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Opening a New Hospital

John Conway - Sullivan County Historian
Posted 5/1/20

It was May 1, 1926, and community leaders in Liberty were finalizing plans for the dedication of the village's newest addition, Maimonides Hospital on Lake Street.

Construction of the modern …

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Opening a New Hospital

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It was May 1, 1926, and community leaders in Liberty were finalizing plans for the dedication of the village's newest addition, Maimonides Hospital on Lake Street.

Construction of the modern structure had been completed the previous December, but equipment was still being installed as the program was being drawn up for the big event, scheduled for Decoration Day weekend. All equipment was procured through private donations collected specifically for that purpose.

“As the season approaches, the preparations for the opening of the Maimonides Hospital are going on with greater speed than ever,” the Liberty Register newspaper reported in its April 29, 1926 edition. “A great deal of hospital equipment has come, such as beds, linen, furniture, X-ray machine, and they are being installed in their places.”

The opening of the hospital, on the heels of the opening of the Monticello Hospital less than a year earlier, ushered in a new era of medicine in Sullivan County, and the generous donors took full advantage of the opportunity to equip the facility with the most up-to-date fixtures.

“The hospital will have all the appointments of a modern hospital,” the Register article noted. “Its surgical room is the best lighted room probably in the entire state. It has the latest light arrangements that throw none of the shadows that are so much in a surgeon's way when operating. The X-ray equipment is the most modern, being moveable from bed to bed, so that the patient need not be moved when he is to be radiographed. The sanitary equipment and appliances to keep things clean are of the latest style.”

While all of the equipment for the new facility had been ordered, and much of it delivered and installed, members of the hospital association were still actively soliciting donations in order to pay for it. A major fundraising event, “a seven-act vaudeville,” was scheduled for the Liberty Theatre on May 20. The grand opening celebration was purposely planned for Decoration Day weekend, traditionally the opening of the tourist season, so that “many of [the hospital's] friends, principally from New York City, can be present and have a chance to prove their friendship.”

When the big event was finally held, on Sunday, May 30, more than 500 guests attended the festivities and contributed significantly to the hospital's coffers. Firemen attended in uniform, as did a number of former military men. The crowd was kept in order by police chief Harry Svenson and Sergeant John Hopkins.

“Favored by excellent weather, the people crowded the grounds and buildings as Harry M. Beck, chairman, opened the meeting,” the Register reported on June 3, 1926. “The Reverend John N. Boylan, rector of St. Peter's Church, Justice Joseph Rosch, Doctor Charles Rayevsky, and Judge Gustave Hartman of New York delivered addresses. At the conclusion of his address, Judge Hartman called for donations to the fund, and the amount of $5,865.60 was raised.”

The Register article noted that the hospital would admit its first patients the following week.

“The Board is now awaiting the arrival of the day and night supervisors who will have charge of the nursing under the direction of Dr. Ida Sloan, superintendent.”

Once up and running, Maimonides Hospital served Liberty and the surrounding area with occasional upgrades until a major addition was built in 1953. The $800,000 project was a new three-story concrete and steel building, adjacent to the existing structure, but facing Carrier Street.

“With the opening of the new Liberty Maimonides Hospital and Grossinger Clinic, scheduled for May of this year, another chapter has been written in the medical history of the county,” the Register reported in its February 12, 1953 edition.

The newspaper noted that the Grossinger Clinic was so named by the hospital's Board of Directors in recognition of “the Grossinger family's support, both financial and otherwise, over the 26 years of the hospital's existence.” A fundraising campaign by Grossinger employees netted $8,000 toward equipping the clinic.

The 1953 addition was eventually outgrown as well, and on May 5, 1965, the hospital's Board took what was called “an unprecedented step in the progress of healthcare for Sullivan County” by authorizing negotiations with Monticello Hospital to merge the two operations. A similar resolution had been passed by the Monticello Hospital Board one month earlier.

The resolution also called for the eventual construction of a new, centrally located facility to serve the patients of the merged entities, to be located on a site that had already been chosen in Harris, roughly halfway between the two villages.

The idea of a merger had actually grown out of a chance meeting in early 1964 between Walter Rhulen, a trustee of Monticello Hospital, and Alfred Beck, a Maimonides trustee. Both hospitals were then seeking to expand, with the Liberty facility planning a major addition and the Monticello Hospital considering building a new, larger facility in Kiamesha Lake to replace their existing operation on High Street in the village. The two men agreed that it made sense to explore a merger, and presented the idea to their respective Boards.

That set the stage for the official resolutions, and thus was Community General Hospital of Sullivan County born. In 1977, the merger was finally complete with the consolidation of the Monticello and Liberty operations into a single building—the current hospital in Harris.

In October of 2001, Community General Hospital became Catskill Regional Medical Center. Hospital president and C.E.O. Arthur Brien called the name change “historic.”

“The name change is not cosmetic,” Brien said. “It is evolutionary and portends great strides for the community and for the region.”

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com and ask how to purchase his new book, “In Further Retrospect.”

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