History Of Susquehanna Health
In July 1994, an alliance was formed among three area hospitals, signaling the beginning of a new era in healthcare for the region. This alliance, Susquehanna Health (SH), brought together Williamsport Regional Medical Center, Divine Providence Hospital and Muncy Valley Hospital, along with all their subsidiaries, into one fully integrated healthcare system that provides high-quality, compassionate, accessible and cost-effective healthcare to thousands of residents in the region and has received national recognition for its healthcare leadership.
Located in central Pennsylvania, Susquehanna Health is made up of these three hospitals, plus Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, with a total of 332 licensed acute and 259 long-term care beds, along with two skilled nursing units, home care division, physician services and ambulance service. The system's emergency departments have a total of some 79,000 visits each year and its maternity units welcome 1,500 babies annually. And while Susquehanna Health is relatively young, the hospitals that form the foundation of the healthcare system are very much a part of the area's rich history, and have a long-standing tradition of providing care to generations of area families.
A Growing Area Has Need Of a Place to Care For Its Sick and Injured
In the early 1800s, Williamsport was a tiny borough along the Susquehanna River surrounded by vast tracts of rich pine, hemlock and hardwoods that were quickly becoming in great demand to help feed the young nation's need for lumber. As sawmills began to spring up along the river, more and more workers came to the area looking to make a living in the new lumber industry. By the 1870s, Williamsport had become the lumber capital of the world. The population had grown dramatically and with this growth came an increased incidence of sickness and injury. The sick were cared for in their homes by family members, and workers who were injured on the job were often treated in the boardinghouse rooms where they lived. Following several industrial accidents that occurred in the early 1870s, members of the Lycoming County Medical Society decided there was a need for a hospital where patients could be fed and cared for in a clean environment.
The Williamsport Hospital Incorporated
In 1873, upon petition by members of the Lycoming County Medical Society and 23 leading citizens of the community, the Lycoming County Court granted a Charter establishing The Williamsport Hospital. Despite the initial enthusiasm among community leaders for the facility, interest quickly cooled when these people were asked for money to purchase a building and beds. Eventually, James H. Perkins, a lumberman and former mayor, contributed half of the initial expense, and a three-story brick building on Elmira Street, between Fourth and Edwin Streets, was purchased. The first hospital in Williamsport opened its doors around April 1, 1878.
This hospital was in reality not much more than a clean boardinghouse intended for charity patients who had no suitable residence in Williamsport. A husband and wife fed and bathed patients in return for free living quarters. Physicians preferred to treat people in their homes, recognizing there was a greater likelihood of being paid by those patients. During the first year of operation, the 20 or so physicians in the community admitted only nine patients to the hospital, and only four in the second year.
Medical professionals recognized that in order to be successful, the hospital needed to be guided by someone with medical training. Dr. Jean Saylor, who had been active with the Hospital, convinced Dr. Rita B. Church, a former college classmate, to come to Williamsport and run the fledgling hospital. With Dr. Church on the premises, hospital use increased dramatically, and this in turn created a shortage of nurses. The two doctors organized a training course for the teaching of student nurses, establishing one of the first nursing schools in the state. The first student, Alta J. King, graduated in 1884, and for over 100 years The Williamsport Hospital School of Nursing continued to provide the region with highly skilled nurses.
That same year, the hospital began looking for a larger building. A house on Pine Street near Fifth Avenue was purchased. Although this facility was larger, it had its drawbacks. A nearby railroad created a lot of noise that was distracting to ill patients, and when the flood of 1889 filled the building with three feet of muddy water, the board of managers was finally convinced that it was time to find a more appropriate location. Eventually, a large tract of land, called Old Oaks Park, in the vicinity of Louisa and Campbell Streets and Rural Avenue, was being opened for development and the board of managers purchased an entire city block and built a new facility that was opened in 1891. Over 100 years later, the main building of the Hospital is still located on this site and is today The Williamsport Hospital campus of Susquehanna Health.
Muncy Valley Hospital Founded
As the city of Williamsport was growing, so too were the surrounding areas. From this growth came the need for a medical facility to serve the growing population in the eastern end of Lycoming County. Bad roads and long distances made traveling to The Williamsport Hospital & Medical Center almost impossible. Recognizing the need for the community to have its own hospital facility, 12 physicians from the Muncy, Hughesville and Montgomery areas worked together to establish a hospital in Muncy.
This small 18-bed facility opened in 1922 in a Victorian residence, in what was originally the Noble family mansion on East Water Street, with Dr. T. Kenneth Wood, a prime mover for the founding of the hospital, as its president. The facility cost $10,000, and with its opening, local residents felt they had created the ultimate in medical care.
Over the next two decades, the hospital was entirely directed by a board composed of physicians. To help bring a new dimension of healthcare thinking to the facility, in 1940 lay members of the community were admitted to the hospital board. In fact, it is believed that the leadership of two of these men, Earl D. Buck and W. Charles Walters, guided the campaign organization, administrative leadership and manpower and construction plans that were needed to meet the increasing demands being placed on the young hospital. In 1945, the hospital board agreed to undertake a new building program. Spurred by a $550,000 pledge and a second campaign, the hospital began the construction of what is today the Muncy Valley Hospital.
In February of 1991, Muncy Valley Hospital was purchased by Divine Providence Hospital and from that time has shared a Catholic faith-based mission with Divine Providence.
Religious Order Establishes A Catholic Hospital
Around that time, a suburban exodus was beginning in the city of Williamsport. As the population began moving to the outlying areas, particularly the eastern end of the city, the seeds of a new hospital were being sown by a religious order. Sister Mary Theresilla Hills, a native of Williamsport and a Sister in the order of the Sisters of Christian Charity who was in the city on a teaching assignment, reported to her motherhouse the need to "provide a place where the sick and injured could be treated in accordance with the mercy and compassion of Christ, coupled with the best principles of medical practice."
Two campaigns were conducted to build this Catholic Hospital, one in 1945 - 46 and the other in 1948 - 49. A tremendous support on the part of community and business members oversubscribed both goals and on June 27, 1948, ground was broken at 1100 Grampian Boulevard on the border of the city of Williamsport and Loyalsock Township. The new 185-bed facility was dedicated on May 20, 1951. It opened its doors on June 1, 1951 under the direction of Sister Emilene Wehner, SCC, and is today the Divine Providence Hospital campus of Susquehanna Health.
The Years Of Growth
Over the ensuing years, the three hospitals continued to thrive, adding new services and advanced technology to insure area residents had the best possible medical care.
At The Williamsport Hospital, the rehabilitation and physical medicine center was established in 1961. The tremendous success of the center led to the current five-story Rehabilitation Center which opened in 1970. During the 1960s, the hospital created a mental health unit and initiated the first intensive care unit in central Pennsylvania. In medicine, advances were being made in treatment of heart patients, and in the early 1970s the hospital established a Cardiopulmonary Department that is the foundation for the system's cardiac surgery program today. As more and more physicians began to specialize in various areas of medicine, this created a shortage of family practitioners. To train a new generation of skilled family practice physicians, The Williamsport Hospital, in 1972, established the Family Practice Residency Program and became the first hospital in the northern half of the state to organize such a program. The Family Practice Residency Program continues to provide skilled family practitioners, many of whomlocate in the region and provide medical support to rural communities.
At Muncy Valley Hospital, the professional staff of the hospital increased to 14 physicians. In addition, there was a consulting staff of various specialties including surgery, internal medicine, genito-urinary, eye, plastic surgery, X-ray, obstetrics, pediatrics, orthopedics, ear, nose, throat, and dental services. In 1953, realizing the need for a nursing unit to care for geriatric patients, the Noble mansion that housed the original hospital was renovated and opened as a Geriatric Unit. An east wing was added to the hospital in 1957 and in 1968, the second floor of the east wing was completed. A new geriatric ward was established with money from a $45,000 grant from the county commissioners, the beginning of what is the present comprehensive and modern Skilled Nursing Unit. Through Susquehanna Health, this facility has been renovated and expanded to 139 beds and today continues to provide area residents skilled nursing care in their own community.
At Divine Providence Hospital, construction began in 1958 on the first expansion of facilities; this project included a medical library, chapel, convent, auditorium and administrative offices. The laboratory, radiology and dietary departments expanded and bed capacity increased. A psychiatric inpatient unit opened in the early 1960s, the first step toward the future comprehensive mental health program that Divine Providence Hospital would establish. The 1960s also saw the opening of an intensive care unit, and the renovation of the obstetric unit. To keep up with expanding community needs, the Hospital also began construction of a Health Services building to house physician offices, an outpatient pharmacy and community health services. Several regional services also began in the 1970s, including the Francis V. Costello Dialysis Center and the Cancer Treatment Center, and a Digestive Disease Center in 1976. In 1981, Divine Providence Hospital, along with several other hospitals, formed a nonprofit corporation to provide mobile Computerized Tomography scanning services to 10 hospitals in north central Pennsylvania. This was the first such service in this area and the largest nonprofit scanning corporation in the nation.
A Spirit of Co-operation
Over the next decades, the hospitals enjoyed a spirit of cooperation, often lending each other equipment and sharing technology. A note in The Williamsport Hospital's employee newsletter dated March 1951 congratulated the Muncy Valley Hospital on the opening of its new addition, and expressed the hope that "the Hospitals of Lycoming County will enjoy full cooperation with one another in their joint effort to provide good hospital care...a unity of purpose among hospitals is essential to the voluntary hospital system."
The 1990s brought a period of major change to healthcare. Many smaller hospitals looked to associate with larger hospitals to strengthen their chances of survival. In 1991, Muncy Valley Hospital entered into a partnership with Divine Providence Hospital. Then, over the next few years administrators from the three hospitals began a series of discussions that would eventually lead to the creation of Susquehanna Health. The architects of this alliance, Sister Jean Mohl, president of Providence Foundation (Divine Providence Hospital), and Donald R. Creamer, president of The Williamsport Hospital, were committed to creating a seamless, highly integrated health system that would eliminate costly duplication of services and enhance the quality of care through the consolidation of these services. The System became a reality in July 1994, and over the past years has not only received national recognition for its creation, but has served as a prototype for other healthcare alliances. Susquehanna Health is directed by an 18-member board comprised of an equal number of representatives selected by the corporate parents of each participating hospital system, and volunteer board members who live and work in the region they serve.
For the community, the most visible aspect of SH is the consolidation of services. SHS began by consolidating specialized services, creating centers of excellence for rehabilitation, heart, obstetrics, cancer, behavioral health and skilled nursing, on the hospital campus which had already established itself as a center of excellence for that particular service. Over the next years, other departments including the laboratory, home care and pharmacy were consolidated so that by mid-1997, nearly every major department in the system was consolidated.
At the end of 1997, the two city emergency departments, located less than three miles apart, were consolidated to create a center of excellence for emergency services at The Williamsport Hospital. The consolidation of the two city emergency departments (at The Williamsport Hospital) allows the system to center the city's emergency services in one location and align them with other critical care services that are already on that campus. At the same time, a Community Health Center was established in the former emergency department at Divine Providence Hospital to meet the increasing need for improved access to medical care for thousands of area residents, particularly those who do not have a primary care doctor.
In 1998, Susquehanna Health, along with other healthcare systems and hospitals throughout the country, faced a new challenge: how to respond to the continuing decrease in demand for inpatient services and the increasing need for outpatient services. The decision was made to create a center for inpatient services at The Williamsport Hospital, the hospital with the highest number of licensed beds, and a center for outpatient services, including same day surgery, at Divine Providence Hospital, the hospital more centrally located with the easiest access and most convenient parking. This move enables SH to continue to serve our patients with high-quality care while, at the same time, helping to further reduce the cost of healthcare delivery. Muncy Valley Hospital, located over 15 miles away at the far eastern end of Lycoming County remains a full-service hospital with 24-hour emergency services.
Laurel Health System—including Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital, The Green Home, and other services—became part of Susquehanna Health in the fall of 2012. This partnership created an expanded healthcare delivery system that benefits the entire Tioga-Lycoming region. Together,we are able to focus all energies on improving the coordination of care to achieve better outcomes for patients throughout central Pennsylvania.
Over the coming years, we will continue adapting to the changing needs of healthcare, caring for the sick and injured, but also channeling increased efforts in the areas of wellness, disease prevention and early detection. Susquehanna Health healthcare workers, educators, staff and volunteers, working in cooperation with community agencies and social service organizations, are out in the cities and suburbs, the schools and churches, senior centers, libraries and even the mall, providing programs and services designed to promote wellness in our effort to make the community we serve the healthiest community in the United States.