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The Dr. W. H. Groves LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, as it appeared when established in 1905, was one of a number of hospitals owned and operated by the LDS Church between 1882 and 1974.

by William N. Jones

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have historically felt a responsibility to care for the physical well-being of fellow Church members and their neighbors. This early commitment was typified by the establishment of a board of health for the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, and a formal council of health in Salt Lake City in 1849. The Church has continued to sponsor health services through the operation of several hospitals and a Welfare program.

In 1874, because of the high infant and maternity mortality rate, Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow, with the support of Church President Brigham Young, urged a number of women to obtain medical degrees at Eastern medical colleges. In 1882, under her direction, the Deseret hospital was established in Salt Lake City and staffed and administered primarily by Latter-day Saint women doctors. While it was highly regarded by the community and supported in part by the Relief Society and the retrenchment society, it closed only eight years later because of inadequate funding.

Though the Deseret Hospital was short-lived, interest in having a hospital sponsored by the Church continued. In January 1905, the Dr. W. H. Groves LDS Hospital opened, also in Salt Lake City, becoming one of several denominational hospitals in the area. It was largely funded through a bequest of W. H. Groves, an LDS dentist who had come to Utah from Nottingham, England. The hospital, a five-story complex with eighty beds, was equipped with up-to-date medical equipment and innovations, including an elevator and a nurse-calling system. In 1924 the Cottonwood Maternity Hospital, a major facility in childbirth care, was established and was maintained thereafter for several years by the Cottonwood Stake Relief Society in Salt Lake County.

LDS Hospital, the 571-bed successor to the Groves LDS Hospital, is regarded as one of the West's premier tertiary care centers. The hospital supports continuous physician and nursing education and is a leader in medical research, including the treatment of heart disease, organ transplants, respiratory disorders, and obstetrical care, and in its pioneering use of computers in health care, both clinically and administratively.

In 1911 May Anderson of the Primary Association recognized the need for a medical center to meet the unique needs of children. Her efforts, with support of general Primary president Louie B. Felt, led to the establishment of the children's ward at the LDS Hospital in 1913. In 1922 the Primary proposed that a separate facility be established, emphasizing the need for children to be treated by pediatric professionals. Consequently, the Church purchased and remodeled an old home in downtown Salt Lake City for use as the LDS Children's Convalescent Hospital, under the supervision of the Primary Association.

During the next twenty-five years, nearly 6,000 children were treated, and the hospital attracted pediatric specialists of national and international reputation. By 1937 this facility became inadequate, but not until after World War II were sufficient funds gathered to build a new one.

In 1922, to help support charity cases, Primary board member Nelle Talmage suggested an annual "Penny Day" when Church members would contribute pennies equaling their age. Children would contribute pennies on their birthdays. The program continues presently as the Pennies by the Inch campaign (a penny donated for each inch of the donor's height), which furthers the idea of children helping other children in need.

A new Primary Children's Hospital facility was completed in 1953, and its size was doubled in 1966. The LDS Hospital shortly thereafter closed its pediatric unit, shifting its care for infants and children to the Primary Children's Medical Center. In 1990 the Center moved to a larger facility at the University of Utah Medical Complex and has become one of the finest children's hospitals in the United States.

In 1963 the Church owned or administered fifteen hospitals in the intermountain area under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric. In 1970 the Health Services Corporation of the Church was organized and a commissioner of health was appointed to oversee the rapidly expanding health needs of the Church and to unite the fifteen hospitals into a coordinated health care system. This system demanded increasing amounts of administrative time and financial commitment by the Church.

In 1974 the First Presidency announced that the Church's fifteen hospitals would be donated and turned over to a new nonprofit organization so that the Church could devote "the full effort of [its] Health Services…to the health needs of the worldwide Church." While noting that the hospitals were "a vigorous and financially viable enterprise," the First Presidency emphasized that "the operation of hospitals is not central to the mission of the Church." The First Presidency further indicated that with the expansion of the Church in many nations it was "difficult to justify the provision of curative services in a single, affluent, geographical locality" (news release, Sept. 6, 1974).

On April 1, 1975, the Presiding Bishopric signed the final divestiture agreement transferring ownership and management of LDS Hospital, Primary Children's Hospital, and thirteen other facilities to the new philanthropic organization. This nonprofit organization was named Intermountain Health Care. It is directed by a geographically and religiously diverse board of trustees. With the divestiture of the hospitals, the Church rapidly expanded its medical missionary program—a program more compatible with its worldwide religious mission.

(See Daily Living home page; Attitudes Toward Health, Medicine, and Fitness home page)


Bush, Lester E., Jr. "The Mormon Tradition." In Caring and Curing, ed. R. Numbers and D. Amundsen, pp. 397-420. New York, 1986.

DeWitt, Robert J. Medicine and the Mormons. Bountiful, Utah, 1981.

Josephson, Marba. "The Primary Children's Hospital." IE 55 (Oct. 1952):714-17, 734, 736, 738, 740, 742, 744-45.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Hospitals

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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