Lee Health

Cleve­land Av­enue fa­cil­ity turns 75

Gulf & Main - - Contents - Free­lance writer Glenn Miller is pres­i­dent of the South­west Flor­ida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

The 75th an­niver­sary of a sig­nif­i­cant South­west Flor­ida health-care mile­stone slipped by this past spring vir­tu­ally un­de­tected. It was on April 18, 1943, that Lee Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal moved from its orig­i­nal wooden, two-story home at Vic­to­ria and Grand av­enues into some­thing grander: a $200,000 brick build­ing on Cleve­land Av­enue. That site is still home to Lee Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal, which has grown from one fa­cil­ity to a re­gional health care sys­tem known to­day as Lee Health.

Very few peo­ple are still around who can re­mem­ber that spring day in 1943 and at­test to its im­por­tance.

Lee Health to­day en­com­passes mul­ti­ple fa­cil­i­ties at sev­eral lo­ca­tions, but in its early days Lee Me­mo­rial was just one hospi­tal and one hospi­tal only. When the orig­i­nal hospi­tal opened in 1916 it had only 10 beds.

That was dur­ing World War I. By the time the hospi­tal moved to Cleve­land Av­enue 27 years later, World War II had en­gulfed the globe, and Lee County was home to two avi­a­tion train­ing bases: Buckingham Army Air Field and Page Field. Sleepy and re­mote Fort My­ers was grow­ing as thousands of ser­vice­men flocked to town to learn how to fly air­planes and op­er­ate guns on those planes.

Al­though no bridge yet ex­isted con­nect­ing Sani­bel Is­land to the main­land, and the com­mu­ni­ties of Cape Coral and Le­high Acres were both more than a decade away from their found­ing, change and growth were com­ing.

One of the sym­bols of that change and growth was the new hospi­tal, which the The News-Press de­scribed as a “hand­some struc­ture of buff brick on Cleve­land Av­enue near Kather­ine Street.”

As de­tailed in Lee Health’s own of­fi­cial his­tory pub­lished in 2016, The News-Press re­porter Rufe Daugh­trey was given a tour be­fore the grand open­ing. Here’s how Daugh­trey de­scribed the hospi­tal: “The new hospi­tal out on Cleve­land Av­enue is just about the nicest place imag­in­able to be sick in. It’s got just about ev­ery­thing from a mag­nif­i­cent sun­deck to a cozy par­lor where you can play cards in front of a log fire on a chilly evening.”

He went on to write: “Here is how the plant looked on a re­hearsal tour yes­ter­day. To be­gin with, the front is in back and the back is in front. In other words, that side fac­ing Cleve­land Av­enue is in the back. To get to the front you fol­low a wind­ing road around un­der the pines to the off­side of the build­ing.

“From your car you step onto a nar­row porch and into the big re­cep­tion room. That’s the room that has the old-

The op­er­at­ing ta­ble is some­thing like a glo­ri­fied bar­ber chair. With it, doc­tors can stand you on your head, dou­ble you into a ball or turn you side­ways.” —Rufe Daugh­trey, The News-Press, 1943

fash­ioned fire­place and would make a good place for get-to­geth­ers on chill evenings. Join­ing the re­cep­tion is the book­keeper’s of­fice and the of­fice of the su­per­in­ten­dent of nurses.”

Daugh­trey added, “And last but not least is the op­er­at­ing room. This is the pride and joy of the new hospi­tal. It re­ally is an eye­ful. Walls and floors to the ceil­ing are a rest­ful green. In the cen­ter is the lat­est in op­er­at­ing ta­bles where doc­tors can cut you open and with spe­cial lights so they can see what makes you tick.

“The op­er­at­ing ta­ble is some­thing like a glo­ri­fied bar­ber chair. With it, doc­tors can stand you on your head, dou­ble you into a ball or turn you side­ways. Af­ter see­ing this you may be glad you can walk out un­der your own power.”

What would Daugh­trey say if he came back now and could see how medicine and the hospi­tal have evolved?

In 1943, Lee Me­mo­rial didn’t have air con­di­tion­ing. There weren’t com­put­ers or arthro­scopic pro­ce­dures or MRIs or so much of what we as­so­ci­ate with medicine in the 21st cen­tury.

Al­though the new brick hospi­tal that opened in 1943 may seem prim­i­tive in 2018, it was a huge event in lo­cal his­tory. About 1,000 peo­ple flocked to the site for a grand-open­ing cer­e­mony. Lo­cals knew the open­ing had been a long time in com­ing. The Great De­pres­sion had slowed fund­ing for the hospi­tal to what his­to­rian Karl H. Gris­mer called a “drib­ble” in his 1949 book, The Story of Fort My­ers.

Fundrais­ing be­gan in 1925, but the “drib­ble” of funds slowed down con­struc­tion so much that res­i­dents re­ferred to it as a “brick-a-day hospi­tal.”

Even­tu­ally, of course, the money came and so did the bricks and a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in South­west Flor­ida med­i­cal care.

A pa­tient room in Lee Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal. Be­low, ground­break­ing in the late 1930s for the hospi­tal on Cleve­land Av­enue (above), which opened in 1943.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.