Special Reports

Running out of rooms - Lourdes in 1949

Another installment in the history of Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Pasco, this time a look at healthcare in the Tri-Cities in 1949 when doctors still made house calls. The headline might sound a little strange, most of us don't remember a time when a hospital wasn't open 24/7

Hospitals must be ready for service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

By the Herald staff

Published on May 2, 1949

Tom awoke that morning with a sick headache, unusual for him. He must have eaten something last night which disagreed with him, and he began turning over in his mind the things he'd eaten. He never finished, for nausea drove him to the bathroom. He crawled back into the bed, feeling sick as a dog, while his wife regarded him with anxious eyes.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

Tom tried to grin. "Should be now," he said as staunchly as possible. "Got it all out of my system."

But he was wrong, of course. His wife, after finding he was running more than two degrees of temperature over normal, called the doctor, who arrived on the double.

"Appendix," he diagnosed tersely. "Get him to the hospital. I'll tell them he's coming."

Usually they schedule operations for morning, but this one couldn't wait. At the hospital, almost first thing, they took a blood sample. The count of white corpuscles tells a lot about infection. Three hours later, they took a second count, and the decision was made. Tom was in the operating room at 3 o'clock, out before 4. Had he waited until morning, the doctor said, his appendix undoubtedly would have burst, making his operation more difficult and the threat to his life infinitely more serious.

This sort of story is repeated many times each day. But the question is -- what if no hospital were available?

Lots of people haven't very clear ideas about hospitals or the way they are run. They know people go to hospitals when sick, that hospitals have nurses and laboratories and operating rooms are very clean.

Most people think hospitals are very expensive (that's right -- they are) and rather cold-blooded (a great deal of care is charity or part-pay). People who know that hospital staffs are large wonder why it should take 2 1/2 to 3 people to care for one patient.

At Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital right now there are 68 beds. The lay staff totals 110, including nurses, cooks, janitors and all, and their pay comes to $150,000 a year. This charge has increased 300 per cent in the last five years.

That's a pretty low ratio of paid personnel to the number of beds. One explanation is that the ten Sisters of St. Joseph assigned to this hospital are on 24-hour call, and regularly work 12 hours a day. A reasonable estimate places the value of their work at $44,000 a year. They receive no salaries -- only their keep.

The explanation is that the hospital works three shifts around the clock seven days a week, and must always be prepared for new emergencies. Just like a public street, it must be planned to met peak demand.

When the new hospital is built and there are 101 beds instead of 68, the lay payroll will undoubtedly pass the quarter-million dollar mark, and before many years may reach a third of a million dollars a year. The Tri-City area hasn't many other "industries" that large.

Lets get back to Tom and his appendix. What would have happened if Our Lady of Lourdes hadn't had a bed for him?

The probable answer would have been a trip to Yakima, Walla Walla, or Spokane -- and with an inflamed, swollen appendix, that's rough. Had it burst as a result, there would have been the danger of peritonitis.

Of course, that sort of thing almost never happens. At Lourdes, they've become expert at crowding 'em in, even when it meant extra beds in the corridors and on porches. Tom would have been taken in and his appendix caught and all would have been well.

But this sort of crowding can't go on indefinitely. The American Hospital Association says a person uses hospital service on the average once every eight years. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends six hospital beds for every thousand population, says five is the minimum.

Count every bed in the government hospitals not open to the general public, every bed in Lourdes and those planned in the new building, and every bed planned for the community hospitals at Kennewick and Connell and Prosser. Count them all and stack them against the area population. It still will come to fewer than five beds per thousand.

Here are some thumbnail statistics at Our Lady of Lourdes:

1940 -- treated 1,514 in-patients, 110 out-patients, greeted 207 new babies.1948 -- treated 3,703 in-patients, welcomed 724 new babies.

This increase has been accommodated with virtually no increase in physical facilities.

The new building will include two completely modern major surgeries, one minor surgery, the latest in maternity care, a fracture room, special facilities for cystocopy and treatment of eye, ear, nose and throat ailments.

The arrangement will be similar to the present building, which is standard hospital arrangement. There will be a floor for surgical patients, a maternity floor, and enlarged pediatrics department, larger and better laboratories, larger and more complete X-ray facilities.

The old building is still perfectly sound and fire-resistant; good concrete and steel construction. Its principal fault has been overcrowding. When the new building is ready, there will be considerable rearranging to be done in the old section. This is all part of the plan for the new medical center.

Thanks to Sisters of St. Joseph and a Federal Grant-In-Aid under Public Law 725, the people of the Mid-Columbia area will get the new hospital at a bargain price. The federal grant will match public contributions up to a third of the cost. The Sisters will provide enough to make up the final third.

Since labor costs on the new building will amount to at least 30 percent, it may be stated that every dollar contributed by the public will stay right here, paid to workers and spent again in the area the hospital serves.