A Heritage of Loving Service: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Tucson
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Heritage: The Story of St. Mary's Hospital, 1880-1980
By Leo G. Bryne and Sister Alberta Cammack, C.S.J

Chapter I Frontier Hospital
Organization and Growth

The scenario that greeted Sister Mary Charles (1929-1935) was by no means one that allowed for complacency. For one thing, there was an understandable growth in the number of indigent patients coming to the hospital with nothing approaching the modern concept of governmental or societal responsibility to provide adequate medical care at public expense. Coupled with that was the gradual withdrawal of the Southern Pacific patients to the Southern Pacific Hospital on Congress Street. The move hurt the cash flow of the hospital even though it did provide more room for patient care. The remodeling of the vacated wards was carried out as best as was possible. Far better functional space was found, moreover, for the Clinical Laboratory and X-ray services and for expanded maternity and infant care -- providentially, too, because more mothers were looking to a hospital confinement for delivery than had been the case in the past.

Sister M. Charles, as the new Superintendent, was the first R.N. to serve as Chief Executive Officer at St. Mary's, and Depression or no, there were definite changes to be made in routines as she saw them from her perspective. Foremost was a reduction in the amount of time that nursing personnel had to give to housekeeping tasks, ranging from room cleaning to food preparation. Non-professional people were hired to take over those duties -- with R.N. supervision where necessary. For the more physically demanding janitorial and maintenance jobs, more male personnel was another requirement. There was an added problem here, for as anyone knows, equipment breakdown, power failure, plumbing back-ups, and the like seem to choose nighttime hours rather than daytime to make themselves known. In order to solve this "on call" need for twenty-four hour maintenance help in those early days in the Southwest, Sister Mary Charles built a structure that contained ten sleeping rooms for maintenance personnel directly north of the laundry building. Years later, when better transportation and living accommodations on the west side dispensed with the need for these rooms, they were turned into storage use. Indicative, too, of constant maintenance needs was the erection of a paint shop and a carpentry shop south of the boiler room.

Again, in spite of the financial problems of the economic depression, two stories were added to the North Wing. This increased the capacity of the hospital to 185 beds and 20 bassinets. Two automatic passenger elevators were also installed, as well as a system of silent electric call signals.

Technical proficiency was not being bypassed either. Specialization was spreading to many areas of medicine, and, in the early thirties, both the Clinical Laboratory and the X-ray Department (the term "Radiology" was just coming into general use ) were put under the direction of physicians who had chosen these respective fields as their areas of concentration. Perhaps it was of equal significance that the year l931 saw the first intern launch his medical career at St. Mary's. He was Dr. Chester Reynolds who later went on to a practice in child psychiatry in El Paso. An oxygen tent was purchased in 1933, although as Sister Aloysia noted in The St. Mary's I Knew, oxygen inhalation therapy by use of individual face masks had been in use for some time. Additionally, a full-fledged Laboratory Technician was added to the Clinical Lab staff.

Shortly before she left in 1935, Sister Mary Charles commissioned a technical study of the fuel needs at the hospital. The statistics are most interesting when one looks back on the beginnings a half century earlier. By 1934, the hospital plant was making annual purchases of 62,000 gallons of fuel oil, tons of coal, and about $1,000 worth of gas! The study recommended a total conversion to natural gas -- a recommendation the hospital accepted, although it was four years before the transformation was complete. The fuel needs are interesting to repeat, because they demonstrate in one expense area alone what it took to run a hospital whose records for 1935 show 3,036 patient admissions, 169 births, and, 688 operations. That was St. Mary's at the mid-point of its history!

An observer of the present day, looking backwards fifty years to the Tucson of the 1930's, can very easily assume that what we take for granted today in the matter of basic utilities and services was also available then. This is not so, of course. Waterlines, gas lines, electric power, and sewer systems are related closely to political boundaries. Tucson's eastward and northward expansion had already begun. Even though, for all practical purposes, St. Mary's was Tucson's only community hospital, the west side neighborhood where it was located had not yet been formally made part of Tucson. Technically, the hospital was not entitled to something so basic as fire protection -- although the city had been farsighted enough to see that it was always given. The conversion to natural gas heat was due as much to the availability of gas on the westside as it was to the decision at the hospital to use it. Sister Ildephonse, who became Administrator in 1935, arrived in time to see that project to completion, but she had also to face the sewage problem. Ever since its founding, the hospital had depended on its land area to provide ample room for septic tanks. The expansion over five decades had finally exhausted any further reliance on that system. In 1938, a sewer line was finally extended from Grande Avenue to the hospital -- without complications, fortunately, thereby removing a growing threat to the daily operations of the complex.

While the two utility problems were being solved, Sister Ildephonse (1935-1941), a registered nurse like her predecessor, turned her attention to securing further recognition of St. Mary's in the hospital field. Her goal was full accreditation according to the latest standards of the American Medical Association. It was not a search for paper credentials, either, because it was connected with the intent to have a first class intern/resident education program. The two features that the hospital lacked among the list of standards were a medical library facility and an acceptable autopsy procedures program. These were essential to a continuing medical education program. A library building was erected at about the site of the present central tower, and it was in operation by 1933 with a certified librarian in charge. In addition to shelving and reading areas, the building contained a large conference room to which a morgue and autopsy room was joined. The Medical Staff cooperated enthusiastically in both aspects of the project, and in the same year, the American Medical Association granted full approval for a mixed residency program at St. Mary's. Within a short time, the program was alive and blooming in the desert.

The world was closing in on Tucson as the decade of the thirties ended, although few saw it at the time. Events associated with World War II would work fantastic changes in the then small but growing southwestern city. One last hospital addition appeared just before the tragedy of Pearl Harbor and that was the four-story South Annex along Silverbell Road (the road has since been relocated several hundred yards to the east). This was a magnificent structure and a major component of a hospital that would continue to serve the city and the nation during the demanding years of the war.

Understandably, the health professionals in Tucson were heavily dependent on the advances and trends emanating from the northern and eastern research centers. Indeed, Tucsonans were still on the geographical and political frontier; transportation and communication were still a world away from the instantaneous age we live in today, and resources were not available either financially or technically to allow research and experimentation. Yet they were not without the capability of attempting to do what was necessary to help their patients.

Many sufferers of lung diseases and arthritis were attracted to Tucson for its climate alone. While they benefited from the climate, they were still desperately ill, and many of them needed medical/surgical treatment. It was in this area of care that notable advances were made here in Tucson.

Southern Methodist Hospital
Southern Methodist Hospital
[ AHS #44,277 H28]

Such is the picture -- in kaleidoscopic form at St. Mary's and at the other hospitals that had joined St. Mary's on the local scene. Southern Methodist, the Southern Pacific Hospital, the County Hospital, and several sanatoria for treatment of tuberculosis and arthritis shared the responsibility for health care in the early thirties, and they all had an important role to play as the city grew. Unfortunately, the Great Depression played havoc with the newer institutions, and before the decade was out, Southern Methodist had closed its doors, while most of Southern Pacific's surgery cases were sent to California. By 1939, for all practical purposes, St. Mary's was the only general hospital functioning in the area.

ontinue with Chapter I Frontier Hospital World War II



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