From the Archives: The University-State Tuberculosis Hospital

ArchivesOne of the most intriguing sights on Marquam Hill today is the Campus Services Building. While it is now used for a variety of educational and administrative functions, many in our community remember that it was once a state tuberculosis hospital.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, tuberculosis was one the leading causes of all deaths. Treatment was lengthy and expensive, requiring confinement in a sanatorium. In 1909, Oregon became the first state in the West to require public health care for tuberculosis patients. In 1910, the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital was founded in Salem. It was the first state tuberculosis hospital in the West, and grew at a dizzying rate: Opening with 50 beds, it grew to 195 beds by 1923, and an entirely new hospital was constructed on the site in the 1930s. Even with the construction of a second tuberculosis hospital in The Dalles, the state could not meet the demand for care.

In 1928, the Oregon Tuberculosis Association recommended the establishment of a third sanatorium, this time in Portland. Located on the University of Oregon Medical School campus (precursor to OHSU), the University State Tuberculosis Hospital was dedicated in 1939. Under the administration of medical school dean Richard B. Dillehunt, it opened with 40 beds and a three-part mission: to treat patients who could not afford private care; to support research toward the cure of tuberculosis; and to train medical and nursing students.

Just a few years after the university's hospital was established, tuberculosis treatment changed radically. In 1943, researchers at Rutgers isolated streptomycin, an antibiotic that proved to be highly effective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Rather than submitting to lengthy institutional care, patients were now on their way to a fast and full recovery.

While state facilities for the care of tuberculosis patients had once struggled to meet demand, patients now dwindled in number as treatment for the disease advanced. In the early 1960s, the State legislature merged the three state hospitals. The few tuberculosis patients remaining in the university's hospital were transferred to Salem.

Photo: The University-State Tuberculosis Hospital (now the Campus Services Building), circa 1953.

Contributed by Maija Anderson, archivist, OHSU Historical Collections & Archives