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ECMC, opened in era of old medical threats, celebrates 100 years

Erie County Medical Center will celebrate its 100th anniversary Sunday with a special event expected to draw nearly 1,000 staff members and their families.

The hospital on Grider Street traces its roots back to an era in medical care that might feel foreign to them.

But one thing has stayed largely the same – the hospital has always fulfilled a critical community medical need, such as Level 1 trauma care and kidney transplantation today.

"The buildings have changed but not the mission," said Thomas Quatroche Jr., ECMC's president and chief executive officer.

The hospital arose in the early 1900s when hundreds of residents were dying every year from tuberculosis – as well as suffering from other diseases now under control, including smallpox and scarlet fever.

In response, the Buffalo Common Council established a City Hospital, originally conceived as a sanitarium for tuberculosis.

The City Hospital opened in 1918 – amid two crises that immediately and radically changed its reason for being.

The Erie County Almshouse and Infirmary, located at the current site of the University at Buffalo's South Campus, burned down and its patients transferred to the City Hospital. That same year, Buffalo and the rest of the world were hit by an influenza pandemic that killed more than 2,500 people in the city and left many thousands more seriously ill.

The events quickly changed the facility into a general hospital that accepted medical and surgical patients and treated all sorts of medical problems.

One year after it opened, the hospital continued to stir change, starting the first diploma nursing school in Buffalo to include university courses in the curriculum for academic credit, racially integrate students and admit men.

"The hospital's roots to serve everyone regardless of status in life is something that has continued," Quatroche said.

Among other highlights in ECMC's history:

  • 1939: The hospital changed its name to the Edward J. Meyer Memorial Hospital. Meyer was known as the father of the City Hospital, serving as president of the board of managers from 1912, when a board was first appointed, until his death in 1935.
  • 1946: Control of the hospital switched from the city to the county.
  • 1960s: Anita Dorr, a registered nurse, with the help of her husband, developed the hospital crash cart to hold medical essentials, a cabinet on wheels that became ubiquitous at hospitals.
  • 1972: A trauma center was established.
  • 1978: A new building opened and was renamed the Erie County Medical Center.
  • 1990: Initiation of the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program.
  • 2004: ECMC loosens its ties to county management by becoming a public benefit corporation.

Over the years, the medical center has faced financial and political challenges that nearly led to closure or merger into another facility.

But, it has endured.

Quatroche said that, for a public hospital, the facility is doing well, has made progress in improving its image and has maintained a culture consistent with meeting public needs.

"Many people have stood up for this institution," he said. "And, we have a staff – doctors, nurses and everyone else – that has stayed dedicated to it."

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