When Santa Rosa?s General Hospital shut its doors 25 years ago, who would have believed that fond memories of the already-too-old, too-small medical relic on A Street would bring 50 or more physicians, nurses and staff to commemorate the anniversary of its closing.
They had known long before the end came that it was outdated, outmoded and outclassed by Memorial and Community hospitals. Yet, there they were a week ago Saturday, gathered around the front entrance of the sprawling structure that was assembled on that site more than 90 years ago.
With the permission of the Family Support Center that now occupies the facility, they unearthed a time capsule buried on closing day and adjourned to a luncheon where they could laugh and cry together over the hospital that had filled such a unique niche in Santa Rosa?s health care.
You couldn?t call it a celebration, exactly. It was a reunion, certainly, and perhaps a referendum on what health care has become.
Listening to the stories from teary-eyed survivors of General?s staff, it was clear that what we regard as progress is almost always a trade-off.
It?s too bad we can?t see far enough ahead to choose the pluses and minuses; to say, ?OK, save this and that, but lose the rest.?
In our rush to change, we don?t know what we?ll miss the most.
At the gathering, we looked back through a quarter-century when medical technology advanced by quantum leaps. Even the most dedicated nostalgic cannot deny the increase in life spans.
The successes of modern medicine can be measured by the attention once paid to 100th birthdays. They warranted a front-page photo and an interview with advice for achieving long life ? generally hard work, good ancestry, a cigar and a daily shot of whiskey or all four. Today our elders have to make it to 105, at least, to be considered news.
But, giving science its due, the emphasis last Saturday was not so much about the gains as it was the losses. What the staffers have missed in these 25 years is the camaraderie, the fun and the way the patients were cared for at General.
As noted, General Hospital lasted 67 years, about 34 years longer than anyone expected when Memorial opened in 1950.
It had been created in the summer of 1917 in anticipation of the arrival of the Spanish flu epidemic to Santa Rosa ? which did, indeed, hit town in the fall of that year.
It was greeted with some fanfare as the first ?modern? facility for paying patients, even though it consisted of several older buildings moved to the site and cobbled together to make one.
The owners were Southern California investors who recognized the need in a town where the only private hospital (County Hospital took only indigents) was the Mary Jesse Hospital, later the Tanner Hospital, a converted residence at Fifth and King streets with some serious quirks. Example: oftentimes, when someone pushed the elevator button, the lights went out in the operating room. So, it?s easy to see why General was considered an upgrade.
In the 1930s, a rather remarkable woman named Gladys Kay was hired as the hospital administrator, a job she held for more than 30 years. She had absolutely no training in hospital management. She had been a champion ice skater in Canada before she moved to Santa Rosa with her salesman husband. Still, she took on the task with a determination to keep the hospital as ?modern? as she could make it.