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Phillips' Hospital Row Founded for Women and Children

by Wizard Marks. This article first appeared in The Alley in June, 1990.


What most South Minneapolis residents think of as Abbott Northwestern Hospital is really owned by a health conglomerate called Allina, Inc. Allina is the product of a series of mergers and spinoffs involving the old Abbott and Northwestern Hospitals and a number of smaller health care providers. In 1981 Abbott Northwestern celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first of these institutions.


Northwestern Hospital for Women and Children

Northwestern Hospital for Women and Children was the result of charity work by Harriet G. Walker, wife of prominent businessman Thomas B. Walker. In November, 1882, she invited her circle of friends to listen to Dr. Mary Hood speak on the problems of the poor and their lack of health care. Mary Hood told horror stories of children suffering from malnutrition, diphtheria and tuberculosis. Dr. Mary Whetstone chimed in to explain that women were dying from typhoid and pneumonia. Walker was convinced that she and her women friends could come up with the money to build a charity hospital for the poorest women and children in the community.


One month later, the Northwestern Hospital for Women and Children moved into a rented house on Three and a Half Avenue South. Within a year, they had put a down payment on a bigger house and filed articles of incorporation. By 1887 the hospital had built a permanent home on the corner of Chicago and 27th Street. Doctors Hood and Whetstone were the hospital's physicians.


As staff physicians, Hood and Whetstone depended on diet, cleanliness and rest to cure their patients. According to Hood, "...we depend largely upon nursing to sustain the vital forces...and so help nature to gain the victory. In many severe cases our good nursing has come to the rescue; frequent bathing and clean linen, good nourishing food given regularly, and the quiet rest induced by the confidence of good care are the secrets of our successful issues." In many cases of tired, poor, half-starved women and children, this was enough for them to recuperate from whatever illness they had.


Northwestern functioned well because it had a training program for nurses during a time when nursing consisted of "the dressing of wounds and sores, fomentation, friction, bathing, keeping of temperature records, cookery for the sick, care of rooms, beds and utensils and accurate observation and report to the attendant physician of the condition of the patient and the effect of medicine and diet," according to its 1884 nursing school course catalog.


In addressing the 1915 graduating class of Northwestern's nursing school, Harriet Walker said, "In the very early days...an elderly and somewhat old-fashioned physician, even for those times, remarked...'You are spoiling them...You are teaching them to use the thermometer, and to know the nature and effects of medicine, and to understand a patient's symptoms as well as a physician...All a nurse needs to know is how to make a bed and fill a hot water bottle, and...wait for the doctor. That is all I want my nurses to know.'"


Because it was organized as a charity hospital the "board was careful to place top priority on those patients who had little or no money to pay for their care," according to the Centennial book produced by Abbott Northwestern in 1982.


Abbott's Hospital for Women

The story of Dr. Amos Abbott's Hospital for Women, opened in 1902, was a different issue. His hospital, at 10 East 17th St. was designed for paying customers. He served "the finest families in the city as well as some of the poorest."


In 1903 Abbott employed Susan Holmes, the "Angel of Abbott" to run the Abbott nursing school. She stayed until 1945.


In 1910, Abbott operated on Mrs. William Hood Dunwoody. She was reportedly so grateful that she asked her husband, a Minneapolis milling magnate, to build Abbott a proper hospital. The new hospital opened in 1911 at 1818 First Avenue South. It had room for 12 nurses-in-training even though Abbott believed nurses were there to "make the patients comfortable and make them feel at home" and so never permitted them to learn anything more than the rudiments of caring for the sick. He believed that nurses should stand when he entered the room and should address him formally.


When Dunwoody died, he left $100,000 to the trustees of Westminster Presbyterian Church as an endowment to the hospital with the stipulation that, after Abbott's death, the trustees would administer the hospital.


Until 1923, hospitals were run by senior medical staff assisted by nursing school superintendents. However, the trustees of Westminster Church were successful businessmen and insisted that Abbott Hospital be run like a business. They hired Victor Anderson as the first full time administrator.


Sister Kenny Institute

In the forties and fifties, polio, a virus which had all the horrible communicability falsely attributed to AIDS today, was creating a pandemic. The virus was airborne, so could be caught from anyone carrying it who sneezed on someone, who served food to someone, etc. Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian Army nurse, had been successful in her home country in lessening the crippling effects of polio myelitis by packing patients in hot cloths for hours on end and continuously exercising their failing arms and legs to teach the body new pathways to take over the work of those nerves damaged by the polio virus.


Kenny traveled all over the world proclaiming that paralyzed muscles would be rehabilitated. However, it contradicted the accepted polio treatment of the time and so was largely ignored by sexist doctors who pooh-poohed her techniques, grounded in 31 years of experience treating polio victims. She came to Minneapolis in the summer of 1940, where she met Dr. John Pohl, who was interested in trying her techniques on one of his patients. He helped her take one Henry Haverstock to Abbott for treatment and to demonstrate her techniques to other doctors.


Her method was to establish new nerve paths for the body. "She tried to get fixed in his (Haverstock's) mind some sort of organization of motion. She tried to teach him what the movements were and what ought to be happening...Without a doubt she knew more about the mechanical function of the human body than anyone else in the world," Dr. Pohl said.


"The controversy over the Kenny rehabilitation method brewed among doctors across the country. Many found her brash manner distasteful and her system without basis, and they resisted her efforts to prove that she knew what she was talking about," according to the Centennial Book. Kenny turned to influential people and convinced them to remodel the Lymanhurst School-Hospital at 1800 Chicago Avenue as a rehabilitation center. On December 17, 1942, the Sister Kenny Institute opened. A year later the Sister Kenny Foundation was formed to raise money as trainloads of sick children from all over the country began arriving.


In 1963 the Sister Kenny Foundation executive director and former Minneapolis mayor, Marvin Kline was found guilty on counts of mail fraud and larceny in connection with fund-raising for the Foundation. This major crime on Kline's part kept the Kenny Institute, and consequently, its patients from reaping the benefits of Sister Kenny's work.


Growing Together

By the mid-sixties, it was clear that Abbott and Northwestern were growing together. In October of 1966, Minneapolis Medical Center, a consolidation of Northwestern and three other hospitals along Chicago Avenue, was incorporated to plan cost-effective ways to share services. They were soon joined by other hospitals from around the state.


Member institutions found that they had overlapping pediatric care which they felt they could improve with the addition of a care facility specifically for children. This led to the formation of Minneapolis Children's Health Care. In January, 1973, MCHC opened on Chicago and 26th Street and both Abbott and Northwestern shifted all their pediatric cases to them.


In 1982 LifeSpan, a non- and for-profit corporate conglomerate, became the corporate umbrella for Abbott Northwestern, Minneapolis Children's Medical Center, Sister Kenny Institute, and the now defunct Eitel Hospital under the rubric of "centralized fiscal management and decentralized operation." LifeSpan is involved in geriatric care and nursing homes (LifeSpring, Caroline Nursing Home), gynecology (WomenCare), a consortium of 18 small town hospitals in rural Minnesota (InterCare), medical equipement (TransHealth), fitness, chronic pain, behavioral care, nursing education, medical research, home health care, air ambulance and job placement for disabled workers.


From two small hospitals, the larger no bigger than a small apartment building, Abbott and Northwestern have become LifeSpan then merged with Health One. The result was Health Plan/Health Span. Health Span then merged again with Medical which, at last count, had morphed into Allina Health Systems, a major industry offering state of the art birth-to-death health care, a budget of seventy million plus annually and thousands of employees. What tends to be forgotten is that women–Harriet Walker, Dr. Mary Hood, Dr. Mary Whetstone, and Mrs. Dunwoody, were the necessary, though not sufficient instrument in creating these health care institutions for women and children.




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