Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center: Then and Now

The Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center. It’s been around for 100 years, and it exists today only because of a small number of passionate people who were committed to offering rehabilitation care in Duluth. Let’s take a look.

The 1910’s…

The story of rehabilitation in Duluth begins with Kate Barnes being severely burned during the fires of 1918. For Kate to regain function in her burn-ravaged limbs, she was sent to Boston for occupational therapy. Upon returning to Duluth in 1922, Kate rallied the women of Pilgrim Congregational Church, who raised $1,000 and started the first occupational therapy department in Duluth, located in the St. Louis County Courthouse.

The 1920’s…

In 1927, the Duluth Association for the Physically Handicapped got its start. The Association was active for the next 34 years and was a driving force for the treatment of Duluthians with physical disabilities. During World War II, however, the therapy departments at both St. Mary’s and St. Luke’s closed due to lack of medical personnel and funding.

The 1940’s…

In the mid-1940’s, the Duluth Association for the Physically Handicapped took on a project to understand how rehabilitation was provided in other communities in the United States. The information gleaned from the research led the Junior League of Duluth to launch a campaign to create Duluth’s first medical center dedicated solely to physical rehabilitation.

The 1950’s…

The Duluth Rehabilitation Center opened in a small space on First Street in 1951, with the help of members of the Duluth Central Labor Body, who took on the renovation of the space free of charge.

Within 18 months, the Center outgrew its space due to the large number of children and adults being served. Again, the Junior League of Duluth and committed community members raised funds to move the Center to its new home on First Avenue, where it stayed for the next 14 years.

The 1960’s…

In the early 1960’s, Nat G. Polinsky served on the Board of Directors for the Duluth Rehabilitation Center. Nat would often return home after board meetings and tell his wife Viola that “the Center needed a new place so very badly.” When Nat passed away, Viola and her two sons, Richard and Jerrold, donated the seed money in Nat’s memory to expand services and move the Center to a new location on Second Street adjacent to Miller-Dwan Medical Center.

In 1967, under the careful leadership of the center’s beloved director, Mary Van Gorden, the new Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center opened to patients in a space six times the size of the former center.


Since opening on Second Street 50 years ago, Polinsky has cared for tens of thousands of children and adults offering them hope, improved function, and independence. History has repeated itself and the Center’s necessary growth is inhibited by its current physical space.

And on Monday, July 13, 2020, Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center will move to its new home in the Miller Hill Health Plaza. While the care provided at Polinsky has always the best of the best, having a safe, healing environment, with specialized tools and technologies will bring Polinsky to the next level. It is an exciting time and a new chapter for Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center.

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