“All my parents did was rave about the Home,” said Cheryl Vasquez, whose brother, the late Martin Boatman, was the first infant admitted with polio on Aug. 31, 1947, a day before his first birthday. “They thought it was the most wonderful place.”
Vasquez says her family lived in Notus and could only visit her brother on Sundays. She remembers picnics on the lawn of the Convalescent Home at 3115 Sycamore Drive, where the Boise Samaritan Village sits now. Her brother never regained the use of his legs and lived at the Home until he was about 10, when he was transferred to the Shriners Hospital in Salt Lake City for surgery. He eventually lived and worked in Washington State.
“He never knew anything else,” she said.
Idaho polio outbreaks would soar above the national average in 1949, the year that Boise received its first iron lung and St. Luke’s moved its pediatric polio patients to the Elks Convalescent Home. As it celebrated its two-year anniversary, the home treated 74 patients, just 11 shy of the record high the summer before. The home's governing board reported in August 1949 that the Elks had treated 370 polio patients in two years, with about 80 percent discharged almost fully recovered with no use of braces, which about 15 percent were able to get around using braces or crutches, according to The Idaho Statesman.
The number of new cases only began to decline after 1954, when a vaccine was made available locally, first as injections and later as sugar cubes.
With a decrease in polio patients, the Home was renamed the Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Center, and its programs expanded to meet other needs, such as stroke, spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy, for people of all ages.
Steve Muffley of Boise says the Elks Rehabilitation Hospital has been a second home to him for most of his life, beginning in 1950 at the age of 3. He believes he may have been the first non-polio patient at Elks. In 1947, forceps applied to his head during his birth caused cerebral palsy. He lived at the Elks for three years, and he has been a patient all his life, receiving physical, occupational and speech therapies and other treatments.
“My family’s ties with the Elks have always been deep,” he wrote in an email.
He remembers being well fed at the Home and days filled with therapy – like patients experience today – and an innocent first kiss from a girl on crutches who surprised him in the elevator of the original Home.
“Helpers and the office staff created an environment that was a lot like home,” Muffley said. “How well I remember, ‘Now Stevie, you’re not leaving the table until you eat your spinach.’”
Linda Brock, who graduated from the Nampa Business College just before taking her first secretarial job at the Elks Rehabilitation Center in 1955, said people at the Center were like family to her, too.
“I experienced a sense of compassion and caring from all the staff at Elks,” she said. “From the doctors, physical therapists, and aides, cooks and administrators, there was a purpose in the everyday routine. Their main goal was to help the patient regain as much good health as possible, or make their lifestyle easier to bear.
“I remember mostly successes, but there was an instance or two where the patient was beyond help. In those few cases, there was an enveloping sadness surrounding all who worked there. It was like a family who grieves in the sad times and rejoices when progress is made.”
In the decades to follow, the Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Center would develop into the Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Hospital, and then Elks Rehab System, which includes the Hospital on Fort Street, Elks Hearing and Balance Center and Elks Internal Medicine, as well as the Elks organization’s efforts in concert with longtime partner St. Luke’s Health System. Those included St. Luke’s Elks Rehab, St. Luke’s Elks Children’s Rehab and the Elks Wound Center.
Each transition was a compassionate response to the needs of residents across the Northwest. Thousands of lives and families were and continue to be touched and uplifted through the Elks Rehab System, which has maintained a quality of care among the highest in the nation across the decades. More than 80 percent of patients return to the community after therapy, one of the highest rates in the country. Patient satisfaction scores consistently top 90 percent.
Beyond the services they provide, staff members have deep involvement in their communities. They have sponsored the Elite Wheelchair Racers in the St. Luke’s Women’s Fitness Celebration – now FitOne – the Annual Idaho Youth Wheelchair Sports Camp and the Creative Healing Art Exhibition, and have supported a number of nonprofit organizations and events.
As the Idaho State Elks Association’s state project, the Elks Rehab System has impressed attendees of the Elks National Conventions for years with its scope and magnitude, said Grant Jones, Elks Association spokesman. Beyond operations, Elks across the state raise and donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project each year.
“Idaho’s a small state with about 8,400 Elks, but they support one of the largest state projects in the country,” Jones said.
In 2014, the Elks found itself facing shifts in the needs of patients and the changing healthcare environment. Financial challenges occurred as the number of patients decreased and expenses continued to exceed income. As a result, the Elks Rehab System decided to focus its efforts on supporting rehabilitation and therapy programs statewide through philanthropy, instead of operating the hospital and clinics.
The Elks identified St. Luke’s as the organization most prepared to deliver quality rehabilitation services in a manner consistent with its vision, and the organization approached its longtime partner to carry on the Elks’ tradition of excellence for this critical service in the region.
“St. Luke’s values are so similar to ours, it’s like a perfect marriage,” said CEO Melissa Honsinger of the Elks Rehab System.
With the approval of the Idaho State Elks Association, the Elks Rehab System will stop operating the hospital and clinic on Sept. 30, and St. Luke’s will expand its rehabilitation services Oct. 1 to include the those operations and most of the staff. There will be no interruption of care for patients.
“That’s a really strong commitment to the organization and the community,” Honsinger said. For St. Luke’s, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation is a natural step toward successfully helping residents across the region manage their health by offering a wide range of coordinated health services. Leaders and staff members from both organizations have worked closely to make the transition as seamless as possible for patients and their families. A smooth transition for Elks employees also is a priority as they join the St. Luke’s family to support St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Services.
Jones said a sense of loss that many felt at the thought of the Elks System going away has turned into a new feeling of enthusiasm and expectation for the possibilities of a new chapter in the Elks’ long history of civic involvement and commitment.
“The new state project will be the Idaho Elks Rehab, an endowment,” Jones said. “This endowment will potentially fund rehab across the state – medical equipment and research, a program, a symposium. It could take on a lot of different forms. From a state project standpoint, it has the potential to expand its reach and influence across the state. At the same time, it carries on that rich tradition of providing rehab for people in Idaho. It’s exciting. There will always be a need for rehab as the state grows.”
In honor of the Idaho State Elks Association, the Elks Rehab System, and the future of the rehabilitation services under the banner of St. Luke's Health System, a commemorative tab was published in The Idaho Statesman Sept. 28.
Elks’ Excellence Continues under St. Luke’s Banner
On October 1, 2014, all Elks facilities will change names, but services will be uninterrupted.
Sandra Wurdemann works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.