Mother GamelinProvidence Health & Services traces its beginnings more than 160 years ago to 1843, when a religious community of Catholic women was founded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Soon to be called the Sisters of Providence, this community grew from the work of a young widow, Emilie Tavernier Gamelin, who after the death of her husband and three children, dedicated her life to service of the poor. On Oct. 7, 2001, Emilie Gamelin was beatified in the Roman Catholic Church. This is the second step of a three-part process required for canonization as a saint.

The call to serve brought the first Sisters of Providence to the American West in 1852. Mother Bernard Morin and her companions set out from Montreal only to arrive at the wrong destination. With no one to receive them, they cut their mission short. On the way back to Montreal, the ship stopped in Valparaiso, Chile, to replenish its provisions. When the Sisters disembarked, they learned of the great needs that faced the Chilean people and remained to establish schools and care for orphans.

Mother JosephIn 1856, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, an intensely determined and resourceful woman, would call upon her gifts, skills and deep faith, as she led a second group of four Sisters of Providence from Montreal to the Washington Territory. They quickly demonstrated their tenacity and determination, as well as their adaptability. Within months of their arrival in Vancouver, Washington Territory, the pioneer sisters began caring for elderly women, orphaned children and the sick in what was called the "Providence Enclosure." By 1858, they opened St. Joseph Hospital, the first permanent hospital in the Northwest.

The Sisters of Providence became incorporated in 1859, and word of their works quickly spread across Washington Territory. Continuous requests for services were brought to the sisters, who responded as funding and personnel allowed. Mother Joseph and her community of sisters established 29 institutions by 1902. They built hospitals, schools and other facilities of care across an area that today encompasses Washington, Oregon, northern Idaho, Montana and British Columbia. Within a few years, the corporation extended as far south as Oakland, Calif., and as far north as Fairbanks and Nome, Ala.

Throughout the 20th century, the sisters' initiatives grew in breadth and depth. Not only did they oversee the construction and administration of hospitals, but they also established, staffed and managed academies and schools. Numerous hospitals, care facilities and schools opened in each of the five states that constitute the present-day service areas of Providence Health & Services: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and California.

Although the decades brought about many changes, what remains steadfast is the profound commitment of the Sisters of Providence to care for society's most vulnerable. Today, the legacy of those first pioneer sisters lives on in the dedication and commitment of all those who have joined in the Providence mission of service.

Providence Health Plans

Laying the foundation for the current Providence Health Plan, a health maintenance organization was formed by Providence Portland Medical Center and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in 1984. Nearly a year later, Physician InterHospital Plan (known as The Good Health Plan) was approved as a federally qualified health maintenance organization by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1987, the Sisters of Providence in Oregon established a new division for managed care to include both its health maintenance organization (HMO) and preferred provider organization (PPO).

The Good Health Plan became Providence Health Plan after the merger of the health plans in Oregon and Washington in 1997. Providence Health Plan continued to grow, and by 2000, the membership was approximately 326,000, including more than 50,000 Medicare members and 35,000 Medicaid members. As the industry changed, the company evolved as well and moved away from the HMO model toward the PPO model and point of service product, offering more freedom and flexibility to its members. Today, Providence Health Plan offers commercial, Medicare, Medicaid and individual and family plans.