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Health care history helpful to recall


When change is good, it’s hard to take.

When it’s unclear whether change is going to be good or bad, it’s harder to take.

When, in the midst of an inevitable change of that may be good or bad affecting one’s health care, it’s exceedingly hard to take.

And, when in the midst such a change involving one’s health care, people seem to be at one another’s throats, it’s democracy.

In the vortex of uncertainty the nation is now in, I rise to sound the bell of hope. It’s not hope with a capital H. I can’t honestly do that. I offer only a small h — the kind of h that says “hold on,” let’s not have a panic attack.

It’s not that I don’t get panicky at times. Rather, it’s the result of stories I’ve written over the years about the history of health care in Springfield, which I assume to be like health care everywhere.

The stories about how health care institutions were birthed in the city have taught me a few things: That virtually nothing comes in on time; that hardly anything comes in on budget; and that absolutely nothing comes in without a sizable chunk of controversy.

If you think about it, that’s only natural. Only when everyone has a stake in the same thing do we realize how many differing opinions about it exist in our community. When there is no focus of controversy, we can coast along under the illusion of a greater unity of ideas than actually exists.

That all this controversy is unfolding as Springfielders watch the long, slow death of the building that once housed Community Hospital is an opportunity to revisit the harder truths.

Despite its having been a constant in the city for decades — a place now fondly remembered for the people spent their lives caring for others — many people involved in the events leading up to its building didn’t care for one another at all.

Reasoning that the sick poor — those who most needed care — usually walked to the old City Hospital, doctors first protested, then filed suit against the city fathers who proposed building it on the far east side, a long walk for the sick poor.

In the end, the doctors’ suit was successful, but the doctors weren’t. Following the proper legal procedures in the second go around, the siting powers only slid the hospital two blocks south from the original site at Burnett Road and Main Street to the current demolition site, Burnett Road and High Street.

Even at the end of the meeting that acknowledged the location as an established fact, bitterness oozed.

The opening of the new downtown ice rink is a reminder of the more recent controversy. Its original site is now occupied by one half of the Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital, whose controversial birth came in the midst of a conflict of another generation of doctors and hospital administrators, that controversy playing out in the in the midst of a larger struggle over placing Springfield Regional Medical Center downtown.

Those who still find themselves too fixated on that controversy may want to set the Way-Back Machine to 1903, when W.S. Thomas, son of the founder of the city’s previous Mitchell-Thomas hospital, rose at the dedication City Hospital at Selma and East Streets to urge unity.

“Now, why not, as a body, unite in your support of one of the worthiest institutions we have … cooperate with its trustees … send your patients to it as far as practical … treat it as a friend, help sustain it.”

Given this longer view, I’m the opinion that communities expecting a new hospital should go through the the kind of training expectant parents take in readying for the birth of a child.

Instruction would include reminders to:

• Prepare for some pain;

• Expect it’s going to take longer than you want it to;

• Be aware that that the baby born will, like its parents, have some imperfections.

• Keep in mind that the most important thing for the child’s health is for its parents to do their best to work through their problems and keep the family together.


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