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Sunnyside hospital to celebrate 20th anniversary

Today, when people in the Sunnyside area need the services of a hospital, there is only one place to turn - Sunnyside Community Hospital. However, it wasn't always that way.

In the early 1980s, there were two hospitals in the town, Sunnyside Community Hospital and Sunnyside General Hospital. It was 20 years ago that a decision was made to merge the two hospitals into one facility, bringing osteopathic and allopathic physicians together.

"While the original decision to merge the two hospitals was not an easy one, I think there is no question the community is better off because of what happened then," said Dr. Steven Elerding, who was recruited to the Lower Valley 25 years ago to work for both hospitals.

Tuesday, March 29, Sunnyside Community Hospital is celebrating its 20th anniversary and the merger of two hospitals into one. A special reception will be held in the new classroom at the hospital from 2 to 4 p.m. It is open to the public, as well as to all retired employees of both hospitals and former board members.

In 1985, immediately after the merger, the hospital operated two campuses. Sunnyside Community Hospital North is the present hospital site. The other location, Sunnyside Community Hospital South, now houses the offices of Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health.

"This was a merger that changed the community health care system for the good, but it was clearly not an easy decision," said Sunnyside Community Hospital Board Chairman Jon Mercer, D.V.M. "For many years after the decision many people still questioned what had been done. But, if we had not taken steps to economize and consolidate we would have likely lost both hospitals."

Elerding added that as it turns out, those who felt the community could not support two hospitals were correct.

"The Lower Valley needs one strong hospital, and that is what we have because of the decisions that were made then," Elerding said.

Sunnyside Community Hospital has a successful merger of osteopathic physicians, or D.O.s, whose care includes osteopathic manipulative therapy, and allopathic physicians, or M.D.s.

"Most people don't even know what those initials (D.O. or M.D.) represent anymore," Elerding said. "I have referred patients to osteopathic physicians for back and spinal care. Those doctors refer patients to me who need surgery."

Today in Sunnyside, osteopathic and allopathic physicians practice side-by-side. When Dr. P.J. Swofford, an osteopath, retired in 1995, Dr. Harlan Halma, an allopathic physician, was recruited to join the practice with allopathic physician Dr. David Swofford. Most people believe this would have never happened two decades ago, and in the years prior to the merger of the two hospitals.

Those former employees and others who would like to attend the 20th anniversary celebration are asked to RSVP by contacting either Tom Lathen at 837-1624 or Penny Duren at 837-1651.

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