Ah-Gwah-Ching marks a century
The future use of Ah-Gwah-Ching Center's stately structures remains uncertain. But visitors arrived in number Friday to revisit its past, the history of the former Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives commemorated in a centennial ceremony ...
The future use of Ah-Gwah-Ching Center's stately structures remains uncertain.
But visitors arrived in number Friday to revisit its past, the history of the former Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives commemorated in a centennial ceremony Friday.
Many were former employees of what was commonly known as "the san." Others had family members who'd once called the site "home."
The influx of immigrants from Europe in the mid- to late-1800s had accelerated the incidence of tuberculosis and in 1903 legislation authorized a state sanatorium.
The site on Leech Lake's Shingobee Bay was chosen for its southern exposure, protected by hills and forests, its good water supply and seclusion from the general population.
Construction on the first Colonial Revival-style building began in 1906 and in the spring of 1907, farming operations were underway, a farmer's cottage constructed on the grounds.
Ole Larson was hired as caretaker, earning $50 per month. His helper Ludwig Holten pocketed $35 and Dr. Walter Marcley, assuming the position of physician-in-charge was paid $208.33.
Patients began arriving in December. Fresh air was the prevailing treatment for tuberculosis. The wards and porches had no heat. There was no glass in the windows; canvas curtains were pulled only if it rained, rattling and flapping in stormy weather.
Each patient had a "ceramic pig" filled with hot water to keep them warm. On many a winter morning, the patients' beds were covered with snow. Nurses wore hats, coats and gloves while caring for the patients.
Average age of the sanatorium patients was 27. They stayed, on average, just over two months.
The facility came to be called Ah-Gwah-Ching in 1922, a Chippewa word for "outdoors," alleviating the negative connotation.
The sanatorium would treat nearly 14,000 patients before closing as a tuberculosis treatment center in 1961.
At legislative directive, the complex was converted to a state nursing home for geriatric patients.
The advent of Medicare in the mid-1960s required specific standards for care for the elderly. Despite an "enviable reputation for maintenance and housekeeping," the nursing home did not meet those standards.
The patient census was reduced and staff development was added as "difficult behavioral patients" were transferred to Ah-Gwah-Ching.
In 1991, the legislature modified the name from "nursing home" to Ah-Gwah-Ching Center. The staff continued to provide care to a geriatric population whose aggressive or difficult-to-manage needs could not be met in a community nursing home.
In 1994, the population was 250 residents 65 or older with a staff of 330. Programs and services were designed to help residents modify their behavior in order to reach the highest level of independence.
But a decade later, the census was reduced to 100 with 177 staff members. The transition process to a forensic nursing home in St. Peter was underway.
Ah-Gwah-Ching currently has about 19 residents. Forty-five are employed at the site. The St. Peter facility is expected to be completed in the summer of 2008, when the remaining patients will be transferred to the site.
"Ah-Gwah-Ching quietly awaits its next function," Department of Human Services Commissioner Cal Ludeman said Friday.