2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the Wyoming County Community Health System. The foresight of its early founder and long term support from the community and the Board of Supervisors of Wyoming County have ensured continuous quality healthcare in rural Wyoming County for 100 years.
The original hospital was founded in early 1911 by Dr. W. Ross Thomson, a well-qualified surgeon from New York City. He established his practice in a private residence on West Buffalo Street in the Village of Warsaw, New York. He opened five patient beds on the second story with a nursing staff of two, one nurse worked days and the other nights, up to 20 hours per day each. One of the first young nurses, May O’Brien, came at the age of fifteen to be trained by Dr. Thomson to work in the hospital. The first successful surgery was performed in a room of his home. Sterilization was done on the kitchen stove and the laundry was done in a small machine in the barn. Patients were taken to the second floor with an old elevator pulled up by ropes.
Dr. Thomson’s practice grew rapidly and he was soon joined by other physicians including an internist, a surgeon and an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist. Dr. Thomson finally invested $20,000 of his own money and erected a wing to the residence for additional procedures and patient rooms.
A School of Nursing was begun in 1918. From 1918-1922 it was a one-year school for practical nurses. It then expanded to a two-year program from 1922-1939, and subsequently began offering a three-year registered nurse education. The School of Nursing closed in 1971, after 53 years of educating nurses many of whom served the Wyoming County Community Hospital with a few remaining on staff today.
Continued overcrowding and patients needing to be placed on a waiting list brought the hospital to a crisis position. In 1923 the community supported a campaign to raise $40,000 to enlarge the hospital to provide adequate accommodations for ward patients and an urgently needed maternity department. The original house was eventually torn down when the new building was completed in 1925. The community protected its investment with the county obtaining options to purchase the property from Dr. Thomson.
In 1930 the hospital attracted the attention of the Commissioner of Health in Albany. At that time, the County of Wyoming purchased Dr. Thomson’s interest and the State Health Department shared the cost equally, further agreeing to meet one-half of each year’s financial deficits, thereby providing stability and proper standards for years to come. Building additions completed in 1938 enabled the facility to meet growing demand and provide up-to-date healthcare for residents of Wyoming County and other nearby communities.
The Wyoming County Board of Supervisors committed support for a larger facility, projected to cost $1,583,000, to be built north of the village. Begun in 1952, the new hospital was the first to receive capital funds from NYS under a Public Health Law Provision in effect for years but never invoked. With a population of less that 50,000, Wyoming County was eligible to receive construction costs of $527,000 from NYS to build a county-owned facility, and an equal amount from federal funds. The remainder was provided by Wyoming County. Another amount of $230,338 was approved later for equipment. The new Wyoming County Community Hospital with 112 medical/surgical beds and 22 bassinets opened to patients on November 1, 1953. A residence and classrooms for the School of Nursing was also built on the campus of the hospital.
Reflecting further community involvement and investment at this time, a Hospital Auxiliary was founded in 1953. Active now for 58 years, the auxiliary has provided volunteers for many daily activities at the hospital and operates the gift ship with the profits designated for equipment to address specific needs of patients and staff.
Recognizing the growing need for long term care for the elderly, the Peet Pavilion, a 72-bed skilled nursing facility was constructed adjoining the hospital in 1964. It was later expanded with the addition of 88 more beds in 1992. Applying a HEAL Grant received in 2010 for rightsizing and renovating, the oldest parts of the facility will be redesigned and renewed in the near future. WCCHS now provides short-term rehabilitation; end-of-life comfort care and respite care as well as long-term residential skilled nursing care and will soon introduce medical daycare for the elderly in conjunction with the County of Wyoming.
An approved and certified School of Radiological Technology was founded in 1967. For ten years it provided a tuition-free two-year training program for Radiologic Technologists. It was overseen by WCCHS physicians and provided staff for the hospital. Two graduates are still employed in the hospital radiology department.
The 1953 building has been updated in various areas to incorporate additional services and to respond to the needs of the time:
1970: Four beds were changed into an Intensive Care Unit
1978: Renovation and Expansion Project of $5.65 million in areas of ICU, surgery, recovery, dietary and maintenance
1978: Emergency Transfer Vehicle was placed in service
1978: ICU expanded to eight beds
1991: Second-floor medical/surgical inpatient rooms redesigned into an Ambulatory Surgery Area
1993: 12-bed inpatient Mental Health Unit was constructed and opened
The Wyoming County Community Health System services today include Emergency Department; state-of-the-art Radiology Department; Laboratory; Obstetrics and Gynecology; General Surgery, both inpatient and outpatient; Orthopedic Services; specialty Eye Surgery; Physical and Occupational Rehabilitation, including a hand specialist; Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation; services to the NYS Department of Corrections; and long term residential care and short term rehabilitation in the skilled nursing facility.
At this juncture of 100 years of service, the largest project ever undertaken by the County of Wyoming has just begun. A $22 million building program will renovate the existing outdated hospital and include new construction with accessible entrances, convenient emergency and radiology departments, and new surgical suites.
The Wyoming Community Hospital Foundation, established in 1993 with a bequest of $50,000 from the community, is an integral part of this exciting time leading up to a new and renovated facility. The Capital Campaign of 2006-07, a first for the Foundation, successfully raised almost $5 million to provide funding and specific components of the much larger project. These funds will work in conjunction with a 2009 HEAL Grant received for rightsizing and redesigning acute care services.
Our vision of Wyoming County Community Health System speaks to our future:
With a new look, new convenience and new services, combined with the personal touch you are accustomed to, your Wyoming County Community Health System has become a source of increased pride for the community, and the hospital and nursing facility of choice for its citizens.