Nursing Home Care Evolves in Laramie

The Laramie Care Center owes its location at 18th and Custer Streets to a decision of the Albany County Commissioners in 1922.

 When Albany County was formed in 1868, the Commissioners were responsible for the care of the elderly who had no family able to look after them. Mostly, these people boarded somewhere, with the Commissioners paying for their housing. Less than 10 individuals per month were supported in this way, possibly all in one private “boarding house.”

 Additional Laramie elderly between 1868 and 1922 may have been military pensioners who could pay for their own room and board; military widows and veterans were about the only people in America who received pensions then.  

 During this time, however, the number of elderly and indigent pioneers without pensions increased. Throughout the 1800s, almshouses (often derisively called “poorhouses”) were well-established local government institutions nationwide. In Laramie, a “poor farm” filled the need. It was operated by Mrs. E.T. Richardson in an area somewhere past what is now 30th and Grand Avenue. The County paid her expenses for an unspecified number of people from 1895 to 1903.

 This turned out to be expensive; the January 1901 County Commissioners minutes show that about $375 was spent that month for services related to caring for the sick and maintaining the poor farm. In addition, the Commissioners paid the rent of $5 per month for five individuals who weren’t at the poor farm, which was apparently full.

 In April, 1903, the County paid the last bills for the poor farm, discontinued paying housing for others and moved them into an old building (the “Wanless Building”) that had been moved to East Grand Avenue. It became the County Hospital, approximately where UW’s McIntyre Hall is today. The term “poor farm” went out of use in Laramie. Of course the County Hospital was really a nursing home, though that term was not in common usage yet. The pest house (for people with contagious diseases) was relocated next door, to the east.  

 From then on for nearly 20 years, the Commissioner’s minutes contain funds for operating both the pest house and the county hospital.

 In 1922, the Commissioners voted to fund a new building to be called “Albany County Hospital and Contagion Ward.” Thereby they solved two problems at once, by isolating people with contagious diseases and providing a place for the elderly who were infirm and indigent. They selected a lot at 501 18th Street, on the edge of town, but off Grand Avenue, as there had been criticisms of having the pest house so close to the major developing thoroughfare.

 Medical advances soon made the “contagion ward” unnecessary – Ivinson Memorial Hospital was built in 1917 and highly contagious deadly diseases were on the decline. The new building at 18th and Custer was generally referred to locally (and in the Commissioner’s minutes) as the
County Home.

 The County continued to foot the bill for most people in the County Home, though undoubtedly there were more military pensioners following World War I, paying the County something through their federal pensions.

 A major change came in 1935 with passage of the Social Security Act. Now, many more retirees could receive federal assistance. Responsibility for caring for those who had contributed to society and were now elderly and infirm began to switch from local governments to the federal government.

 The switchover happened very gradually in Albany County, however, and wasn’t accomplished until 30 years after the enactment of Social Security. The County continued to own the County Home but management was eventually taken over by Ivinson Memorial Hospital. In 1965, however, the facility was called “Our Home, Inc.” in the Laramie City Directory, probably indicating that the county no longer owned it.

 From 1969 to 1976, city directories show the facility under the name Albany Manor Nursing Home (the first time “nursing home” described it). From 1977-1994 it was known as Bethesda; the address changed in 1987 to 503 S. 18th Street, indicating this was probably the year when the new columned front entry section opened. From 1995 to 2000 it was called Community Care at Laramie Nursing Home. For the year 2001 only, it was called IHS at Laramie. In 2002 it became Laramie Care Center, operated by Five Star Senior Living, still its name in 2015, at the same  location on South 18th Street where it started out in 1922.

 It has been expanded several times under different ownerships, but the original county-built portion toward the center of the current facility still exists, according to staff and local residents.

By Judy Knight

Caption: An aerial photo taken between 1951 and 1953 shows the block between Rainbow (left) and Garfield Streets (right) and between 19th (bottom) and 18th (top) Streets. At the center is a long narrow building, the original “County Home”, now the Laramie Care Center, which is now at least tripled in size. Zion Lutheran Church (built in 1950) is at the right center, facing 19th Street. Washington Park is at the left edge.  Photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum