On March 4, 1964, The Fridley Record announced the North Suburban Hospital Board (NSHB) had reached an agreement with Glenwood Hills Hospital to build a $2.1 million, 144-bed hospital on Osborne Road.
With Mercy Hospital already under construction in Coon Rapids, the agreement would give the northern suburbs two modern medical facilities. After six years of planning and a year of negotiation with Glenwood Hills, it looked as if Unity Hospital would become a reality.
A few months later, in September, NSHB ordered the architects to ready plans for final approval. Construction was to be financed with revenue bonds sold on the strength of the long-term lease with Glenwood Hills.
Things didn’t go as smoothly as hospital backers hoped. On November fourth, a Record headline proclaimed, “Bond Sale Fails for Our Hospital.” The North Suburban Hospital District had not attracted a bid. The Record blamed the failure on the Minneapolis newspapers, whose articles, it felt, emphasized the opposition to the hospital, insinuated that the NSHB was pushing the construction of a superfluous facility, and overstated the impact to local taxpayers.
In the weeks that followed, the Record was full of pro-hospital news. Area doctors anxious for the new facility were cited in articles. The Fridley City Council passed a resolution condemning both the Star and Tribune articles and supporting the objective of the NSHB. The paper quoted the Minnesota State Health Department in describing the hospital plans as “very satisfactory.” The Fridley Chamber of Commerce endorsed the hospital plans. A Dec. 2 article stated that, in just the last year, 17 local mothers had given birth in ambulances on their way to more distant hospitals. Police departments, ambulance drivers and patients agreed that Unity was needed.
Later, after the battle was won, Record Women’s Editor Berna Jo Pickett credited one letter-writer for turning the tide. On Dec. 2, Mrs. Frank Fischmon (women’s first names didn’t always appear in those days) wrote that “it is time for we who are in favor” to “stand up and make ourselves heard.” The hospital, she said would save lives: “maybe my life, maybe your life, maybe the life of a loved one.” She eloquently described the anxiety and the additional risk experienced when someone who was sick, injured or pregnant had to ride an ambulance to Minneapolis, not knowing if they would lose critical minutes at a train crossing. The hospital, she wrote, “cannot come soon enough.”
Eventually, it did come. On Dec. 8, 1964, the bonds were successfully sold, and the board ordered the start of construction. It would take another year and a half, but on May 1, 1966, Unity Hospital was dedicated.
From 1966 to 2017, Anoka County had a second full-service hospital. As most readers know, that’s no longer the case, as several departments have been moved to Mercy. One can argue that consolidation is inevitable in the modern world, but I suspect the leaders who worked so hard to build Unity would be disappointed.
John Evans is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.