By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — One-hundred-forty-eight years of history about Iowa’s first hospital was unveiled Dec. 7 at Genesis Health System East campus.
Doug Cropper, president and CEO of Genesis Health System, said a history display was a vision he had for some time. Before entering healthcare, he did undergraduate studies in history. Genesis has been gathering artifacts for three years for the display. “This history wall tells a story of who we are and how we got here,” he said.
In 1869, Mother Mary Borromeo Johnson of the Sisters of Mercy was on her way to DeWitt to open a school. When she stopped in Davenport, she saw the condition of the “poor house” (for indigent persons) and said work must start with a hospital in Davenport.
On Dec. 7, 1869, the first patient of the Sisters of Mercy was seen at Mercy Hospital (now Genesis West). Years later, St. Luke’s Hospital (now Genesis East) was “born,” Cropper said. In 1994 the two formed Genesis Health System which now includes sites in DeWitt, Maquoketa, Silvis, Ill., and Mercer County, Ill.
Three particular stories of the health system stand out to Cropper. First, St. Luke’s Hospital was built at Eighth and Main streets. Cropper said Mercy was considered too far away for people in downtown or farther east. So St. Luke’s was formed. The hospital later moved to East Rusholme Street.
The second story pertained to St. Elizabeth Hospital, a women’s psychiatric hospital that was part of Mercy Hospital. A fire on Jan. 7, 1950, at St. Elizabeth killed 40 patients and one caregiver. “The windows and doors were barred. There was no way out. More than 100 firefighters were on the scene.”
Third, a gas station fire in DeWitt in 1945 resulted in four deaths and seven people injured. The nearest hospital was in Clinton. Afterwards, the DeWitt community asked whether having a local hospital would have prevented some casualties. By 1952 a new hospital opened in DeWitt.
Cropper credited the history wall project to Andy Burman, a senior communication specialist who serves as curator and manager. “Andy made it happen. He gathered the artifacts and more.”
“This is the first time since the consolidation of Mercy and St. Luke’s in 1994 that Genesis has worked to combine its history,” Burman said. A major hurdle to overcome was locating and archiving historical items stored across the health system. Some community members also donated artifacts.
“My goal for the history wall was to help the community understand the value Genesis has presented to the community over the years,” Burman added.
After a countdown, construction workers with Estes Construction removed the “veil” that covered the display while work was in progress. The history wall is located near the cafeteria. Cropper said the east campus was chosen because it is the main campus. “There is very high traffic at this location, so many can see the history wall.”
Cropper pointed out that Sr. Borromeo is buried on Genesis West campus. A memorial chapel is also located there. Among the history wall’s artifacts with Catholic connections are the cross from Sr. Borromeo’s headstone, a statue of St. Joseph holding a young Jesus, and a statue of Mary. Other artifacts include a physician’s travel bag from around 1900, another physician’s bag from a later date and a patient record book from 1870-92.
Cropper said Genesis is proud to of its past and looks to the future with high hope.