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Cheshire Medical Center celebrates building's 40th

Union Leader Correspondent

February 24. 2013 8:35PM
Rachel Clark of Keene, 89, Keene Clinic administrator for 31 years, with her son Michael Emerson chats with Arthur W. Nichols, president and CEO, Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, during a celebration of the building's 40th anniversary in Keene on Friday. (MEGHAN PIERCE PIERCE)

KEENE - Current and former hospital officials and employees of Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene gathered at the hospital on Friday afternoon to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the building and recall the early years.

"Back then nurses wore white," said Jane Bridges, director of critical care at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. She recalled her time as a nurse's aide at Elliot Hospital on Main Street in Keene in 1970 and the transition to the Cheshire Medical Center building on Court Street on Feb. 23, 1973.

"The old hospital had very few single rooms," Bridges said, and each room in the new hospital had a bathroom she said. "A bathroom in every room, it's hard to believe that would be a big deal."

Back then hospital stays were not two or three days, but two weeks or more, she said.

Retired nurse Betty Merritt recalled how, to her surprise, having a television in the each room in the new Cheshire Hospital greatly comforted patients.

Elliot Hospital on Main Street was a mansion that John Elliot donated for the use as a hospital in 1892. The construction of what was known in the 1970s as Cheshire Hospital was funded by the community members and area businesses, but was helped greatly by Edward and Lillian Kingsbury, who donated their former home and property for the building of a new medical facility.

Additionally, thousands of contributors pledged more than $2.275 million to assist with the project, exceeding the original goal of $1.5 million. The MacMillin Company Inc. of Keene was the builder, and the Cannon Partnership of Niagara Falls and Buffalo, N.Y., provided architect and engineering services.

The hospital later established the Norris Cotton Cancer Center Keene at Kingsbury Pavilion in honor of the Kingsbury family, said Arthur W. Nichols, president and CEO of Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene.

"A building is great, but a building doesn't make a hospital. . Our employees make the hospital what it is," he said. "It's wonderful to have a great building, but you need the staff to go with it."

Over the past 40 years, more than 21,000 babies have been born at Cheshire, and there has been more than 223,000 admissions. Emergency care has been provided more than 719,000 times in the emergency department, Nichols said.

Cheshire Medical will continue on despite the hard financial decisions it has had to make recently to keep up in a changing health-care industry, Nichols said. "It's been here 40 years. It's actually been here 120 years," he said. "American health care is going to change, and we're going to change with it."

Keene Mayor Kendall Lane read a city proclamation and said the hospital employees are highly skilled and compassionate. Cheshire Medical remains the largest employer in the county, he said.

The reputation and quality of care from Cheshire Medical builds the community in multiple ways, he said. "The medical services in this city are a major factor in businesses relocating here."

He thanked the hospital and also the community for its past and current support of the hospital.

Dr. Jay Kahn, Cheshire Medical Center Board of Trustees chairman and interim president of Keene State College, said Cheshire continues to move health care forward in the area through its 2020 Vision project to make Keene the healthiest community in the country by the year 2020.

"That kind of inspiration from the organization is really crucial," Kahn said.

After other former doctors and nurses shared their memories the attendees enjoyed cake.

Sally Stockwell of Keene, 83, a former nurse in Elliot Hospital's children's ward, said she was there to meet up with some of her "old cohorts."

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