Day 5: Giving to the Community for One Hundred Years

When St. Mary’s Hospital opened in 1912, the sisters immediately established an endowment program to provide free care to the poor. This commitment to help meet the needs of the community, particularly those with the greatest need and often well beyond the confines of Madison, has characterized St. Mary’s Hospital throughout its history. When St. Mary’s staff identified a problem, they usually found a way to address it.

In the 1920s, St. Mary’s physicians offered free check-ups to babies and during the Depression opened a free clinic on site for the poor. Fast forward to 1962, when administrators learned that migrant workers in Endeavor, Wisconsin, were not receiving medical care. Physicians, nurses and other health professionals from St. Mary’s volunteered to staff a clinic to provide free care for the migrant workers.

When they learned of the need for someone to provide healthy meals to elderly or disabled persons who might not otherwise have a balanced diet was identified, the St. Mary’s Hospital laboratory and dietary department cooperated in 1970 to create a “mobile meals” program, preparing low-fat, low-sodium, diabetic and regular meals, which were then delivered by volunteers. This was a precursor to the Meals on Wheels program.

In 1974 at the request of radio station WISM, St. Mary’s Hospital assisted in the preparation of an ongoing series of one-minute health spots. St. Mary’s started a support group for bereaved parents in 1976 and the “I Can Cope,” support group in 1982 for persons with cancer and persons whose lives have been touched by cancer. During that same year, St. Mary’s Adult Day Health Center opened and today continues to provide daytime care for older but still ambulatory adults who need continuous, individualized medical treatment and rehabilitation.

In 1993, 12 St. Mary’s physicians, nurses and OR technicians donated their medical and surgical skills to the Gaspar Garcia Hospital in Rivas Nicaragua. The group spent seven days providing medical evaluations for over 400 children and performing 43 surgeries not easily obtained in Nicaragua.

In 1995, Don Sylvester, a clinical engineer at St. Mary’s, was part of a group of Madison medical providers who brought donated medical supplies to Kazakhstan in an effort to help the country re-build its medical services. St. Mary’s donated the ER’s former X-ray machine as well as other equipment, medications and miscellaneous supplies.

In 2005, The Helping Hearts program, a venture of the Dean/St. Mary’s Cardiac Center, provided Dane and Rock County schools with automated external defibrillators which allowed trained non-medical individuals to deliver a safe, easy-to-use, potentially life-saving electric current to someone experiencing cardiac arrest.

Also in 2005 with the recognition that there was strong need for HIV prevention education in South Africa, St. Mary’s internist Dr. Alexander Kendziorski and his wife Rebecca founded African Youth Outreach, an organization that teaches ways to get treatment and avoid transmission to youth ages 11 to the mid-20s who have lost a parent or family member to AIDS.

In 2008, St. Mary’s Hospital “adopted” LincolnElementary School beginning with a drive for school supplies and followed by two days of on-site help with landscaping, painting, library work and classroom activities.

The previous examples are but a small sampling of the valiant efforts to help others that were started either as an institutional project or a personal endeavor by committed staff. St. Mary’s has been a compassionate health care community for a century, assuming responsibility to a broadly defined  community, ranging from south-central Wisconsin to other parts of the world.


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