Monadnock Community Hospital’s formative years: 1923 to 1949

By MELISSA FRENCH

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 05-17-2023 2:44 PM

Second of a series of articles leading up to Monadnock Community Hospital’s 100th anniversary celebration June 3.

On June 21, 1923, the front page of the Peterborough Transcript proudly proclaimed: "The Peterborough Hospital, which opens its doors to the public today, Thursday, June 21st, is something which has been in the minds and thoughts of some of our citizens for a long time and at last the realizations of these plans and dreams have come to pass… ."

The highly anticipated opening day of The Peterborough Hospital was a monumental occasion. Over 750 people attended the festivities on opening day to see the new facility that would become a center for medical excellence in the Monadnock region.

A visiting physician toured the newly built hospital and told the Peterborough Transcript: “A finer location, better arranged, more completely equipped, up to the minute, modern hospital than this one cannot be found anywhere.”

At this time, there were 47 consulting physicians that came to the hospital from all over New England, as far away as Boston. They would take the train into town. The most-common vehicle at the time was the Model T.

In the first month in 1923, there were four births, an average of nine patients per day, 36 operations, 40 patients admitted and 274 patient days.

Within the first 11 months of operation, it was clear that the Peterborough Hospital was a needed service for the community, with patient numbers increasing daily. The first baby born was a healthy boy from Nashua, at 3 a.m. on July 1, 1923, by Caesarean section. In the first 15 years of operation (ending in 1938) there were 7,525 persons admitted, and 80,559 patient days total.

In 1927, nine towns accepted a share in the future maintenance of the hospital. The breakdown of the amount pledged by each town follows: Peterborough $68,225.35 ($1,147,502.68, adjusted in 2022 dollars), Jaffrey $12,751 ($214,462.90 adjusted), Dublin $12,750 ($214,446.08 adjusted), Hancock $3,501 ($58,884.30 adjusted), Antrim $3,295.50 ($55,428.01 adjusted), Bennington $2,056 ($34,580.48 adjusted), Temple $1,224.25 ($20,591.03 adjusted), Greenfield $655 ($11,016.64 adjusted) and Harrisville $53.25 ($895.63 adjusted).

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The community support from these surrounding towns set the framework for what would be incredible philanthropic support for decades to come.

In all of 1923, there were 2,903 patient days, 274 admissions and 43 births. By 1949, there were 1,675 patient days, 1,844 admissions and 286 births.

In the 1940s, it was common practice for hearses to be used as ambulances. Funeral homes handled ambulance calls as well as funeral transportation. The vehicles were bought as combination hearses/ambulances. Arthur Wheeler of Jellison Funeral Home never lost a patient in transit despite only having Red Cross first aid training.

The year 1946 was a time of transformation and growth, as the Peterborough Hospital changed its name to Monadnock Community Hospital. There was a continuing need for increased services, with the hospital running full census (full capacity) in 1934.

The tight finances during World War II made expansion a challenge. By 1946, the hospital was often beyond capacity. The community donated food from their victory gardens, and raised money with donations, benefits, bequests, investments, state funds and more. In 1949, the North Wing addition began, which was going to increase the hospital’s bed capacity from 19 beds to 55. When the North Wing was completed in 1950, Monadnock Community Hospital was considered one of the finest in New England.

In 1937, the hospital ran a net operating loss of $12,000 ($243,879 adjusted). In 1949, the profit was $691.41 ($8,501 adjusted), and in 2022, the net gain was slightly less than $2.9 million.

Monadnock Community Hospital is a 25-bed critical access hospital offering primary care, medical and surgical care, obstetrics, pediatrics and behavioral health services. In addition, outpatient services are available, including a primary care network, orthopaedics, cardiology, cardiac and physical rehabilitation services, 24-hour emergency care, oncology, occupational health, a fully equipped laboratory and a radiology department. 

Melissa French is the marketing specialist for Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough.

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