Born out of compassion and love, Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City turns 100 years old

SALT LAKE CITY — Standing in the outpatient building of Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and surrounded by happy birthday signs and party hats, Primary General President Camille N. Johnson spoke of the sacred responsibility to care for children. 

“Caring for children includes providing for their physical needs, which this hospital and its dedicated professionals and volunteers have done so beautifully for the last 100 years,” President Johnson said to the large crowd gathered there for a special program.

Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital celebrated its 100th birthday on Wednesday, May 11, marking a century of pediatric care and service to children throughout the Intermountain West.

Founded by and named for the Primary organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1922, Primary Children’s Hospital has been driven by this promise: “The Child First and Always.” 

From the archives: Hospital born of compassion

President Johnson expressed her personal appreciation “to the devoted medical professionals, administrators and volunteers who have made this hospital a place of healing.”

She said her children and now grandchildren have been blessed by the hospital in the foothills of Salt Lake City by the University of Utah. 

“In the early 1990s, when my oldest son needed a simple surgery, I came to Primary Children’s. I will never forget the smile on his face when they wheeled him into the operating room in a little red wagon. The tender and thoughtful care he received, and that I received, at a time of high anxiety was a great blessing to my family.”

The beginning and growth of Primary Children’s Hospital

The idea for a children’s hospital began in 1911, when the first Primary general president, Louie B. Felt, and her first counselor, May Anderson, saw the plight of sick children struggling with crutches on the streets of Salt Lake City and asked that a care facility be established just for children.

Approval was given for convalescent rooms for boys and girls at LDS Hospital, and the Church’s Primary association began fundraising campaigns to raise the necessary operating funds. 

“Of course, the needs of the children and their families exceeded the available space in those rooms at LDS Hospital; and so, Louie and her fellow Primary leaders petitioned the Church for additional space and resources,” said President Johnson.

Patients and nurses in the building on North Temple in Salt Lake City that later became known as Primary Children's Hospital.
Patients and nurses in the building on North Temple in Salt Lake City that later became known as Primary Children’s Hospital. Credit: Provided by Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital

On May 11, 1922, President Heber J. Grant of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, dedicated the LDS Children’s Convalescent Hospital, across the street north of Temple Square, where the Conference Center now stands. The Church donated the equipment and the building — which was a home originally owned by Orson Hyde.

Read more: Primary’s hospital site marked on 80th anniversary

The name was changed to Primary Children’s Hospital in 1934. In 1952, the hospital moved to a new building on 12th Avenue in Salt Lake City with more beds. In 1990, the hospital moved to its present home. In 2010, the Church donated $1 million for an outpatient building, and in 2020, ground was broken on a second Primary Children’s in Lehi, Utah.

In his dedicatory prayer on May 17, 1990, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then first counselor in the First Presidency, noted that the hospital was the “fruition of a great dream begun many years ago when a few women whose hearts reached out to suffering children began what came to be known as the Primary Children’s Hospital.”

1980 and 1984 Olympian Peter Vidmar stands with children promoting the "Pennies by the Inch" campaign for Primary Children's Hospital in this undated photo.
1980 and 1984 Olympian Peter Vidmar stands with children promoting the “Pennies by the Inch” campaign for Primary Children’s Hospital in this undated photo. Credit: Provided by Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital

The Church’s Primary general presidency was responsible for the administration and operation of Primary Children’s Hospital until 1975, when the Church created the independent, nonprofit corporation Intermountain Healthcare and gifted its hospital holdings to the community.

President Johnson said that since 1922, Primary children have given of their own funds to help the hospital — usually pennies, through fundraising efforts like penny parades, birthday pennies and pennies by the inch.

“I remember dropping my own pennies into a cardboard box which looked like the 12th Avenue Primary Children’s Hospital,” she said. “While I don’t remember how I raised those pennies, I still remember the sense of satisfaction I felt by dropping my pennies in and helping other children.”

President Johnson said teaching children to love and care for their neighbor has always been a foundational element of a child’s Primary experience: “When we give children an opportunity to serve others, we build communities of peace and hope and caring.”  

The impact and future of Primary Children’s Hospital

At the event, Dr. Angelo Giardino, the chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine and the chief medical officer of Primary Children’s Hospital, said children “are our message to the future.”

“I think of the founders of Primary Children’s and the message they wanted to send us 100 years ago,” he said. “One of the messages was that we should collaborate, we should work together as a community to help children have the best health possible. That initial message they sent has been manifest.”

Nellie and Sarah Mainor, members of the Church from Farmington, Utah, were a part of the birthday celebration program and spoke about their close connection to the hospital. In 1986, when Sarah was 12, surgeons at Primary Children’s Hospital removed a brain tumor — and she said she has had no complications since then.

“I have been able to have a wonderful life full of excitement and opportunities,” she said, including her greatest accomplishment with her husband — their eight children.

From the archives: Prophet’s visit warms hearts at hospital

Their last child, Nellie, was diagnosed with an aggressive and rare kidney disease at age 6. Nellie talked about what it was like going to Primary Children’s Hospital for constant dialysis treatments and having 12 surgeries before receiving a new kidney in August 2019.

“I feel safe here, I feel at home here. I want to tell my nurses and doctors that I love all of you guys,” she said. 

Nellie, who is now 12, even invited her care team to her baptism: “I have a big family at home and a big family here at Primary Children’s. This is my home away from home.”

Sarah Mainor said she hopes the next 100 years will continue to bring comfort to families, in addition to innovation and improvement in care and programs to help children.

After the program, President Johnson told the Church News she looks forward to not only 100 more years of the hospital blessing the lives of children, but also children contributing to blessing the lives of others.

She expounded upon her remarks from the program, about how children worked and saved and contributed: “When we look into our children’s eyes and recognize their potential and give them an opportunity to participate and serve, we will build communities of peace and hope and respect and tolerance.”