for-profit hospital corporation and formed the non-profit Virginia Mason Hospital Association. The Mason Clinic remained a partnership of physicians.
James Tate Mason, MD, Inducted as President of the American Medical Association
Despite a sudden devastating illness due to arterial thrombosis, founder and clinic chairman James "Tate" Mason, MD, was inducted as president of the American Medical Association in 1936. The 54-year-old Dr. Mason listened to the inauguration proceedings through the radio in his hospital room, where he passed away soon after.
First 400kV Radiation Therapy Unit
The first 400kV radiation therapy unit in the Northwest was installed at Virginia Mason in 1937.
Summer Camp for Diabetic Children
In 1938, the Diabetic Trust Fund associated with Virginia Mason Hospital began to sponsor a summer camp for diabetic children to encourage confidence and understanding of the disease. Dr. Lester Palmer and diabetes nurse Margaret Brown, MN, attended each year.
The War Years
Many Virginia Mason physicians and staff serve the country in the war effort; a skeleton crew remains in Seattle to operate the clinic and hospital.
Joel W. Baker, MD, Elected Chairman
Surgeon Joel W. Baker, MD, was elected as the third Mason Clinic chairman following the death of founder John Blackford, MD, in 1945. Dr. Baker joined the clinic after his internship in 1928, and dedicated his 40+ year career to the institution.
New Nursing Leadership
Marguerite Mansperger, RN, joined Virginia Mason Hospital staff in 1946 thinking she would only stay a year.
Department of Anesthesia Founded
A department of anesthesia was founded with the hiring of Daniel C. Moore, MD. Until this time, anesthesia had been performed by surgeons and nurses. Dr. Moore became widely known as a specialist advocating for regional versus general anesthesia, and this improved service to both surgical and obstetrical patients.
Fathers in Delivery Room
Virginia Mason was one of the first hospitals in the United States, and the only one in Seattle, allow fathers in to the delivery room. Patient-centered policies also made Virginia Mason the only hospital in Seattle where the newborn baby was permitted to sleep in the room with the mother rather than in a nursery.
The First Female Physician
The first female resident, Catherine Owen, MD, was hired as Virginia Mason's first female physician in 1952. She helped the hospital offer 24-hour anesthesia service to laboring mothers, another first in Seattle.
Clinic Expands to 9th Avenue
In 1954, having outgrown the building on Terry Avenue, the Mason Clinic constructed it's first separate expansion to 9th Avenue in what would eventually become known as Buck Pavilion.
Open Heart Surgery
The second open-heart surgery on the West Coast was performed at Virginia Mason Hospital by a University of Washington team, which had developed a heart-lung machine.
Virginia Mason Research Center Founded
The Virginia Mason Research Center was founded in 1956 to better secure funding for medical research and clinical trials. Some of the Research Center's most significant accomplishments were in the fields of diabetes, cancer treatment and hyperbaric medicine.
The first cobalt therapy for cancer treatment in the state of Washington was performed at Virginia Mason in 1957.
Expansion of Facilities
The 1960s brought a period of extensive expansion of facilities. The first stage of the new East Wing, which bridged Terry Avenue, opened in 1962 with 53 new private and semi-private beds, bringing the hospital to a capacity of some 250 patients. Almost immediately, construction of three additional floors on the new wing began. Eventually, the city would approve closing Terry Avenue, creating the main hospital entrance still used today.
First Short-Stay Surgery Offered
Virginia Mason was the first in the region to develop a short-stay surgery program, allowing eligible patients to return home after only one day. This innovative and patient-centered policy shared significant cost savings.
Hyperbaric Chamber Installed
After years of planning and preparation, a 15-foot Hyperbaric Chamber was installed at the Research Center in Blackford Hall. At the time of installation, it was the most advanced facility on the West Coast. Within a year, plans were in place to install a second chamber, with room for more than one patient.
First Thermography Unit in Northwest
Virginia Mason acquired the first thermography unit in the Northwest to perform premammography screening tests for breast cancer and other diseases. In 1973, the Breast Cancer Detection Clinic became a national model. Over the years, the medical center has evolved and adopted leading edge technology at every opportunity.
Virginia Mason's Transplant Program Established
"In March 1972, Virginia Mason's transplant program was established with the successful living donor operation of a father's kidney to his daughter. Robert P. Gibbons, MD, a urologist who joined the Mason Clinic in 1969, led the formation of the transplant program."
First CT Scanner in the Northwest
In another technological first, Virginia Mason installed an EMI head scanner, the first in the region and the second on the West Coast. The machine debuted at the 1973 meeting of the International Society of Radiology, in Spain, which chairman John H. Walker, MD, was attending. The Mason Clinic partners voted on the purchase and called him in Spain to let him know, so that he could place an order immediately.
First Integrated and Consolidated Cancer Care Unit
The new, 26-bed facility reflected an understanding of patients' needs for consolidated support services, treatment areas, and specialized nursing care. The unit was named for Seattle restaurateur N. Peter Canlis, whose friends and family donated significant funds toward its creation.
First Hospital-Based Midwifery Program
The first hospital-based midwifery program in the region opened in 1979. The program was coordinated by certified nurse midwives and intended to allow parents of low-risk pregnancies to be more involved in the birthing process. Midwifery services were also offered at community clinics, expanding access to care for immigrant and low-income populations. Virginia Mason's innovative approach to childbirth continued with the creation of a comprehensive birth center in 1985.
First Insulin Pump in the Northwest
In 1980, Virginia Mason was one of only a few medical centers in the country selected to trial the insulin pump. At the time, diabetes was the third leading cause of death in the United States.
First Cochlear Implant
Roger C. Lindeman, MD, participated in the Northwest’s first cochlear implant in 1980. He went on to lead Virginia Mason through enormous growth and change as Chairman and CEO from 1980-2000. A major new clinic building that opened in 1989, North Pavilion, was renamed Lindeman Pavilion in 2000 with Dr. Lindeman’s retirement.
Regional Medical Centers
In 1982, Virginia Mason East in Kirkland — the first satellite clinic built from the ground up — opened, offering primary and specialty care to the growing Eastside population. This transformed Virginia Mason into a regional health system. Over the next decades, the number of satellite clinics expanded and contracted. In 2013, the satellite clinics became known as regional medical centers, acknowledging the expanded range of services available. In addition to the main campus, in 2019, there were regional medical centers located in Kirkland, Bellevue, Issaquah, Lynnwood, Edmonds, Federal Way, Bainbridge Island and at University Village.
Susan Detweiler, MD, Voted Into Clinic Partnership
Pathologist Susan Detweiler, MD, joined the staff of the Mason Clinic in 1980, and three years later became the first woman to join the partnership.
Sweet Charity Auction
In 1984, the inaugural Sweet Charity Auction was held. This entertaining event put items and events up for auction to raise funds for uncompensated medical care — helping those who were unable to pay their bills.
Region's First Lithotripter
The region's first extracorporeal shock wave lithotripter was installed in 1985 for noninvasive treatment of kidney stones. There were only 11 other locations in the country offering this service, and only one other on the West Coast.
In 1992, Bailey-Boushay House opened its doors as the first skilled nursing facility in the country designed specifically to care for people with HIV/AIDS. Originally owned by AIDS Housing of Washington, Virginia Mason stepped up to staff and manage the facility after multiple other health care organizations had backed away. Bailey-Boushay house is named for Thatcher Bailey and his partner Frank Boushay, who died of AIDS in 1989.
First in Region to Pilot Telemedicine and Teleradiology
Virginia Mason was first in the region to pilot telemedicine and teleradiology programs, partnering with hospitals in Forks, Wash., as well as multiple sites in Alaska.
In the early 1990s, Virginia Mason established a Fertility and Reproductive Endocrine Center to perform in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other fertility-enhancing techniques. In 1995, an embryo conceived at Virginia Mason via Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) became the first such baby born in the Northwest.
Asian American Clinical Program
Virginia Mason began an Asian American Clinic Program with the goal of removing linguistic and cultural barriers to quality health care for the local Asian American community.
Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason
Virginia Mason Research Center moved to a new facility in 1999, the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI). Soon, the Research Center changed its name to reflect this new association. The new facility supported leading-edge research programs, which not only furthered Virginia Mason's long history of diabetes expertise, but also evolved to focus on all autoimmune diseases.
First Robotic-Assisted Cardiac Procedure in the State
In 2001, Daniel Paull, MD, performed the first cardiac procedure in the state of Washington using the da Vincitm Surgical System. The da Vincitm system was the first FDA approved, computer-assisted device to translate human movements to remotely controlled robotic instruments, allowing for greater precision in laparoscopic surgeries.
First Human Islet Transplant in Pacific Northwest
As part of multi-institutional team known as Human Islet Transplant Seattle (HITS), Virginia Mason physicians participated in the first human islet transplant in the Northwest. Experimental islet transplants held promise as a cure for Type I Diabetes.
Virginia Mason Production System Established
In 2001, Virginia Mason executives began to adopt the Toyota Production System to health care. Several Rapid Process Improvement Workshops were held, some of which dramatically demonstrated the transformative power of the system. In the summer of 2002, Virginia Mason sent 30 executives to Japan to further train in their lean manufacturing methods, and the Virginia Mason Production System was officially established.
100% Staff Influenza Immunization Goal
In 2004, Virginia Mason became the first nonprofit medical center to require that all team members receive influenza immunization, to help keep patients safe. As part of the push to promote immunization, Virginia Mason offered the first drive-through influenza vaccination station in the Northwest.
Mary L. McClinton Patient Safety Award
In 2004, Mary McClinton passed away at Virginia Mason Hospital due to an avoidable medical error. This tragedy galvanized the organization's goal to achieve zero defects and become a leader in patient safety. The Mary L. McClinton Patient Safety Award was established in 2006 to honor her memory through recognition of the most significant safety improvements at Virginia Mason each year.
Virginia Mason Institute
The Virginia Mason Institute (VMI) was organized in 2008 as a not-for-profit organization providing formal training courses in the Virginia Mason Production System to other providers and organizations, tailored to their specific needs. The first contract was with the Northeast region of the United Kingdom’s health care system. This expanded to contracts with Aetna and Intel. The institute also coordinated all the speaking engagements about VMPS that were being handled individually. Hospitals all over the US, Denmark, Scotland and even Japan have come to VMI to learn.
Floyd and Delores Jones Pavilion
Construction was completed on the hospital addition, named the Floyd and Delores Jones Pavilion at Virginia Mason. The first of its kind in health care, Jones Pavilion was envisioned, planned and constructed with the patient at the center of all designs through use of the Virginia Mason Production System.
Virginia Mason Merges with Yakima Valley Memorial Health System
Virginia Mason Health System merges with Memorial Family of Services in Yakima, adding a second hospital to Virginia Mason's network of regional clinics. This affiliation allowed both organizations to offer clinical programs of high-quality, integrated and seamless care to patients on both sides of the Cascades. The larger health system and patient population has benefited from increased services provided in both locations.
A first of its kind “therapy car,” was invented at Virginia Mason to help orthopedic surgery patients practice the physical motions needed to get in and out of a real vehicle without falling. It became licensed for commercial production and distribution to physical and occupational therapists around the world.
Bailey-Boushay House Offers Overnight Shelter
Virginia Mason’s Bailey-Boushay House opened the first – and only – overnight shelter in the country for people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The program, which is a partnership with the City of Seattle, serves up to 50 homeless outpatients with HIV per night.
First Donor Care Network Center of Excellence
During the 2010s, Virginia Mason earned distinction as a Center of Excellence in multiple care areas, including total joint replacement and spinal fusion surgery. In 2019, Virginia Mason was the first medical center in the Pacific Northwest to earn designation as a Donor Care Network Center of Excellence by the National Kidney Registry. Since 1988 alone, more than 2,800 kidney-only transplants have occurred at Virginia Mason, which is more than any other transplant center in Seattle during this period.
Becoming the Quality Leader
Gary S. Kaplan, MD, chairman and CEO since 2000, led Virginia Mason to become the only hospital in the United States to be rated a Top Hospital by Leapfrog Group every year from 2006-2019. Dr. Kaplan’s vision of transforming health care through VMPS and becoming the Quality Leader also led to earning the Leapfrog distinction of Top Hospital of the Decade in 2010. In 2019, Dr. Kaplan was ranked 17th on Modern Healthcare’s list of 50 Most Influential Clinical Executives – his 14th time being named in this list.
Historical photos courtesy of the Virginia Mason Archives.
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