Renown Health: Established in 1862

Renown Health has evolved — new technologies have been introduced, the organization has expanded, and in 2006 the name changed from the Washoe Health System to Renown Health. But the heart of the organization has remained the same over the past 152 years: Renown Health still serves the health and well-being of Northern Nevada.

The organization was established at a pivotal time in Nevada’s history. The year was 1862, and amidst the Civil War and the Comstock Lode silver boom in nearby Virginia City, the community faced a smallpox outbreak. A clinic was formed in Washoe Valley to quarantine and treat the sick. In 1864 when Nevada became a state, that clinic led to the area’s first hospital.

Hospital expansions occurred as the area’s population and healthcare needs exploded. Local work continued on the Virginia and Truckee railroads and the Reno and Virginia City passes, with healthcare providers nursing the sick and wounded from the work camps daily.

In the 1940s the organization joined the World War II effort, recycling and donating metal. The hospital also formed a blood bank, recruited doctors and collected plasma and bandages to support the country’s soldiers.

At this time, few things took a greater toll on the health of the American public than polio, and Reno was no exception. By 1952 more than 150 individuals in Northern Nevada were being treated for the disease. But with the iron lung and intensive rehabilitation therapy, care providers doubled Northern Nevada’s polio survival rate within two years.

A Personal Perspective

There were actually two iron lungs still in use when Bernice Martin Mathews walked into the hospital and asked for a job in 1955. With her bigger-than-life personality, Bernice began her career working as a nurse’s aide.

Because of her persona, Bernice never turned away an opportunity. She accepted new tasks willingly, viewing them as life lessons. And because of her tenacity, she steadily moved up the ranks while attending school — earning her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Registered Nurse (RN) degrees.

She witnessed many firsts and changes at the hospital during her tenure. In the 1950s the organization implemented the first cardioscope for heart care and incubator to care for the region’s tiniest patients. And the miracle of in-room patient TVs occurred on her watch.

She was there for the establishment of the heart care unit in 1963, not long after which Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis Jr. were admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure and coronary disease respectively. And during this time the first patient in the region received a pacemaker at the hospital.

Bernice had her own set of firsts — she was one of the first African-American nurses to care for patients at the hospital, and trained as part of the area’s first trauma team. She held positions unheard of for an African-American woman at the time, and trained fellow nurses and doctors as part of her responsibilities.

Ready for the next challenge, Bernice accepted the offer in 1970 to teach. She left the hospital, but didn’t cut ties with healthcare. She continued shaping the future of medicine by educating the next generation of nurses at Truckee Meadows Community College.

A Continued Commitment

In the 1970s the hospital continued advancing medicine by establishing the first cancer treatment center in Northern Nevada, performing the first open-heart surgery in the area and opening the community’s first neonatal intensive care unit. The organization transitioned to a private, not-for-profit health network in the 1980s and become the region’s only Trauma Center between Sacramento and Salt Lake City.

The organization continued to bring innovative technologies to the region, including the first and only PET/CT for diagnosing and treating cancer patients in 2004, along with the region’s first and only bi-plane angiography to treat those who suffer stroke.

And in 2007, Renown took the region’s healthcare vertical with the completion of the Tahoe Tower — a 10-story facility that changed the face of patient care and comfort.

In celebration of Renown’s 150th anniversary in 2012, Bernice credited her experiences at the hospital for making her who she is today. But it’s Bernice and others like her — both inspiring patients and dedicated caregivers — who have walked the hallways over the past 152 years that have made Renown what it is today.

Renown has a rich history in Northern Nevada and is a part of the community’s fabric. The health network is locally owned and is committed to bringing quality care and innovative technologies to the region.