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 II Modern Medical Complex
Community Health Needs

St. Mary's function in the community was dramatically demonstrated that same year when disaster struck in the form of a fire at Cele Peterson's downtown dress shop. As soon as the hospital was notified by a local ambulance company, teams of doctors, floor nurses, orderlies, and residents were mobilized with oxygen and necessary equipment to treat the incoming burned and smoke-smothered victims. Of those who were brought to the hospital, four were treated and released; nine others hospitalized were suffering from burns, shock, and asphyxiation. The problems of metropolitan growth and the possibilities of unexpected disasters faced the entire community.

The growing need for more hospital beds again began to be acute. Tucson Medical Center and St. Mary's were operating beyond their capacities with beds in the halls and waiting lists. The Pima County Hospital was overcrowded and in bad condition. It had only two paid staff doctors with local physicians donating their services free to help the indigent. This arrangement was no longer feasible and changes had to be made if the County Hospital was to be accredited.

The extremely rapid growth of Tucson since World War II had created a serious situation with regard to hospital facilities. In 1947, Tucson had a population of 88,700 and a total of 564 hospital beds. Ten years later in 1957, the population was 210,000 with an increase of only 198 beds.

It was providential at this time that Tucson Medical Center and St. Mary's were to share in a building grant given to privately supported hospitals and colleges by the Ford Foundation to help them improve their services. Although the grants to both hospitals were substantial, they were not near the amount that would be required for current and future needs. They could only help if local support were undiminished, and it was hoped that the grants would be an encouragement for local efforts. For the purpose of local support, a general campaign to raise funds was begun to benefit both hospitals. An agreement as to the distribution was reached. St. Mary's and Tucson Medical Center were to share equally in the money collected through the campaign.

St. Mary's proposed to build an entirely separate and complete hospital of 150 beds on the east side which would be the start of an ultimate 450-bed facility. The Ford grant would be a nucleus for the building fund. At Tucson Medical Center, the Ford grant had allowed it to add eighteen beds in an improved and remodeled Papago Court, and money from the Joint Hospital Drive would help with further construction. The general fund campaign was the largest undertaken in Tucson up to this time. Throughout March and April of 1958, 1600 women went from house to house, and 400 men contacted downtown and neighborhood business firms, The goal of 1.5 million dollars was set, and the two hospitals also agreed to work together to obtain matching funds from the Federal Government's Hill-Burton appropriations. Industry and business began to contribute, and doctors signed pledges to show their support. Large and small donations were to follow. Pledged contributions were donated in installments over a three- period.

As the campaign evolved, the advisability of establishing the east side branch of St. Mary's as a separate and distinct hospital became clear. Sister Elizabeth Joseph was appointed to direct the construction and planning of the new St. Joseph's Hospital which was dedicated May 1, 1961, bringing much needed hospital facilities to the east side of town. Her duties at St. Mary's were assumed by Sister Esther McCann who was Administrator from 1959 to 1965.

In the meantime, St. Mary's and to carry on trying to meet the health care demands on the west side. St. Mary's Central had given the hospital one of the most modern service units in the Southwest but was of little help insofar as additional hospital beds were concerned. In the older buildings, St. Mary's had to continue giving good patient care through a process of continual renovation in order to keep up the standards of a modern hospital. In spite of no direct benefit from the Joint Hospital Fund, the west side hospital continued its progress.

Continue with Chapter II Modern Medical Complex Cardiac Care


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