Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent

Before the introduction of federal social welfare programs, Americans disagreed over who exactly should take care of the sick and poor members of their communities. Coconino County’s solution to this issue became known as the “poor farm.”

In 1891, residents of Flagstaff, Arizona, began asking the newly formed Coconino County for help treating the poor members of their community. Without a hospital, care for the indigent sick fell to the citizens. On June 19, , John R. Tabor, a boarding house owner, asked the County Board of Supervisors to take over the care of a man boarding with him. He had asked several times for help, with no response. He ended his plea saying, “When will you take care of your indigent sick?” This display led to the establishment of the Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent.

J.F. Hawks made the successful bid to run the hospital, placing it in the back of his hotel. Dr. Thomas Brannon was the attending surgeon at the hospital and oversaw most of the patients during its operation. The types of cases varied for the doctor. There were instances of mountain fever, gunshot wounds, and consumption. Because the hospital was meant for the poor, often the patients were homeless. Several men were brought in with frozen limbs in the harsh northern Arizona winters. There were also gruesome reports in the Arizona Daily Sun of patients who were injured jumping from moving trains. Dr. Brannon helped in each of these cases, earning him a sterling reputation in the community.

Several residents complained about the hospital's placement in the back of Hawks’ busy hotel, and in February 1907, the Board of Supervisors approved the building of a hospital on Fort Valley Road. The county built the hospital on tillable ground, meaning patients could use the surrounding property to grow crops. This gave the hospital the federal designation of “poor farm,” a name which caught on amongst Flagstaff residents. By adding farmland, the county hospital staff not only treated the sick, but gave them means to provide for themselves.

The Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent operated at that new site until 1938. The County Board of Supervisors closed the institution because state and federal governments began taking over health care from local governments. There was also less need for an indigent hospital with the creation of federal welfare programs. Although the hospital operated less than fifty years, it provided important medical care and led to the development of other hospitals in the area. While the county hospital was meant for the poor, Flagstaff residents saw the benefit of having designated health facilities.

Today, the hospital building is operated by the Arizona Historical Society as The Pioneer Museum. While the museum is not interpreted as a hospital, there are still artifacts on display that illustrate the building's past, including a nurse’s uniform, surgical equipment, and an iron lung. The Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent served the community of Flagstaff by taking the burden of care away from its citizens and giving it to healthcare professionals.

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