Jefferson B. Cary was a general practitioner in Caribou for many years. Regarded as an excellent physician and outstanding citizen, Dr. Cary was wholly dedicated to meeting the healthcare needs of residents in the Caribou area. In fact, he was so committed to this mission that he left a portion of his estate to the City of Caribou to build a community hospital. On September 5, 1924, Cary Memorial Hospital opened its doors. The hospital went through numerous expansions, but, by the late sixties and early seventies the community’s needs for medical services outgrew Cary Memorial Hospital and there was no room to expand because residential dwellings surrounded the facility.
In one of the most one-sided referendums in the City’s history, Caribou voters endorsed the creation of a new hospital to be located on the outside of the City on farmland with extraordinary views. Through an act of the Maine Legislature, the Caribou Hospital District was established as the entity that would own the new medical center. The firm Harriman Associates was selected to design the new hospital and General Supply Corporation was awarded the bid on the new $7 million dollar facility. In July 1978, the new Cary Medical Center received its first patient transfer from Cary Memorial Hospital. Prior to the opening, an open house was held which drew 5,000 area residents.
The new hospital, which was renamed Cary Medical Center, had a number of unique features. In a visionary move by the founders, the hospital was designed with all private patient rooms. The ancillary areas including Laboratory, radiology and rehabilitation were designed to allow room for substantial growth of the services, and bright colors were used throughout the hospital to give it a less clinical look. Despite the expansion and changes, however, the staff made certain that the patient-centered care and family-like culture established at the original Cary Memorial Hospital remained intact.
Since its opening in 1978, Cary Medical Center has had a number of major additions including the Chan Center, a 200 seat educational facility dedicated to the late Francis Chan, M.D., the region’s first Orthopedic Surgeon. A new Cancer Center was established, new One Day Surgery Center which featured physician offices, Pines Center for Women and Children’s Health which included Obstetrics and Pediatrics offices, and in 1987 the Veterans Administration opened the first VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic located on the campus of a public hospital. That development began a relationship between Cary Medical Center and Aroostook County Veterans which has continued for more than 50 years. Soon to follow the VA Clinic, was a 40-Bed Long Term Care Facility managed by Maine Veterans Homes and later a 30-bed Residential Care Facility also managed by MVH. More recently, the hospital has opened a new Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. A new Women’s Imaging Center, featuring the new Siemen’s Mammomat Inspiration 3-D Mammography instrument was added in 2017 and offers a ‘spa like’ environment. The hospital also expanded and renamed its Oncology unit, the Jefferson Cary Cancer Center. In 2020 the Acute Care Unit was updated and renovated. Every patient room was redesigned offering a more comfortable and convenient experience for both patients and visitors. In 2022 the hospital completed a total renovation of its maternal and childcare unit expanding the labor and delivery rooms and other upgrades. The hospital has also completed renovations of its Emergency Department, Acute Care Unit and Maternal/Child unit.
While this dramatic growth at Cary Medical Center in bricks and mortar was happening the hospital also focused on advancing medical technology. From being the first hospital in Northern Maine to establish a fixed base MRI to leading the way in patient safety thru Computerized Nursing Documentation, Bed-side Medication Barcoding and Computerized Physician Order Entry, Cary became one of the most advanced and ‘wired’ rural hospitals in the nation.
Throughout its history Cary Medical Center has developed a tradition of Health and Wellness. ‘You’re Source of Wellness’ was the hospital’s slogan and the hospital’s vision became ‘We aspire to create healthier communities’. The medical center certainly has lived that vision securing millions of dollars in Federal, Private and State Grants to promote healthy eating, physical activity, heart attack and stroke prevention, smoking cessation, diabetes prevention and management. Cary has also been instrumental in the fight against substance use disorder and helped to form ‘Recovery Aroostook’ a nonprofit grassroots organization working to end the stigma of addiction and advance resources for those in need.
Over nearly 100 years Cary Medical Center has built a legacy as one of the nation’s leading rural hospitals. Standing on the shoulders of so many that have been part of its long history, the hospital is focused on the future. Now with its largest medical staff in history, and a dynamic ‘model for the nation’ relationship with Pines Health Services, a Federally Qualified Health Center, the hospital remains an independent organization. Governed by a volunteer Board of Directors the hospital helped develop the Maine Rural Health Collaborative. Cary is one of five hospitals in Maine, including three in Aroostook County that have formed the collaborative with a goal of preserving and enhancing healthcare within the communities they serve.