The number of women with young children who entered the labor force increased dramatically during the last few decades of the 20th century, resulting in an increased demand for child care. On April 11, 1990, St. Mary’s Hospital announced plans to respond to this need by building a child care center for its employees. The center would accommodate up to 80 children from ages six weeks through pre-kindergarten, and would help address the care needs of employees who work.
St. Mary’s decided to build the center after a survey in 1988 showed that employees couldn’t find convenient, affordable child care in Madison. The plan was praised by city officials, who had lamented the city’s shortage of affordable, quality child care. “You can call them pioneers,” said Dorothy Conniff, Madison Community Services Supervisor. “…There’s not much out there, especially in terms of (night) shift care.” St. Mary’s would be the fourth area employer to provide child care for its employees, Conniff said. Though the original proposal for the center included night shift care, the actual desire or need for it didn’t materialize.
The center opened on December 3, 1990, and its value soon extended beyond providing benefits for the children and their families. On September 6, 1991, under the headline “A Helping Hand,” the Capital Times displayed a touching a photo of an older woman helping a young boy eat his ice cream. The caption read, “Vera Downey, a resident of St. Mary’s CareCenter, helps Kofi Arhin from St. Mary’s Child Care Center with his ice cream Thursday. Twenty-three 3- and 4-year-olds from the child care center visited care center residents to observe Grandparent’s Day on Sunday. The two groups made ice cream during the visit.”
In 2011, the child care center continues to provide children with care that is child-centered, family-oriented and community-based. Children are divided by age into four classrooms: Koalas (6 weeks to 9 months), Pandas (1-2 years), Dreamers (2-3 years), and Preschool 3 years plus). St. Mary’s ChildCareCenter was a recipient of the 2011 of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Family’s “YoungStar” highest quality rating for child care in Wisconsin.
“I could just lay him in bed or have him next to people and he wouldn’t move, and people could just curl up with him if they needed and he just seemed to know when people needed him.”
Dan Darmstadter, handler for Erik, the first St. Mary’s therapy dog
Spirits can be lifted and lives touched in many different ways. In 2004, St. Mary’s Hospital began a pet therapy program. Erik, a seven-year-old Golden retriever, and his handler Dan Darmstadter, visited pediatric patients on a volunteer basis. The program has continued to grow in popularity since Erik’s and Dan’s first visit. In 2012, the program has nearly 30 teams visiting many units in the hospital including pediatric, cardiac, renal, and stroke units, as well as the emergency room and various intensive care units. Teams are made up of a dog and its owner, both of whom are volunteers. The teams must be certified by one of three national pet therapy organizations—Delta Society, Therapy Dogs International, or Therapy Dogs Inc. The breeds range from as small as a Pug to as large as a Bernese Mountain Dog.
St. Mary’s Pet Therapy Program was a winner of the 2006 Wisconsin Award for Volunteer Excellence through the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The family members of a patient who enjoyed several pet therapy visits before his death valued the program so much that they asked for donations to the program in lieu of flowers. St. Mary’s was stunned to learn a few weeks later that $1,700 was donated in his honor.
Another testimony to the value of this program is evident in a thank you note from a patient’s family member. “My 95-year-old mother passed away on March 3, 2009, 2 days after having surgery for a fractured hip. My mom loved animals, but especially Goldens, as that was the last dog she owned. What joy you brought her just two days before her departure from this earth.”
In 2011, St. Mary’s Hospital patients can watch television, take advantage of the hospital’s free wireless Internet access and rent a laptop computer to play computer games, check web-email, chat online, work remotely, or even have dogs visit them as part of the Pet Therapy program. Before such options were available, however, reading was a particularly popular recreational activity for many hospital patients.
In 1924, the Madison Free Library (renamed Madison Public Library in 1959) inaugurated book service for Madison General Hospital. A special hospital librarian from the MFL devoted two and a half hours in the afternoon to serving the patients. She wheeled a special book cart from room to room, offering patients a selection of 100 books to choose from. By 1928, the service was expanded to provide service for patients at St. Mary’s and Methodist Hospitals. Twice a week the librarian, taking the latest books and periodicals, made visits to each hospital. According to librarian Mary Smith, light fiction and National Geographic magazines were the most popular reading materials.
The library’s book service was highly valued for several decades. In 1945, two librarians reported that “several men patients eagerly contested for the first chance to read the lusty story of Sophie Tucker’s life, Some of These Days.” They also reported a strong demand for books with a religious tone, love stories for women, and most popular of all, “genuinely humorous books.” Patients typically asked questions like “Got a new Life Magazine today?” and “Where is that Zane Grey book the patient in 213 had last week?”
In 1945 a Capital Times reporter rhetorically asked, “Is this kind of service worth while?” and answered the question by citing 1944 library circulation statistics for hospital patients: “Ten thousand three hundred and twenty books for the boy with a broken back, the man with severe burns, the girl with paralysis, the old man with ulcers, the guy with no legs and the woman who just had her first child. Each of these responded with anticipation to the soft buzz of the book truck coming to their door. Someone knocked and a smiling face appeared and asked “Would you like something to read today: a book or a magazine?”
In 1950, the Lions Club donated funds to the library for the purchase of 10 ceiling book projectors and more than 400 microfilm books for use by patients too ill or unable to hold a book. The machine projected microfilmed pages of books on walls or ceilings.
The library sent out a letter to all doctors in the city, asking them to recommend patients “who are suffering from physical handicaps which in the judgment of the member of the medical profession make the use of regular books impossible.” The ceiling book projectors were commonly used in Madison hospitals throughout the 1950s.
The library’s dedication to making the projectors available to patients was exemplified by librarian Helen Farr, as described in the Wisconsin State Journal shortly before her retirement in 1957: “…On one occasion a request came to her at night for some library equipment…. Although her day’s work was done and the library was closed, she went alone to the library, got the requested equipment, and delivered it to the hospital.”
“Old age is not a disease. It’s a triumph.”
Maggie Kuhn, Founder of the Gray Panthers
Until the 1970s, the field of geriatrics was largely ignored. This changed during the 1970s when, among other things, the National Institutes of Health established the National Institute on Aging (1974), and the Veterans Health Administration (VA) established Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Care Centers (GRECCs) to improve the quality of care for older veterans (1975). In addition, a few medical centers began setting up programs but not separate departments in geriatrics.
Geriatric nurse practitioner Barbara Quirk played an important role in helping to raise public awareness in Madison about the need to do more for older adults and the complex challenges they face. In 1976, Quirk helped launch a unique program for the elderly. Working out of an office in the Brittingham Apartments in downtown Madison, she provided services for the elderly in this low-income housing complex with more emphasis on prevention than on emergency care. She explained, “These people are living independently at a certain level of health. We’re trying to maintain and perhaps increase that level of health and maintain the mobility they have now.” Quirk kept herself very visible around the apartment complex so that residents would feel free to come to her, which indeed they did.
Twelve years later when St. Mary’s Hospital and Dean Clinic began a geriatric evaluation clinic for older adults and their care-givers, Quirk was selected to be the clinic’s nurse practitioner because of her extensive background and experience on how health, social and financial problems can affect the life of an older person. She worked with clinic director Dr. Mark Sager not only to assist with each patient’s physical health needs but also to provide resource information for other social needs. She remained with the clinic from 1987 to 1995.
Quirk is best-known, however, for her award-winning weekly column “ImAGEs.” For more than 20 years, Quirk has written for the Capital Times on social and political issues affecting older adults, providing insightful analyses, resources and information and advocating for the rights of senior citizens.
A gerontologist and nurse practitioner, Quirk has lectured to local, state, national and international audiences. She has served on the DaneCounty Commission on Aging and is an active elder advocate and a powerful voice speaking out on social and political issues affecting older adults.
On November 18, 1979, Wisconsin State Journal food critic Genie Campbell titled her Diner’s Scorecard review “St. Mary’s Unusual: It’s Good Place to Eat.” She began by commenting that St. Mary’s was an unlikely subject for a restaurant review, but deserved consideration because “Former patients and visitors have offered unsolicited testimonies as to how good the food is. The fact that hospital employees willingly frequent the dining room says a lot in itself. …I’ve been told by several persons that St. Mary’s has the best crumb cake in town. While I’ve often heard it said of bakeries and some restaurants, it’s unusual to find a hospital in the running for the best of anything edible.… And the Wisconsin State Journal’s medical writer, William R. Wineke, endorses the above.”
The food in St. Mary’s restaurant, particularly the vegetables, and the dining room itself (“it’s quieter than the majority of cafeterias and more relaxed, thanks to soft lighting”) received rave reviews. Sister Maria Hinkebein was praised as the “mastermind” behind the kitchen operation. Trained as a dietician and described as a “modest, soft-spoken woman,” Sister Maria gave all the credit for the hospital’s fine dining reputation to her large staff of approximately 76 full-time workers.
The following year, Sister Maria again was featured in a Wisconsin State Journal article. This time, she was feted for voluntarily working on Christmas night as she had for the previous ten years. She said she and other hospital staff wanted to make sure patients received a meal worthy of the day. “It is a different special day,” Sister Maria explained. “And we try to do something special for the patients on Christmas Day. I enjoy being here with my employees. It is Christmas for them too you know.”
In 1977, St. Mary’s conducted an employee survey about preventive health care programs. The survey inquired about the possibility of creating exercise classes, dietary counseling and smoking clinics. One of the surprising findings was that two-thirds of the respondents who indicated they wanted exercise programs reported that they were not currently very active. This was contrary to the expectation that it would be the employees already physically active who would most strongly desire more exercise programs.
In response to the demand indicated by the surveys, St. Mary’s Hospital gave its employees a unique way to get in shape beginning the following year. Long before there were “personal trainers,” the hospital hired an exercise physiologist and inaugurated a fitness program for employees. The hospital set up an exercise room and stocked it with such equipment as a stationary bicycle and treadmill. Employees were encouraged to get professional counseling on fitness and develop an exercise program tailored to their needs.
“We know of no other hospital anywhere doing this,” said Steve Barney, St. Mary’s personnel director. He said the program also was unique in applying to all employees, not just executives. At the time, at least two private corporations in Wisconsin had established fitness programs. But those programs were only for executives and didn’t involve the majority of their employees. “We wanted to offer an opportunity for everyone,” said Barney.
In addition to fashioning exercise programs for individual employees, the new coordinator of the program, Steve Nast, also conducted seminars aimed at getting employees involved in activities that contribute to fitness such as cross-country skiing. Nast said his programs generally consisted of getting employees to exercise three times a week, progressing to 30 minutes a session, “at an appropriate heart rate. That’s enough to help a person maintain good cardiovascular condition.”
Nast and Barney said the hospital had first considered a program that would have gotten employees involved in YMCAs or private fitness clubs. But they said they found an absence of programs stressing cardiovascular health. Barney said, “I think it’s appropriate that a hospital would start an exercise physiology program as a one aspect of being in the business of promoting health…. There’s increasing interest in finding ways to prevent sickness. A hospital has to be in the forefront of that kind of effort.”
Three years later, St. Mary’s Hospital brought its health promotion efforts to the broader community with the opening of St. Mary’s Health Works. One of the first freestanding wellness education centers in the United States, Health Works provided classes on exercise, cooking and nutrition, relaxation and stress management and many other health-related topics.
In the mid-1990s, St. Mary’s Hospital printed a special publication recognizing the service of employees who had worked there from five to 40 years. Interviews with several of the service awardees provide first-hand accounts of their appreciation for their jobs and memories of some of their lighter experiences at St. Mary’s. Excerpts from some of these interviews are presented below:
Marlene Nickel, on the staff of STAR (Significant Therapy About Relationships) Day Treatment and working part time in Ambulatory Surgery: “My experiences have been happy, sad, gut-wrenching, joyful. But they have served to keep me humble with an overwhelming appreciation for life!”
Michele Yazici, who worked on the surgical unit, P.A.R. (post anesthesia recovery unit), SICU (surgical intensive care unit), and ER (emergency room): “No other job can give a person the kind of satisfaction we get from dealing with the public. Being able to relieve people’s fear and pain—we deal with people often at the lowest time in their lives. What a sacred trust and responsibility!”
Pat Davidovich, obstetrics nurse: “One father passed out just as his baby was born. As he fell, he took a second person down with him. It was quite a sight!” She also recalled the story of the father who got so sick, he had to go home and listen to his child’s birth over the telephone. “Being able to help women in labor, to hear the first cry of a newborn (the best sound in the world!), and to share in the joy of a couple as they bring forth life is very rewarding. I love what I do!”
Beverly Roberts, unit clerk and secretary: “I remember a patient wanting to take home his gall stones that had been removed. He saw them sitting in the little container on his bedside stand, thought they were his pills and took them!”
Nancy Bjornstad, nurse in Postpartum and the Family Care Suites: “A new father said to me ‘I can’t believe how nice everyone is on this floor…If I get sick and have to go to the hospital, I’m asking to be on your floor.’”
Virginia “Ginny” O’Brien, switchboard operator and friendly voice of St. Mary’s for 25 years: “Our obligations are more than answering the calls and paging. We make that important first impression, so it’s important to remain a voice with a smile.”
“It is no small task to keep such a vast array of equipment operational at all times. Nowhere in industry is there a parallel to the diversity of equipment found in the hospital plant/maintenance setting.”
Ed Van Woelderen, St. Mary’s Plant Maintenance Supervisor
Sr. Mary Bernadette Hogan was the administrator in charge of St. Mary’s Hospital when the School of Nursing was built in 1943. She must have liked how the project was managed because when the construction superintendent entered the hospital as a patient the following year, she visited him and convinced him to become director of the Plant Department, a position Martin Statz held for the next 28 years.
When Statz began working at St. Mary’s, his small staff had to do everything to keep the hospital’s physical plant operating smoothly 24 hours a day. This included hand-shoveling coal into the boiler in 12-hours shifts to keep the hospital heated. With such a small staff and so much equipment to maintain, it wasn’t uncommon for Statz to be seen walking around the hospital with a plunger handy. In contrast, by 1985 the plant department had a staff of 44 specialized mechanics, electricians, carpenters, painters, draftsmen, welders, secretaries, landscape designers and plumbers.
During his tenure as plant superintendent, the equipment at St. Mary’s became increasingly automated. But this didn’t lessen the workload, Statz said. It required a different kind of work—continued maintenance. Each new piece of equipment had more electronics, more controls, and so more could go wrong. With all of the electronics, maintenance became less physically demanding and more mentally challenging. “Automation is more economical because you can get better service, but it still needs maintenance….We jokingly have always said that when we tear something down, it’s medical progress,” Statz wryly commented.
As his responsibilities increased and the hospital expanded, Statz took advantage of advances in technology to improve his own efficiency. In 1968, he was known to ride a motorbike through the tunnel in the basement of the hospital to save time walking between tasks. ”I get poked fun at a lot, but I don’t care,” he said.
Statz once said, “The main object of the Plant Department is to provide 24-hour service to keep all areas of the hospital physical plant operational.” Statz and his staff, however, did not limit their activities to fulfilling this mission. During the polio epidemic days of the early 1950s, they embodied the St. Mary’s ethic by placing the care and comfort of patients above all else. When the epidemic struck with full force in 1952, the growing number of polio patients needing physical therapy created an urgent need for new facilities. Statz recalls that he and others gave up their vacation time to install the big Ille tank (tank respirator or “iron lung”) and accessory facilities to provide relief to the patients. When no construction people were available, Statz convinced his co-workers to work on Sundays.
“I remember I had to study up on iron lungs during that period,” he said. “Sometimes I’d go in at 6 in the morning and not come home until midnight.” His motivation? The sight of the children who were suffering from polio.
In 1951 Sister Mary Dorine Wittenbrink came to Madison from St. Louis to set up a special premature nursery at St. Mary’s Hospital. This first premature infant nursery at St. Mary’s was a “real cloistered” environment, according to Sister Dorine, who became known as the “preemie Sister.”
In the 1950s, monitoring meant watching each infant like a hawk for as long as 16 hours a day. There were no machines to provide a constant readout of pulse, oxygen level, heart rhythm and temperature. Nurses had to watch the infants, observe their color and activity levels and check their vital signs. And while parents of premature babies today are encouraged to spend time by their infant’s side, in the 1950s parents sometimes had to wait several months before they could hold their new son or daughter. In those days, the belief was that handling would drain a fragile infant’s energy, so parents had to watch their infants through the nursery windows.
St. Mary’s early work in the premature infant nursery paved the way for one of the most heartwarming developments in Madison in the 1960s: the opening in 1968 of Wisconsin’s first regional infant intensive care unit (IICU) at St. Mary’s Hospital. This was only the third Infant Intensive Care Unit in the United States. In the new care center, under the most dangerous of circumstances, the lives of many tiny infants were saved.
For the staff, it was exciting and gratifying working in this high-stakes arena. Sister Dorine said, “We were a real team working together. Seeing small sick babies become healthy children brought great satisfaction and joy.” But along with the joy, there were the heartaches when infants didn’t live or suffered from debilitating conditions.
Through the years, the IICU has played a vital role in the exciting advances in neonatal medicine. In 1990, IICU nurse Mary Ann Grunke commented, “Today, babies of 26 weeks gestation have as good a chance of survival as babies of 36 weeks gestation did when the nursery first opened.”
The need for constant vigilance hasn’t changed, however. As one nurse explained, “These infants show very subtle signs, easy to miss if you aren’t alert. A newborn with pneumonia may not cough much. He may have an intestinal obstruction and still not vomit, or he can have an infection and still not run a fever. That’s why constant observation is essential.”
Postscript: In 2011, St. Mary’s opened an expanded, state-of-the-art Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to serve up to 38 fragile newborns in private and semi-private rooms.
Barbara Nichols’s life has been full of firsts. She became the first director of St. Mary’s In-Service Education Department in 1969 and the first African-American to be elected president of the American Nurses Association in 1979. In 1983, as head of the State Department of Regulation and Licensing, she became the first African-American woman to hold a cabinet-level position in Wisconsin government. She didn’t set out to be a pioneer, but her career in nursing led her down that path.
From childhood, Barbara Rogers Nichols had “always wanted to be a nurse. It never seriously occurred to me to pursue anything else.” In 1959, she graduated from the Memorial School of Nursing in Massachusetts, worked there for three years as a staff nurse, and then served in the U.S. Nurse Corps from 1960 to 1963 as head nurse of the naval hospital in St. Albans, N.Y. “I joined the Navy to see the world and went from Boston to New York,” she said laughing. She received a Navy citation of honor for her exemplary care of patients undergoing open-heart surgery.
Nichols became the Nursing In-Service Education director at St. Mary’s in 1966. When the hospital-wide In-Service Education Department was established to encompass all departments and employees in 1969, she was promoted to head the new department. In this capacity, her myriad roles included teaching, helping to set up new programs and coordinating existing education programs throughout the hospital.
While working at St. Mary’s, Nichols became active in several health care organizations and taught for three years as an assistant clinical professor at the UW School of Nursing. In 1979 she received an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for her contributions to health education.
Also in 1979, Nichols was elected president of the American Nurses Association (ANA). During her two terms, she served as the spokeswoman for its 200,000 professional members and often was called to represent nearly two million nurses in the country. Although she found these responsibilities “awesome” and “overwhelming,” she was well-suited for the challenge.
As president of ANA, Nichols said nursing’s greatest challenge is to adjust its repertoire of knowledge to increasingly sophisticated health-care technology. “Nursing must translate the technology to human caring concerns, including the execution of knowledgeable judgment on behalf of people when they are ill as well as interaction with them when they are well. The most significant change in the clinical practice of nursing is the need for the profession to incorporate the new knowledge and new technology coming from the hard sciences.” Her assessment in 1982 remains equally valid today.