Archive | July 2012

Day 54: “A Man Known for His Modesty”: Gerald Lefert, St. Mary’s Hospital Executive Director

During his years as the executive director and later president of St. Mary’s Hospital, Gerald Lefert was characterized by the Wisconsin State Journal as a leader who remained out of the limelight: “…a man known for his modesty…consistently one of the underestimated health leaders in Madison…a mild and unassuming person, one who rarely stands out in a crowd.”

Mr. Lefert, as he was affectionately and respectfully called by employees, preferred to give credit to the employees of St. Mary’s for the success the hospital enjoyed under his guidance: “…the heroes of a hospital don’t sit in the executive director’s office. They are the nurses and aides and the attendants who are doing patient care.”

Attending Halstad School of Nursing in Kansas, Mr. Lefert graduated in 1961, a time when male nurses were even more rare than they are now. “It wasn’t anything dramatic on my part. I wanted to help people and I wanted to be in health care, and nursing seemed right to me.” He later studied anesthesiology and, in 1968, joined the Army and served with the 48thSurgicalHospital in Vietnam.

In 1972, St. Mary’s brought him aboard as assistant executive director. In 1985, after the retirement of Sr. Rebecca Wright, he became executive director and the first layperson to lead the hospital. His experiences as a nurse informed his conception of his role as an administrator. “…We in administration balance the budget and try to get materials for the people who are doing the work, but they are the ones providing the patient care day in and day out.”

Mr. Lefert was highly regarded throughout his career for his commitment to quality patient care. During his tenure, St. Mary’s achieved many milestones and nurtured important relationships in the Madison community and beyond.

Shortly after being appointed to lead the hospital in 1985, Mr. Lefert said, “St. Mary’s is in the forefront of health care at the local as well as the national level, and the efforts of dedicated professional St. Mary’s employees will help ensure the continuation of that tradition of health care services well into the future.”

To those ends, Mr. Lefert helped strengthen the hospital’s relationship with Dean Clinic in the following ways: overseeing the 1995 purchase of a significant interest in Dean Health Plan, the region’s largest health plan/HMO; participating in the joint development of St. Mary’s/Dean Ventures, a regional network of primary care physicians; and partnering to create ambulatory surgery centers.

When he retired in 2004 after 32 years of dedicated service to St. Mary’s, Jerry Lefert certainly could count himself among those employees who contributions ensured that St. Mary’s would continue to provide first-class health care services.


Day 55: Sr. Rebecca – Leadership Plus!

That was the headline in St. Mary’s News Review upon Sr. Rebecca Wright’s retirement from St. Mary’s in 1985. The writer asserted: “Sr. Rebecca has not been afraid to tackle ‘the impossible.’ Seen as one of the state’s most respected hospital administrators, she had an uncanny ability to gather information and put it into action.”

Sr. Rebecca was director of St. Mary’s nursing services from 1962 to 1964 and left to pursue a master’s in hospital administration at St. Louis University. She returned to St. Mary’s in 1967 as executive director. In 1978, she became chief executive officer of both St. Mary’s and St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo.

Her early years as an administrator were filled with physical change in the form of major construction to enlarge the hospital, modernize and add many new services. After the Northwest Wing opened the year she arrived, she oversaw the planning and construction of the temporary Southeast Wing, the West Wing and the physical plant office.

New hospital services that began under her watch included the regional Infant Intensive Care Unit (now known as the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), Respiratory Therapy Department, Psychiatric Day Care Center and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Community-based medical help for older adults was also implemented through the Adult Day Health Center and the Home Help Monitoring program.

Then there was technological change. In 1969, St. Mary’s surgeons began doing open heart surgery. In 1980 balloon catheterization was a new way for some patients to avoid surgery. These procedures were made possible by the acquisition of state-of-the-art technology and highly skilled professionals. St. Mary’s was among the leaders acquiring sophisticated diagnostic equipment such as the CAT scanner, digital subtraction angiography and nuclear medicine cardiac studies.

Sr. Rebecca also believed in providing education, and she oversaw the start two notable programs for enhancing St. Mary’s workforce: The In-Service Education Department and the EMS training program. In addition, Sr. Rebecca was chiefly responsible for the longtime partnership that continues today between the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and its residency program, which remains based in St. Mary’s Alumni Hall.

Tools to prevent and treat illness didn’t have to be limited to inside the hospital, according to Sr. Rebecca. In the early 1970s, St. Mary’s began publishing Guide to Health, a health information supplement in the Madison newspapers. Educational programs for the Madison community became more and more numerous. A speakers bureau made up of health care professionals was established. In 1981, St. Mary’s opened “Health Works” a free-standing facility for teaching health and fitness classes.

Despite all the change, one thing remained constant during Sr. Rebecca’s administration: the philosophy and dedication of the Sisters of St. Mary. Most people saw Sr. Rebecca in her role as a capable administrator; a few people, many critically ill, saw Sr. Rebecca as a gentle woman who came to their room late at night to share a prayer. “She is a kind, compassionate person, always concerned for the welfare of others,” said Sr. Margaret Mary, SSM.

In 1985, Sr. Rebecca was installed as a Councilor of the Governing Board of the Sisters of St. Mary. In that position, she assisted in directing the affairs of all the hospitals and missions operated by the sisters, who are now known as the Franciscan Sisters of Mary.

Day 56: Baby Reunions and Kindergarten Bands

To celebrate the hospital’s 25th year anniversary in 1937, St. Mary’s held a reunion party on the hospital lawn for all children born in the hospital’s maternity ward since the ward opened just more than a decade earlier. Those participants old enough to walk were arranged in a procession led by a sister and a nurse. Each received a helium balloon tied to a long string. The procession filed out the main entrance of the hospital and down the steps onto the lawn. Music was furnished by the Edgewood College Band and the entertainment included a pageant starring all children 9 years old and younger.

The festivities were so successful that St. Mary’s hosted a similar event the following summer. The invitation for the second reunion promised, “Mothers and Fathers will enjoy meeting the Sisters and Nurses. Babies will enjoy meeting those who have preceded or followed their arrival.” The entertainment featured the Edgewood Kindergarten Rhythm Band and a dance recital by the Kehl School of Dancing, whose young artists presented a two-part program including a “Baby” dance tableau.

1938 proved to be a banner year for St. Mary’s and their babies. At the end of the year, the Capital Times noted, “One thousand lusty squalling babies in one year—1938—were cared for at St. Mary’s Hospital. And that, hospital officials assert, makes this Madison hospital the possessor of the second largest obstetrical department in Wisconsin.” The hospital officials hoped that soon the children’s department would be expanded “to care for even more than one mere army of 1,000.”

Day 57: An Unimaginable Accident and a Reunion 54 Years Later

If you followed a newspaper trail of articles about Gordon Franklin, you’d conclude that his life was pretty ordinary. You’d learn that in 1960 he was one of the groomsmen at his brother’s wedding, in 1966 he “claimed” Della Nelson as his bride, in 1968 he was a groomsman again at a second brother’s wedding, in 1968, 1971 and 1976 his children Catherine, Angela and Donald were born, and in 1995 he celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary.

What you wouldn’t learn was that it was extraordinary that any of these events occurred at all because Franklin had an incredible and life-threatening accident at the age of 15 years. In 1957, he was riding the family tractor when the pitchfork he was working with slipped out of his hands. “And so I jumped down off of that board and was going to catch the fork before it hit the blower. Well, it hit the blower first, and it hit me then,” he said.

The teenage boy arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital with the pitchfork firmly lodged in his head. “And this went through the cheek,” Franklin said, pointing to the tines of the pitchfork he still owns.

Rosemary Berchem, one of the nurses who cared for Franklin, recalled seeing him come in to the hospital: “I remember my terrible feeling of seeing this, and I thought I was going to faint,” Berchem said.  With the assistance of St. Mary’s staff, Franklin somehow survived.

Fifty-four years later in 2011, Franklin and Berchem reunited and reminisced about the event—or at least Berchem did. Franklin has no recollection of those critical days in the hospital. Berchem remembers every detail: “You wouldn’t remember this at all,” Berchem told Franklin when they recalled the incident. “Well, no,” Franklin replied.

“So, what, they banged it out with a hammer?” Franklin asked. “Yeah,” Berchem replied.

Berchem was the youngest nurse on call that day. At age 80, she still remembered every detail. “And then you said to me, ‘Please don’t wiggle the fork.’ That’s what really killed me,” Berchem said. “It was a miracle (you survived). You are my miracle,” Berchem told Franklin. “You look wonderful. No scars.”

“Thank you. I thank you so much,” Franklin replied.

Aside from a dent on his head, Franklin is doing just fine. But his story is a tale too gruesome to believe without proof. So Franklin carries that proof in his wallet — a photo of himself taken while the pitchfork was stuck in his head.

“Because nobody would believe me if I told them,” Franklin says. Oddly enough, one of the tines on his pitchfork is chipped off, a little shorter than the others. It was like that before the accident. If that tine were its full length, it would have pierced through Franklin’s brain.

Video link to the story:

Day 58: Junior Aides and Candy Stripers: They’re Sweet on Service

The quick deft fingers of young volunteers turned out thousands upon thousands of bandages and surgical dressings for St. Mary’s, Madison General and Methodist Hospitals during World War II. Calling themselves junior hospital aides, the young volunteers rose to the occasion when they saw how much help was needed at the hospitals, understaffed because of the wartime demand for nurses in the armed forces. Hospital authorities enthusiastically snapped up young people’s offer and provided the supplies to make the bandages and dressings. The Catholic Woman’s Club organized the work sessions. From June to August 1943, they made more than 30,000 dressings during more than 500 hours of work. By January 1944 more than 120 girls had produced more than 77,600 bandages.

During the preceding year, 40 girls between the ages 14 and 19 years old volunteered during their summer vacations to work as junior aides at St. Mary’s and the other Madison hospitals. Wearing white shirts and blue skirts, saddle shoes and socks, and “simple hairdos while on duty,” the aides delivered mail and flowers, directed visitors to wards and offices and occasionally did simple filing. Each child who completed at least 35 hours of work was awarded a pin.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, young hospital volunteers, now known as Candy Stripers performed many tasks normally completed by nurses. The first Candy Striper program had been launched in New Jersey in 1944 at East Orange General Hospital to give teen girls an opportunity to learn and socialize at the same time. Candy Stripers got their name from the red-and-white-striped pinafores that original volunteers wore over their dresses. Somehow the name caught on and stuck with them.

The Candy Striper program gained in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s becoming a common occupation for young women interested in pursuing careers as nurses. The St. Mary’s Candy Stripers program began in 1965 and was open to high school girls 15 years and older. The hospital held a yearly “tea” in honor of the Candy Stripers to thank them and present awards for their service. After the 1980s, the striped uniforms disappeared and the moniker “Candy Striper” was retired in favor of hospital volunteer.

Day 59: When a Visit from the Stork is Expected… Baby Identification System in 1926

In a 1962 publication celebrating St. Mary’s Hospital’s 50th anniversary, the obstetrics department was credited with assisting in the delivery of  56,750 babies born from 1924 to 1962, a figure “which is nearly half Madison’s present population.” A total 626 of those births took place in 1926 during the first full year the new maternity department was in operation. Located in the brand new South Wing, which was dedicated in February 1926, the department was open several months earlier.

Among the many issues hospital staff had to address when planning the maternity department, preventing babies from being “mixed up” was a high priority. A fool-proof baby identification system was essential to avoid catastrophe. The solution they selected, according to the February 9, 1926, Capital Times, was a dual system of identification.

“When a visit from the stork is expected at St. Mary’s, a porcelain necklace consisting of blue and white beads is prepared with the last name of the newborn spelled out on the beads of the necklace. As soon as the baby arrives, his necklace is fastened securely about his neck in such a manner that it cannot by removed until the baby is ready to leave the hospital. In addition to this means of identification which operates effectively during the period of the new citizen’s hospital sojourn, foot-prints are also taken of each new arrival and preserved as a permanent hospital record and identification system for all time. When a new baby leaves the hospital, the porcelain necklace may either be left with hospital attendants or purchased as a keepsake by parents for a nominal fee.”

At some point, the system switched from necklaces to much safer bracelets using the same lettered beads. The bracelets were used until the late 1950s.

Note: Prior to this system, some hospitals employed adhesive tape on the mother’s wrist and the baby’s back, with a number written on both that would match the two. This method resulted in at least one accusation of baby mix-ups.

Day 60: Living, Working and Studying Together: St. Mary’s Cottages

In the July 1987 Summary Sheet edition of the St. Mary’s Hospital newsletter, an article entitled “Home Away from Home,” brought to life the vibrant community of students and employees who lived in the cottages adjacent to St. Mary’s. During the 1940s and 1950s, young men and women from farms and nearby rural communities came to Madison to work or attend school at the hospital. Many of the student nurses, laboratory and radiology students, and young employees lived in or near the hospital. In addition to supervising and/or teaching these newcomers, the sisters assumed the responsibility for parenting them. The hospital was much smaller then, and everyone knew each other in a family-like atmosphere.

Housing was furnished in a row of two-story houses on the south side of Erin Street between Mills and Brooks streets and in a large stucco house on the southeast corner of the Brooks Street lawn. The stucco cottage, originally called the “Girls Cottage,” housed female employees, but was later used by students of the radiology school. Men always lived in the cottage closest to Mills Street (called “Men’s Cottage”). The male employees, female employees and student nurses all had meals in separate dining rooms.

A family lived in the house separating the men’s and women’s quarters because the sisters thought it improper for the young women to live right next door to the men. Lois Reuter, instructor with the Educational Services Department, lived in the Girls Cottage during part of her student years. She said that nursing students were not even allowed to fraternize with the male employees or interns. However, the sisters were unable to enforce this rule, judging by the number of nursing students who married employees or interns.

Eileen McKinley, director of the Medical Imaging Department, lived in the stucco cottage while attending the School of Radiologic Technology. She remembers that the sisters who supervised the cottage were strict, but “taught us self-discipline.” Evening hours were from 6 to 8 p.m. and students were expected to study. When they weren’t studying, however, they listened for the supervising sister’s rosary, which was attached to her belt. As the sister climbed the stairs, the students could hear the jingling of her rosary. By the time she reached the room, everyone appeared to be hard at work.

For many employees, lodging and meals were the benefits package. Al Haag, retired director of the Laundry Department, recalls receiving $50 a month plus room and board when he started in 1941. By 1958 when Ed Van Woelderen immigrated to the United States from Holland and began to work in the Plant Department at St. Mary’s, lodging was no longer part of the benefits package. Instead, he paid $50 a month in rent so that he, his wife and infant daughter could live in the three-room apartment on the second floor of Men’s Cottage. Ed’s second child was born while the family lived in the cottage, too.  At times, Ed recalled, “it was a little too close to work.”

One by one the cottages were torn down during the 1950s and early 1960s. The Southeast wing of the hospital now stands where the stucco cottage stood. Marian Hall replaced two cottages in 1956. The remaining cottages were removed when the Northwest wing was built, opening in 1967. While they stood, however, they enabled many families to get their feet on the ground and many young people to launch their careers.

Day 61: He Delivered Nine of the Eleven Players on the Football Team: Dr. George Hank, St. Mary’s First Medical Director

On May 25, 1940, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that “George C. Hank, 465 Sidney Street, Madison, was given the Charles Bardeen award for the outstanding second-year student in anatomy.”  This accolade for the physician-in-training would portend one of the most distinguished medical careers in the city of Madison, lasting 38 years until Dr. Hank retired as the Medical Director of St. Mary’s Hospital.

Hank graduated from the University of Wisconsin Medical School in 1942, entered the U.S. Army in 1944, and served in both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II. In 1948, he returned to Madison and began an illustrious career as an obstetrician and gynecologist.

Dr. Hank loved taking care of patients and delivering babies. “Every delivery involved a baby, giving it to its mother and then watching the expression on the father’s face when he saw his new child; it was the best part of medicine, and it happened every day.”

In 1969 when St. Mary’s was looking for its first medical director, Dr. Hank agreed to take the job. During the next decade, he helped smooth the transition between the medicine of the 1960s and the medicine of the 1980s. He helped initiate physician review programs involving the process of peer evaluation and monitoring of patient care. He also was involved in the developing the Wisconsin Professional Review Organization to monitor the quality of care in hospitals. These changes reflected the evolution from the physician as solo practitioner to the formation of group practices.

Of all his accomplishments, Hank was most proud of his role in forming a high school football team. “When my son George played on the Edgewood High School football team one year, I looked out on the field and realized that I had delivered 9 of the 11 players on the team; I can’t really tell you why, but that did something for me.”

Day 62: “I Have Lived Through the Most Fantastic Changes in Medicine”: Dr. Robin Allin, St. Mary’s Chief of Staff and Internist

In 1976 and 1977, the St. Mary’s News Review newsletter published a series of interviews with former hospital chiefs of staff. In the January 28, 1977, interview, entitled “Dr. Robin Allin Recollects with a Smile and a Sigh,” Dr. Allin recalls a review staged by the Dane County Medical Auxiliary at which he parlayed his “Superdoc” persona into belly-laugh proportions as a way to raise funds for student scholarships. A native Texan, he also prided himself on the gastronomical delight of fine chili he made without a recipe.

Dr. Allin was first appointed to the medical staff at St. Mary’s in the Department of Internal Medicine in 1941 and was involved intermittently with St. Mary’s and the Dean Clinic over the next 35 years. In addition to working in Internal Medicine, he taught student nurses at St. Mary’s School of Nursing for several years and served as the Chief of Staff from 1951 to 1953.

Dr. Allin’s recollections about his medical training and early experiences illuminate the striking progress that has been made in medicine during the past 80 years. In medical school during the early 1930s, the few drugs he had to work with were aspirin and paregoric. There were no sulfa drugs or antibiotics. “The rabbit serum for pneumococcal pneumonia was available but if a patient was allergic to rabbits – well that was just too bad,” he said.

As Chief of Staff during the polio epidemic in the 1950s, he recalled, “The iron lungs were located on the third floor and every time I entered the ward I could remember the sounds of those respirators. Cerebral Polio struck so quickly that sometimes the patient wouldn’t live long enough to get paralyzed. It was the most striking disease outside of tetanus I have ever seen.” He added that the polio epidemic spurred the development of a Physical Therapy Department and the installation of the Hubbard Tank at St. Mary’s.

In reflecting on his years as a physician, Dr. Allin noted, “I am proud to say I have lived through the most fantastic changes in medicine. It’s hard to image that kind of growth happening again.”

Day 63: Not So Random Acts of Kindness: Peggy Allbaugh, RN

“It was almost like having my Mom taking care of me.”
One of Peggy Allbaugh’s patients

Just 24 weeks into her pregnancy, Alyssa Karl was put on hospital bed rest until she delivered her baby boy at 32 weeks. After the first five weeks in her hospital room, she felt like the walls were closing in. Enter a February snowstorm and nurse Peggy Allbaugh who asked each morning, “What do you want to do today?”  When 19-year-old Alyssa blurted out, “Make a snow angel,” Allbaugh helped make her wish come true. She wrapped Alyssa in plastic linen bags to keep her clothes dry, wheeled her out to the new garden area and watched her playfully brush the snow canvas.  Having planned ahead, Allbaugh brought a spray bottle filled with blue water to outline the angel so that Alyssa could continue to enjoy her angel through the window in her hospital room.

Peggy Albaugh’s creative solution to Alyssa’s request was no accident. She has learned that with perseverance and determination, anything is possible. Allbaugh grew up on a farm outside Richland Center, where she attended a one-room school. She always wanted to be a nurse, but was told by her high school guidance counselor that she wasn’t smart enough to attend nursing school. Allbaugh accepted his evaluation because neither she nor he understood that she had an undiagnosed learning disability. Allbaugh gave up her dream of becoming a nurse and instead became a nurse’s assistant in the obstetrics department at St. Mary’s Hospital.

Despite her dyslexia, Allbaugh was a voracious reader. A St. Mary’s nurse noticed her love of books and encouraged her to pursue nursing. “I’m not smart enough,” Allbaugh replied. “Try one class,” the nurse persisted. Peggy agreed and took a psychology class. She passed with an A and decided the counselor was wrong.

Fueled by the discovery that she was indeed smart enough, Allbaugh was determined to fulfill her dream. She began a dogged pursuit to become a nurse while raising her four children. In 1983, at age 36, Allbaugh walked into the St. Mary’s obstetrics department as a registered nurse. “When I saw the words on the schedule ‘Peggy Allbaugh, RN’ it was wonderful!”

Allbaugh’s co-workers sometimes call her “Practically Perfect Peggy” because she always seems to know what to do. Her patients have high-risk pregnancies and are on bed rest, sometimes for several boring weeks like Alyssa Karl was. Countless patients and hospital staff have been the fortunate recipients of Allbaugh’s kindness and competence. One grateful patient explained, “My birthday was two days after a very difficult surgery, and I didn’t have any family support. Peggy arranged for a birthday cake and surprised me with gifts from the nurses. Everyone on the unit’s day shift came in to wish me a happy birthday. It touched me so that she cared. She gave me hope and encouragement. She was an angel!”

(Video link to the story: