Fort Hamilton Hospital, which this year is celebrating its 90th anniversary, has had a special relationship with the people of Hamilton, even before it came to be, says Sonja Kranbuhl, director of the Fort Hamilton Hospital Foundation.
And the story about the hospital’s origin helps illustrate why, she adds.
A group of 21 community leaders on Jan. 1, 1925, rather than celebrating a new year, gathered to talk about creating a second Hamilton hospital (the now-defunct Mercy Hospital in Hamilton was the first), which was to be called the Martha Washington Hospital. A capital campaign was launched in March of 1926 with a goal of raising $600,000, at a time when the average household income was less than $100 per month.
The $600,000 was to pay for land, construction, equipment and staff.
On Dec. 11, 1925, the constitution of the Fort Hamilton Hospital Association of Butler County was adopted, with the goal of establishing “a general hospital open alike to all persons regardless of social condition, nationality or creed.”
The campaign was a big success.
“In a two-week period, they got over 8,000 pledges, and raised $500,000,” she said. “We had pledges from $110,000 from the Benninghofen family, to $500 from the Pine Tree Girl Scout Troop, so it was a campaign that brought the entire community together.”
According to the hospital, some 30 sites were considered. Ultimately, the Eaton Avenue location, made up of 56 lots, almost two full city blocks, was chosen. The entire site was purchased for $43,150 on June 28, 1926, and drawings were created by Detroit architect Albert Wood, with local architect Fredrick Muller consulting.
A. Benzing and Sons won the contract to build the hospital.
When the hospital was getting ready to open, it hosted an open house on April 28, “and they had 14,000 people attend the open house,” she said. “Everyone wanted to see the hospital that they had built.”
The hospital opened May 1.
In advance of the 90th anniversary, the hospital’s foundation raised about $2 million for the cancer center and its special-care nursery.
“And it was a very high-tech hospital for 1929,” Kranbuhl said.
Back at that time, it cost $1.50 per day to be housed in a four-bed ward, and $7.50 daily for a private room.
The hospital’s dietitian earned $145 per month, with the supervisor of nursing earning $140. The lowest-earning employees were tray girls who earned $40 per month. Back then, the work week at the hospital was at least 60 hours and included Saturdays, according to the hospital.
Less than six months after the hospital opened, the Great Depression struck, and patients suddenly had no money to pay their bills. The hospital bills were paid using produce, poultry, livestock, repair work, “and even deeds to building lots,” according to a hospital account.
The situation was so dire that by late 1933, employees were cut in half, with IOUs issued for the rest.
In 1943, with the economic troubles easing a bit, the hospital was able to sparingly resume buying supplies, and employees were starting to be repaid for those IOUs. They also received a surprise 10 percent salary boost in December when a minimum wage of 27.5 cents per hour was established.
In 2010, Fort Hamilton joined the Kettering Health Network.
Today the hospital has 994 paid employees, including full- and part-time, with another 110 volunteers, according to Elizabeth Long, spokeswoman for the Kettering Health Network.
“For me, it’s high-tech care with a hometown feel,” Kranbuhl said. “We have all of the equipment and services you would expect from a large metropolitan hospital, and yet we have staff who are taking care of their own friends of neighbors.”
“It definitely has a family feel, a lot of history. When you talk to people in the community, there’s a sense of ownership or connection. The first thing people seem to say is, ‘Oh, I was born there,’ or, ‘That’s where my kids were born,’ so it’s very much a part of the community and the families that live in the community.”
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