Celebrating 125 years: A History of Robert Packer Hospital
“The purpose for which the Corporation is formed,” reads the original charter, now in the files of the hospital, “is the care and nursing of such injured and sick persons, as may be designated by the by-laws, or regulations of the corporation, without distinction of creed, race, or nationality, the providing for their welfare, and the erecting building or otherwise procuring a suitable building or buildings for the persons aforesaid, by voluntary contributions, or in any other way the trustees may legally devise.”
Sayre was designated as the seat of the institution in the original charter, which also provided that the Corporation “is to exist perpetually.”
From The Towanda Daily Review March 20, 1885:
The “Robert Packer Hospital” will soon be a real living institution.
“Miss Packer has liberally given the beautiful home of her late brother to the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, to be used for a hospital. She will also bear the expense of the requisite alterations.
Work will be immediately begun and it is hoped finished by the first of May.”
Dedication of the Robert Packer Hospital
The following is part of a story that ran in The Waverly Free Press on July 18, 1885:
“On Monday afternoon (July 13, 1885) the magnificent residence once occupied by Robert Asa Packer of Sayre, was formally dedicated to charity in the presence of a large concourse of people assembled from Elmira, Towanda, Owego, Athens, Waverly, Sayre and other villages and cities.
The donation was made by Miss Mary Packer, sister of the late R. A. Packer, and is one of the most magnificent gifts ever bestowed in this vicinity, and is characteristic of the family, of which Miss Packer is the sole surviving member.
No residence within a hundred miles can vie with it in all its appointments and surroundings, and those who best knew Packer, believe it has been disposed of as would best suit his wishes.
The palatial dining room is used as a ward for male patients, and is without doubt, the finest to be found in a hospital in the world, the decorations alone costing, it is said, $50,000. The ward for female patients is on the second floor, and is of wondrous beauty, and which is only in keeping with the entire building.
The president is William Stevenson; the warden, the Rev. W. B. Morrow; while the trustees are among the best known citizens of New York State and Pennsylvania. R. M. Hovey, of Sayre is secretary and J. W. Bishop of the same place, treasurer.
The medical staff is skilled and well known, the senior attending physician being Dr. W. E. Johnson, of Waverly, with Drs. Anderson and Kline, of Sayre as assistants. The chief consulting physician is Dr. W. L. Estes, of St. Luke’s Hospital, Bethlehem, with a corps of assistants numbering the most skillful masters of the healing art that surrounding towns can furnish.
Dr. Franklin M. Stephens is the house surgeon. He is a physician wholly appreciating his responsibility and one who will do all in his power to alleviate the pain of those who are placed in his care.
The hospital is to be supported by private and public subscriptions, and to that end, auxiliary branches have been organized in every village in this vicinity, all of which are doing noble work.
It costs $300 to endow a bed for one year and already several have been taken. W. B. Morrow, the warden, has the success of the enterprise fully at heart, and is working with a will in its behalf.”
On March 16, 1885, the Hospital’s Charter was granted. The doors opened on July 7, 1885, but the staff had to wait 20 days until the first dispensary patient, Alonzo House, arrived on July 27.
Nearly all of the patients for the first 15 years were railroad workers.
Growth was slow. The first year, only 34 patients were admitted and 45 were treated in the dispensary. By 1895, the number admitted was 205 with 4,336 patient days, and 1,579 were seen in the dispensary.
It is interesting to note almost 1,000 of the employees of the various railroads contributed at least one day’s wages or salary per year to support the work of the hospital. This was not compulsory, however, since in the Annual Report for 1895, Dr. Stephens remarks that only some of the employees contributed. “Not one dollar has ever been charged the men, their wives, or their children for treatment,” he added.
By 1893, the need for beds was crucial and Dr. Stephens reported that this was in spite of the “regulation which rejected persons suffering from chronic or incurable disease.” He noted that even “proper cases for admission were necessarily turned away.”
The State legislature had made an appropriation of $10,000 in 1893, and Dr. Stephens recommended the construction of a new operating room.
In 1895, Dr. Stephens wrote, “Our new building is needed. There is not at this time, a single vacant bed in the hospital and the patients are waiting their turn for admission. We would be greatly embarrassed for rooms should there be a serious accident.”
The hospital depended on contributions of all kinds of items from the very beginning: food, clothing, linen, and utensils. All were forthcoming from interested townspeople. A turkey in 1885, jars of jelly, barrels of apples, cider and the like, even night clothes for patients appear on the lists of contributions in the Annual Report.
Because of the growing need for patient care at Robert Packer Hospital by 1896, it was obvious that more space was needed. Townspeople and others in the area were beginning to ask for admission in addition to the railroad workers and their families.
So, in 1896, an addition was finished which housed men’s and women’s wards. The move to the new building took place on Feb. 22, 1898. The wards were long open rooms with a row of beds along each side. Screens provided privacy when it was needed.
Dr. Charles Ott had succeeded Dr. Stephens as superintendent, physician, and surgeon in 1896. The staff at the time included John Bishop as treasurer and Mrs. Ott as matron; she had replaced Mrs. D. C. Tobias who had been matron for the first 10 years.
There were two nurses, Miss Belle Campbell and Miss Carrie Hitlel.
The Executive Director’s report indicated that the hospital had a deficit of $2,309.92 because of the depressed condition of business in general. Also, 10 years of use required that there be repairs to the old buildings as well as the addition of a new one.
The Board of Trustees of the Robert Packer Hospital decided in August 1901, “that the interest of the hospital, as well as the surrounding community would be materially advanced in many respects by the establishment of a school of nursing in connection with this institution.”
By 1904, a laboratory for microscopical, bacteriological, and pathological research had been set up. This was certainly a diagnostic addition which saved time and money. As Dr. Ott said, “I have had to have this work done at a distance entailing the loss of much valuable time.”
In this same report, Dr. Ott noted that all of the buildings had been repainted on the outside, and the old plumbing had been replaced by the most modern available.
Another horse and wagon had been added to the transport facility in addition to the horse drawn ambulance.
The number of house patients in 1905 was 592 with patient days being 10,158. The dispensary treated 1,040 patients. By this time, there were four assistant physicians: Harry I. Andrews, Thomas Evans, Jr., Thomas B. Johnson, and J. Fred Wagner.
On Nov. 1, 1909, Dr. Charles Ott, who has been surgeon-in-chief since 1896, died. He had seen the hospital grow into an institution recognized as one of the best in the state. His death created a vacancy which would be very hard to fill. Fortunately, Dr. Donald M. Guthrie was elected by the Board as Surgeon-in-Chief on Jan. 10, 1910.
Dr. Guthrie had been one of the first “Fellows in Surgery” at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and had been an assistant to the distinguished Mayo brothers.
The 1910 report says, “Dr. Guthrie by inheritance, education and experience is admirably equipped for the head of this hospital and in the few weeks he has been here with us, has fully demonstrated his capability, his judgment, and his tact, and his great success. He already convinced us we made no mistake in his Selection, and he is undoubtedly just the man we wanted.” It continues, “We believe under his administration, the great reputation this hospital has achieved will be continued and grow even into greater usefulness and reputation.”
In October, 1912, Mary Packer Cummings died, and a children’s ward was provided for in her will. It had 16 beds, 6 private rooms, a solarium, a diet kitchen, a nurse’s office, and two bathrooms. This was known as the Mary Packer Cummings Children’s Ward. With her death, the era of the Packers came to an end.
From 1910 to 1915, in addition to the children’s ward, an operating room suite was added as a memorial to Dr. Ott. It contained two operating rooms with a sterilizing room between them, a pathology laboratory, and a bath dressing room for the surgeons. The Inspection Committee, during these years, recommended a new kitchen with facilities over it for the service staff. The kitchen being used was the original one in the Packer Mansion, and from it, 200 people were being fed daily.
By 1913, Dr. Guthrie has been relieved of the work of the superintendent and Howard E. Bishop was made manager of the hospital.
By 1914, the new buildings recommended by the Inspection Committee in 1906 were completed and opened. The kitchen building was started in April 1914 and in use by January 1915.
In 1915, Bishop became disturbed because the cost per patient day had risen from $1.90 to $2.01. He attributed this increase to the improved methods of caring for patients.
During 1916, more of the recommendations of Dr. Guthrie and the Inspection Committee had been realized. A new building finally included four isolation rooms as well as an autopsy room. These opened in 1917.
By this time, patients were treated here whose homes were as far away as Maine, Tennessee, Chicago, New Jersey and New York. The reputation of Robert Packer Hospital had become widespread.
After the First World War, the number of staff increased both in physicians and nurses. Dr. Stanley Conklin reported that when he came, there were specialties in ear, nose and throat; medicine; urology; pathology; X-ray; and obstetrics-pediatrics. Dr. Guthrie first mentions the need for a clinic building in his report to the trustees in 1920.
In 1926, the bed capacity was 235: 70 private rooms, 25 semi-private rooms, and 140 ward beds. Eleven men in nine specialties comprised the medical surgical staff; in addition, there were eight interns in medicine and eight in surgery.
The work and reputation of Dr. Guthrie and his staff in the hospital were also becoming widespread. The officials of the hospital were so impressed with this work that the new clinic building was named Guthrie Clinic.
The nursing residence on Wilbur Avenue was dedicated on May 25, 1927. Now, the nursing staff and students, who had previously lived in nine different buildings, were under one roof.
In the 1930s, the Lehigh Valley Railroad Dispensary was closely affiliated with the hospital. After all, the hospital existed because of the need for medical services close to the railroad. This dispensary provided an excellent opportunity for the medical and surgical interns to gain experience.
At 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3, 1933, a fire started in the basement of Robert Packer Hospital and rapidly engulfed a major part of the hospital. Miraculously, no lives were lost because of the heroic efforts of nurses, doctors, fire departments, and local volunteers who flocked to the scene to help with the evacuation of 225 patients. Damage to the hospital from the fire amounted to $500,000.
The fire was discovered in a basement storage room by Miss Nina Smith, Director of Nurses, and Dr. Parker Horton, an intern, who went to the basement to find out why the hospital’s buzzer system was disrupted. Dr. Horton used an emergency hose to start fighting the fire, while Miss Smith notified switchboard operator Ethel Rathbun, who put in a general alarm. She remained at her post to direct the emergency, even though it was necessary for her to wrap a damp towel around her head to avoid suffocation. She finally was forced outside for air.
Nurses, interns and employees quickly began the rescue work. Within 15 minutes, the fire had spread through the older wooden structures of the hospital, eventually destroying the men’s surgical ward, Annex Number 2 over the private floor and the old dispensary. The women’s ward and the men’s and women’s sun parlors were slightly damaged. Fortunately, fire doors kept the fire from spreading into the operating rooms and other parts of the hospital.
During the evacuation, two physicians remained in the delivery room: Dr. John Higgins and Dr. David Taylor. They worked by flashlight to deliver a baby girl to Mr. and Mrs. Ray Lewis of Chemung Street in Sayre. As soon as the baby was born, a fireman carried her next door to the Coleman Memorial Parish House and carried Mrs. Lewis in a bed to her home on Chemung Street three blocks away. Because there was a shortage of blankets, Dr. Higgins threw his coat over her. The hospital bed would not go through the doorway of her home, so a fireman rolled Mrs. Lewis up in the mattress and took her into the house. Nurses and physicians stayed with her all night, and the next morning she was reunited with her daughter.
Dr. Guthrie, traveling from New York City, learned of the fire when the train stopped in Allentown. When he arrived in Sayre the next morning, he had only gratitude for the work done by the firemen, the volunteers who helped save the valuable equipment, and his staff.
Lights had come back into service by midnight, and breakfast cooked in the kitchen of the Guthrie home was served to the patients housed in the emergency facilities. Undaunted, the Board met May 4, the afternoon after the fire, and voted to start construction on a new $300,000 facility. This would raise the bed capacity to 285.
John Murray, president of the Board of Trustees, and Howard Bishop went to Washington to request a loan to finance the building. Insurance covered only about $98,000 of the loss. The negotiations were successful and the hospital received a Public Works Administration loan of up to $420,000 to complete the new hospital.
Though the damaging fire came, it was not successful in interrupting the continued growth and compassionate care of the Robert Packer Hospital and Guthrie Clinic.
The recovery from the fire was extremely satisfying to all connected with the hospital. The new buildings were the finest. Even the Inspection Committee in 1936 reported that “there was really nothing that we could criticize in the condition of the property.”
New Building at Robert Packer Hospital
Dec. 6, 1934
The following is part of a story that ran in The Towanda Daily Review upon the opening of the new hospital building:
“This new building which is opened to the public today is the consummation of the dream friends of Packer Hospital have had for many years necessitated by, and subsequently constructed after, the serious fire of May 3, 1933. The main building is 180 feet long and 50 feet wide with a two-story portion connecting to one of the older wings, 60 feet long by 30 feet wide. There are eight floors not counting the solarium roof and the two floors above it in the tower which house, respectively, the air conditioning equipment and the elevator machinery. In reality there are 11 floor levels and the height from the promenade deck on the roof gives one a typical airplane view of the beautiful Susquehanna Valley. The design of the extension shows the modernistic influence of the Italian Renaissance architecture.”
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, many of the younger men, as well as many nurses, left to enter active duty. Altogether, 118 physicians, 92 nurses and 9 other employees who had trained or given service to the Robert Packer Hospital had served on active duty during the war. After the war, shortages of help continued because the country was adjusting once again to its peacetime status. Now there was an increase of patients asking for admission. “A dearth of beds,” said Dr. Guthrie, “and an addition of new staff.”
Dr. Guthrie noted that these years were filled with hard work and uncertainties. His report for 1946 stated, “The burden which Dr. Hawk, Dr. Conklin, Dr. Langley, and Dr. Rentschler have been obliged to carry has been far too heavy and has given me much concern.” He continued by indicating that he felt the burden would get lighter with the return of the staff members and the coming of new staff: Dr. Joseph Cady in Cardiology, Dr. William Beck in Surgery, Dr. Manley Rockman in Obstetrics, Dr. Dominic Motsay in Pediatrics, and Dr. Paul Shallenberger in Gastroenterology, to name a few.
Dr. Guthrie also spoke of the nurses who came back from the service and made the load lighter. His Annual Report for 1946 paid tribute to them.
By that time, the Dietary Department was serving almost 550,000 meals a year. The librarian’s report for the Guthrie Library stated that 95 journals and bulletins were received annually. There were more than 4,000 bound volumes, and the facilities had aided in the research and preparation of about 38 articles published in national publications.
By November, 1950, another change was made and the George W. Hawk Pediatric Pavilion was opened. It was named in honor of Dr. Hawk’s 39 years of service to the Guthrie Clinic and Robert Packer Hospital.
In 1951, after 38 years as Administrator of the hospital and clinic, Howard Bishop resigned. During his tenure, Bishop was instrumental in forming the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania, now known as HAP. He was an ardent and energetic worker for the institution from 1912 to 1951. Ray Bolinger took his place as administrator after having worked with Bishop for about three years.
On July 1, 1956, the hospital adopted the 40-hour week for all employees.
There were residency programs in Anesthesiology, General Surgery, Internal Medicine, Neurological Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Pathology, Pediatrics, Radiology and Urology.
Bolinger resigned in 1963 after 13 years as the hospital’s Administrator. Howard Jones arrived to take over his position.
The 75th anniversary of the opening of the hospital was celebrated in 1960. The original Packer Mansion was demolished in 1961 to make way for the new buildings housing the X-ray and OB-GYN areas.
In 1965, Carl V.S. Patterson of Towanda died. He had been closely associated with the hospital as a member of the Executive Committee from 1938 to 1963, and he was president of the Board from 1952 to 1960. In his will, Patterson provided the School of Nursing with a trust sufficient to build a new education unit for the school. This building is what we know today as the Patterson Education Building.
In 1966, a section of Psychiatry was added as a well as a section for Nuclear Medicine. There were 490 full-time employees and 123 part-time. These employees represented more than 60 occupations which were required for the smooth running of the hospital.
Formal education began to play a large part in the activity of the organization.
The first Director of Medical Education was employed in 1967, and ground was broken for the Patterson Education Building. Also this year, the School of Nursing was accredited by the National League for Nursing, and by 1969, there were nine paramedical courses in addition to the internships and residencies which had already been established.
These schools were: the School of Nursing, Nurse Anesthetists, Histological Technique, Medical Technology, X-Ray Technology, Surgical Technicians, Inhalation Therapy, Food Service Training and a Residency in Hospital Administration.
Add to all these 55 specialists in 26 sections, and one can see why Robert Packer Hospital/Guthrie Clinic was becoming widely known for its medical care.
One section destined to play a large part in the renown of the medical center was that of Cardiac Surgery. This was an expanding section, and heart surgery began to be routinely performed here in 1967 by Dr. William H. Sewell and his team.
By 1970, a campaign to raise $4 million was launched. The effort would result in a multi-million dollar construction program that would create a new Operating Room Suite, Intensive Care Unit, Cardiac Care Unit, Emergency Room and two 35-bed Medical Surgical patient units. This project was just the beginning of a construction plan that would eventually encompass the medical center as it is known today.
The Carl V. S. Patterson Education Building was finished in 1969. In 1971, Dr. John Thomas became the president of Guthrie Clinic. By 1972, the work of the laboratory had increased to the point that it was outgrowing its facilities. Once again, the Patterson family, through the generosity of Mrs. Carl V. S. Patterson, answered the need and provided the fine laboratories which were welcome additions to the hospital.
In 1973, Robert Packer was the only hospital in a five-county area of New York and Pennsylvania designated to perform open heart surgery on both scheduled and emergency basis.
On July 1, 1974, Ralph H. Meyer became the fourth administrator of the Robert Packer Hospital. Also that year, the hospital became affiliated with the Hahnemann Medical College which meant that as many as 64 medical students each year came to Sayre for a part of their clinical experience.
The hospital also became affiliated with Mansfield State College (now Mansfield University) which meant students in the Paramedical schools, as well as townspeople, were able to study toward an Associate in Science Degree. A variety of courses were offered.
In 1977, the new operating room suite opened with 10 completely equipped rooms for surgery; a recovery room within the suite was outfitted with the latest in monitoring equipment at every station.
A new entrance and lobby were added. A new Guthrie Clinic building, which started with offices on four floors, had now expanded to a fifth floor with space running out. Subsequently, all floors of the main hospital building were renovated to house enlarged Pharmacy, X-ray and Radiation Therapy departments.
In 1981, a major reorganization established a new corporation: Guthrie Medical Center. At this time, Ralph Meyer moved into the position of President of the new corporation and Gary Morrison became the President of Robert Packer Hospital.
The new buildings were only beginning to become familiar when a whole new program began. Two additional patient floors were added in 1984 to house a 25-bed Rehabilitation Unit with the Physical Therapy Department on the same floor, and a 30-bed Orthopedic Unit.
During this time, the South Wing, which had been renovated only a few years before to house the Psychiatric and Orthopedic Units, was demolished. In its place, a new kitchen and cafeteria was constructed and in use by October 1985.
The Coleman Memorial Parish House for the Church of the Redeemer was sold to the hospital, and the landmark (also a gift of Mary Packer Cummings) was demolished to make way for a Behavioral Science Building. All of this began in 1981 and finished in 1985.
A major focus in 1986 was the hospital’s commitment to the treatment of trauma patients. Many activities revolved around this quest, including the construction of an $85,000 heliport, establishing procedures for handling trauma patients, and conducting comprehensive educational programs for members of the multi-disciplinary trauma team.
Construction of a new five-story Guthrie Clinic Office building began in 1987. The new building had 155 offices, and treatment rooms with space for future expansion. Also in 1987, the Robert Packer Hospital School of Nursing and Mansfield University developed an intercollegiate nursing program for the education of students in the Bachelor of Science degree program in nursing. This was the end of the Robert Packer Hospital diploma program, but it enabled the School of Nursing to live on and continue to provide well trained graduates for the hospital.
The 1989 Annual Report states, “For the past fifteen years, Guthrie has grown phenomenonally. Increasing public acceptance of our approach to health care and the resulting demand for services turned our gaze outward, toward the horizon. But now, we’ve decided to slow down, to look inward, toward home. We want to examine what we’ve built, ensure its soundness, and bolster its strength before moving on.” Russell M. Knight replaced Gary Morrison as president of Robert Packer Hospital on March 6, 1989.
The 1990s were a relatively quiet time for the hospital, and the focus was truly on meeting community needs. William Vanaskie replaced Russell M. Knight as president of the hospital in October 1997.
With the arrival of the new millennium, another period of success began for the hospital. In 2001, Robert Packer Hospital was named to the 100 top cardiovascular hospitals list for the first time. Electronic medical records made their debut at Guthrie in 2002. That same year, Robert Packer Hospital received Merit Status from OSHA’s VPP Program for the first time. Construction got under way in 2004 for a new surgery building that houses the most state-of-the-art surgical suites in the region. The hospital received VPP Star Status from OSHA in 2004, and Mary N. Mannix was named president of Robert Packer Hospital in June 2005. Robert Packer Hospital was designated a Magnet Hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center in 2008. Also that year, Robert Packer Hospital was named to the list of 100 top hospitals for the third time. In addition to wining this award three times, the hospital received the top 100 cardiovascular hospital award five times and the top 100 performance improvement award four times. The hospital also received the Everest Award in 2009, one of only 23 hospitals in the country to do so. The OSHA VPP program again recognized the hospital with Star Stats in 2009. In 2008, Marie Droege began her tenure as president of Robert Packer Hospital.
As we approach the 125th anniversary of the founding of Robert Packer Hospital, teamwork, excellence and patient-centered care – the values set by Dr. Donald Guthrie 100 years ago – still guide the hospital today.