A century of care

A look at Enloe Medical Center’s history as the hospital reaches 100 years in Chico

Enloe Medical Center’s Magnolia Tower opened in November of last year.

Enloe Medical Center’s Magnolia Tower opened in November of last year.


Centennial celebrations:
Sept. 14: Enloe Medical Center marks its 100th anniversary with its Centennial Health Fair, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 1531 Esplanade.

Sept. 20: Enloe releases it book, The First Hundred Years—An Appreciation of Enloe Medical Center, at the Enloe Gift Shop, Lyon Books and Made in Chico.

People at Enloe Medical Center are in a particularly festive and nostalgic mood this month. That’s because Sept. 15 marks 100 years since Dr. Newton Thomas Enloe opened his hospital in Chico.

Enloe has marked its centennial throughout 2013, but the anniversary month brings some special celebrations, including a community health fair on Sept. 14 and the release of a retrospective book on Sept. 20. The book, in particular, brings some historic moments back to the forefront.

“A lot of the history is legendary around the organization,” Mike Wiltermood, Enloe’s CEO since 2009, said in a phone interview. “Mostly, what we get out of the history is the idea that, even if a concept was spawned by an individual, like Newton Thomas Enloe, it was really an outgrowth out of the community commitment to the hospital, the services and the growth that made Enloe what it is today.”

Dr. Enloe’s roots in the North State extend back to 1901, when he moved from Missouri with his sister, Emma, and his first son, Newt, to the Upper Ridge. There, he worked as company physician in the West Branch Mill of the Sierra Lumber Company. He built a one-room hospital by hand to treat West Branch workers.

Early on, Dr. Enloe set his sights on ways to improve care. A surgeon by specialty, he grew concerned about the arduous carriage rides that seriously ill or injured people at West Branch took to get to a hospital in Chico. So, utilizing a flume that carried lumber down the ridge, he created a floating ambulance.

That same year, 1904, he opened a clinic in downtown Chico. It led to his multistory, 25-bed hospital, opened nine years later on Flume Street between Third and Fourth streets. He didn’t build it on his own, but he did show his handiness during his first surgery at the new facility, when he used a 20-penny nail from Nichols Hardware Store to set a broken hip.

“It shows the pioneering spirit Dr. Enloe had,” said Christina Chavira, Enloe’s communications specialist, who pored through the hospital’s past for its centennial book, The First Hundred Years—An Appreciation of Enloe Medical Center, which she co-edited.

In 1937, Enloe Hospital moved to its current location on The Esplanade, a building that doubled the capacity of the Flume Street location, Chavira said.

Enloe Hospital added a maternity wing in 1950—four years before Dr. Enloe’s death. Until the end, he played a major role in running the hospital he founded.

Enloe Hospital at 330 Flume St., circa 1913.

Photo By

The next expansion took place in 1959, with construction of a new wing that increased capacity to 92 beds and modernized the medical and surgical facilities.

“By 1963, they were planning for another expansion to double the capacity to care for patients,” Chavira said. The Ancillary Wing, as it was called, increased surgical and diagnostic capabilities through radiology, clinical labs, anesthesia, inhalation therapy and emergency facilities. It was completed in 1968.

The mid-1960s brought another major change to Enloe Hospital: the transition from a for-profit to a nonprofit organization. Dr. Tom Enloe, N.T. Enloe’s second son, was one of seven hospital trustees at the time, and after attending a state legislative hearing on the establishment of Medi-Cal, he felt Enloe Hospital needed to restructure in order to navigate the changing landscape of insurance reimbursement.

The hospital incorporated as a nonprofit in 1965. Two years later, Jim Sweeney—whom Tom Enloe had met in San Francisco at a seminar—became Enloe Hospital’s administrator, a position he held through 1995. His tenure included numerous expansions, both in the physical buildings as well as treatments offered.

Speaking by phone from Chico, Sweeney was quick to lavish praise on visionary doctors, trustees and employees for ushering changes, such as the establishment of critical-care services that led Enloe Hospital to become California’s first level-II trauma center in 1988.

“There were just so many programs that were started by pioneers—doctors who were not themselves specialists, but it was before the era of specialty medicine,” Sweeney said, adding that Enloe began providing specialty care to “this huge Northern California region.”

Enloe physically expanded in 1971 with 42 more beds in the South Wing, at the corner of The Esplanade and Fifth Avenue. That total grew to 121 with the “new hospital”: a four-story, 92,000-square-foot facility on the Esplanade campus that opened in September 1980. With the addition of the Magnolia Tower, which opened last year, Enloe now has 228 beds.

Enloe Hospital became Enloe Medical Center in 1998, when it merged with Chico Community Hospital. That change did not sit well with everyone in town, and Enloe experienced another rough patch in the mid-2000s under then-CEO Dan Neumeister. Rather than gloss over those chapters in Enloe history, the current CEO says Enloe has grown from them.

“If you look at 2006 to 2007,” Wiltermood said, “we learned a lot of lessons: refocusing our efforts on safety and quality for our patients, [and maintaining] honest communication and transparency within our organization. … It’s very easy to get so involved in the financial elements of the operation—which are tremendously important—that you forget who you’re taking care of.”

Looking ahead, Wiltermood doesn’t anticipate as much in the way of physical expansion as in organizational adjustment. As was the case in the mid-1960s, the mid-2010s are bringing changes to the health-care landscape via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Wiltermood said Enloe is committed to remaining a community hospital, but may need to partner with other organizations to deliver care.

“It will be very interesting to see where health-care reform leads us,” Wiltermood said, “but the bottom line of people caring for people [is] never going to change.”