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Southwest Health System is rich in history. Here are some of the highlights from 1914 when the facility first opened to the present.

1914 – 1942

Dr. Emil E. Johnson converted two cottages into a hospital on the site that is now occupied by the Best Western Turquoise Inn on Main Street in Cortez. Dr. Johnson’s family lived on the premises where he had an office and an eight bed hospital. His wife was a nurse and an anesthetist. In 1940, Dr. Johnson had a stroke and the hospital was closed for about five months. Dr. Girod re-opened the hospital and operated it until he was called to active duty in January of 1942.

1942 – 1948

Dr. Johnson returned to Cortez and, with the help of the County Commissioners, kept the hospital open during the war. Dr. Speck, Dr. Calkins and Dr. Lilla worked in the hospital during the war. In 1945 the citizens of Montezuma and Dolores Counties recognized that the current facility would not serve the future needs of the two counties. The Lions Club took on the project of raising money to build a new hospital. The drive had great community support, and by 1948 enough money had been raised to build a hospital on South Broadway, currently the Johnson Building.

1948 – 1950

The new facility, Southwest Memorial Hospital, opened in May 1948 and was dedicated as a memorial to the veterans of Montezuma and Dolores Counties who were killed in World War II. The original plaque with the names of these men is located just inside the main entrance of the current hospital.

At that time the hospital had no official corporate structure. It was not-for-profit and non-governmental. A governing board was elected. Only those who had donated to the building fund were eligible to vote.

1950 – 1990

The locally elected board assumed control of the hospital and hired a series of administrators who oversaw the hospital’s daily operations. Through the years, the hospital prospered and developed a nursing home in 1957. In 1971, the nursing home became Vista Grande Nursing Home and occupied a building on Mildred Road. For the next six years, Southwest Memorial Hospital and Vista Grande Nursing Home were operated separately.

The Montezuma County Hospital District was formed in 1974 enabling it to collect tax dollars for construction of the current hospital and to provide quality health care for our community. The Hospital District is a political subdivision of the State of Colorado governed by Statute and operating under Constitutional constraints.

1990 – 2000

In 1995 the Hospital Administration and the Montezuma County Hospital District Board of Directors investigated the formation of a non-governmental hospital entity that could operate the hospital in a much less restricted environment and could be both competitive and diverse. The Board of Directors recognized the limitations they operated under with regard to then current hospital industry changes and our actual service area that encompassed much more than just Montezuma County. Legal Council was sought and an investigation of other Governmental Hospitals that had privatized, such as Colorado State Hospital and Poudre Valley Hospital District, took place.

The Board of Directors weighed the advantages and disadvantages and discussed their options. They could stay as they were, set up a multi-corporate structure or convert to a non-governmental hospital. After many months of work and discussions with legal counsel, the MCHD Board decided to establish a not-for-profit corporation completely separate from the Hospital District. They would lease the hospital facility and nursing home and their daily operations to a newly formed corporation that would become known as Southwest Health System Inc.

2000 – Present

Around the turn of the century, the previously dormant hospital foundation was reestablished. In collaboration with both boards, the foundation was instrumental in securing new ambulances for the hospital, purchasing physical therapy equipment, and funding a variety of community education and physician appreciation activities.

The first decade of the 2000s was a time of upgrades and remodeling in several areas of the hospital including the emergency department, main lobby and registration area, and same-day surgery. New services added to the hospital during this time included wound care and an infusion center.

The period between 2008 and 2011 was an active one. They converted the South Campus building into several out-patient departments and administrative offices. The hospital also opened a sleep studies department, a rural health clinic, and a walk-in care clinic, launched a hospitalist program, began implementation of a community-wide electronic medical record system, and purchased a state-of-the-art 64-slice CT scanner with support from the District board.

southwest health system

(970) 565-6666

Home Office

1311 North Mildred Road

Cortez, CO 81321



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