Then & Now: KGH still expanding on its rich history

Dr. Cliff Henderson remembers early efforts to provide health care in the Okanagan.

Kelowna General Hospital dating back to 1908.

Dr. Cliff Henderson, the Okanagan’s first pediatrician, joined the Kelowna General Hospital in 1954.

He was one of the first doctors in the Okanagan to organize a measles immunization clinic, alongside public health officer Dr. David Clarke.

More than 50 years later, Dr. Henderson still remembers early health efforts in the Okanagan as one of a few remaining physicians in the area who had a personal connection with the renowned Dr. William Knox.

“Dr. Knox was one of the biggest characters around,” Henderson recalls.

“He knew everyone in the ward, even though they weren’t his patients. Everyone loved him. He had a fabulous memory. It was amazing.”

Along with Dr. Benjamin Boyce, Dr. Knox was instrumental in pioneering medical care in the Okanagan.

“Dr. Knox was the only doctor here during World War One,” Henderson says.

“He used to talk about the 1918 flu epidemic—he drove around treating patients with a First Nations man.”

Of the hospital’s original four doctors, one died a year prior to the outbreak, and two others took a leave of absence to fight in the war.

Dr. Knox stayed behind to single-handedly treat the epidemic. On house calls a volunteer would drive while Dr. Knox slept, allowing the doctor to treat patients for up to 20 hours a day.

Dr. Knox’s efforts were impressive, but the hospital desperately needed outside help, says Henderson.

Financial statements from 1915 showed a loss of $1,693 (equivalent to approximately $35,000 in 2015).

The board was on the verge of closing the facility when nurses, merchants, and local ladies’ aid societies partnered to keep the hospital open.

Nurses agreed to accept a lower pay rate, while merchants extended the hospital’s credit terms.

After the war ended, the hospital’s financial situation improved—and Kelowna General bought its first x-ray machine for $3,000 in 1919.

Later on, the hospital added the Pandosy building to the grounds.

The original hospital was demolished, with the exception of the two-storey Annex.

The Annex housed an obstetrics and pediatric ward, although they were on different floors.

“To get patients from one floor to the next, they had to use a rope elevator,” Henderson says.

“That building wasn’t torn down until 1967, when they built the Strathcona building. It’s amazing how things have continued to expand over the years.”

Today, Kelowna General Hospital offers a full roster of services. The new Heart and Surgical Centre offers space for up to 600 open heart surgeries per year.

The hospital is home to 600 physicians and nearly 800 volunteers.

And with the addition of the Clinical Academic Campus in 2007, the hospital is well prepared to raise a new generation of doctors.

The Clinical Academic Campus just graduated its first medical class this year, Henderson says, and 30 new doctors are now entering their first year of medical residency.

But what sets Kelowna General Hospital apart isn’t the machines, the new buildings or the classes, Henderson explains.

It’s the dedication, expertise, and spirit of service of the hospital staff, pioneered by Dr. Knox in the early 1900s and evident throughout the hospital’s history.

And although the hospital building itself has changed greatly throughout the years, that spirit persists.