draft ~ TOPIC-#10_p-20-21_The last gasps of 19th century hospitals as they were dragged into the 20th century

by faithgibson on February 12, 2023

in Draft

TOPIC-#10_p-20-21_The last gasps of 19th century hospitals as they were dragged into the 20th century

Prior to the modern development of medicine as a science, the services provided by hospitals had little or nothing to do with “curing” diseases. Hospitals were in essence medical hotels that provided labor-intensive “hospitality” services” to the ill and injured. This is where the word “hospital” comes from – a place of caring that provides shelter, a dry bed, clean sheets, and marginally-skilled workers who change the linens, served meals, help patients to the bathroom, give back-rubs and empty bedpans.

Then suddenly, in the space of 10 or 20 years, “modern medicine” came on the scene and turned everything upside down. What had been essentially “hospice” care for the hopelessly ill was (gratefully!) replaced by modern medical science, which has able to actually cure many diseases and successfully treat many injures that would otherwise have been fatal or left the patient crippled.

And yes, this came with a ‘down-side’ – actually a double down-side. First, the kind of hospital that was equipped and staffed to provide these new scientific cures and treatments was obviously a large and very capital-intensive enterprise and such places were exceeding rare in America at the beginning of the 20th century. The entire country only had a few dozen fully-equipped and staffed general hospitals able to provide “comprehensive” care – an emergency department and in-patient medical, surgical, obstetrics and pediatric services. The vast majority of these general hospitals were on the upper East Coast, Chicago, New Orleans, Denver and larger metropolitan areas on the West Coast.

In stark contrast, historians estimate that in the early 20th century the US had about 8,000 tiny, doctor-owned, two-to-ten bed facilities, most of which were housed in aging 19th century mansions or old hotels. Their most modern technologies usually consisted of electric lights, a telephone, a microscope and perhaps a used x-ray machine. But the era of hospitals as places that proved “hospitality” services was on its very last legs and soon fade away altogether.


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