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In Sickness and In Health

10/06/2017 04:06PM ● Published by Jerrie Beard

In the early days of El Dorado County, taxpayers contributed a sizeable sum for the care of the indigent sick. Because of a lack of facilities in the county, however, these individuals were often sent to Marine Hospital in San Francisco.  

In 1855, the state legislature made arrangements for each county to care for the incurably afflicted, aged, imbecile, deaf and dumb, blind, “those whose mutilations from disease or accident incapacitates them from earning a livelihood,” and the poor, the destitute, and the unprotected. On June 9, 1855, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors contracted with Drs. Asa Clark and O. Harvey of Placerville to care and provide for these individuals. Under contract, the two physicians were to provide a building for and render services to the indigent sick for $3,500 for one year; the county was to furnish other necessary materials. The Broadway House in Upper Placerville became the first county hospital for the poor. 

In 1860, the state legislature provided funding for county infirmaries for the indigent. Under the direction of Drs. John Cook and I.S. Titus, a new county hospital was built on 8.92 acres on Quartz Hill (near the current El Dorado County Health Department buildings on Spring and Tunnel Streets). The new complex included a hospital and infirmary, a pestilence house (or isolation ward used extensively during the outbreak of tuberculosis in the early 1900s), residences, a cemetery, and a large fruit and vegetable garden. The facility was managed by the county physician and was under the control of the El Dorado County Board of Auditors. 

The hospital received no income from its patients and relied on the county to provide funding for supplies. To help cover operating costs, the legislature levied an annual hospital tax on county residents from $.25 to $1.50 per capita per year. In addition, resident patients worked in the vegetable gardens, which provided food for the hospital and a small income for the facility. 

By 1899, the county hospital was in poor condition and a grand jury recommended disposing of the property in favor of a better location. The county, however, determined to initiate one of several renovations so—in 1912, after fire destroyed most of the buildings—the facility was again rebuilt. In 1924, fire partially destroyed the complex necessitating reconstruction and in 1946, the hospital was rebuilt and modernized at an estimated cost of $345,000; in 1965, another new building was added. 

The county leased the facility to Universal Medical Systems Corporation in 1972, and the name was changed to Mother Lode Medical Center Hospital. El Dorado County stood to receive ample compensation under the terms of the lease, including payment for upkeep and new equipment; however, in 1974, the hospital was closed and the remaining buildings were replaced.

The El Dorado County Hospital Cemetery (also known as the Pestilence House Cemetery) was established in 1855 as a final resting place for indigent patients who had no family or other means to procure a burial. The first burial occurred around 1855 and the last in 1934. It’s unclear how many people were interred in the cemetery, as records were scanty and many have been lost in subsequent fires. In the early days, grave markers were made of wood and have since rotted away. A push was made to mark graves with slate headstones and later with numbered metal posts, but those too have been lost with time. The cemetery covers approximately one acre behind the El Dorado County Health Department and is all that remains of the El Dorado County Hospital.  


Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County California by Paolo Sioli 

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