By Lynne Phillips
The New London Hospital opened its doors just in time for the “flu” epidemic in 1918, according to a history of the hospital by Martha Sturgess which was presented by Mary Lou Harris during a recently held New London Rotary Club meeting.
Opening on Oct. 11, the hospital was located in the village in a house on the north east corner of East Main and Walnut Streets.
There were nine beds and one nurse, Alice Dalaba, who, according to Sturgess, was the owner of the hospital.
Martha Blackert, a nurse from nearby North Fairfield joined Dalaba in Jan. 1919.
“At that time the hospital had 12 patients, mostly ill with the flu and volunteers helped out so the two nurses were able to get some rest.”
Sturgess’ history stated, “New London had only three deaths from influenza which when you read the statistics of that flu epidemic is truly amazing.”
The 1918 flu pandemic was an unusually deadly influenza, according to historical information.
It infected 500 million people around the world, including people on remote Pacific islands and in the Arctic. It resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million people (three to five percent of the world’s population), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.
“At the time, the small hospital in New London proved its worth, but paying the bills was always a problem,” Sturgess wrote.
“In 1920 Dalaba and Blackert told the New London Record that after the bills were paid they had almost no income for their work and reluctantly, they would have to close the hospital”.
In May, the Booster Club, an organization of New London Businessmen, announced they had formed a board of trustees to oversee the hospital. With assistance from the community the hospital and its two nurses would remain.
“The hospital was then incorporated and anyone paying $1 per year was a member of the corporation.
“Stella Townsend, a strong supporter of the hospital was chosen as chairman of the board. Other members were Leroy Baker, Lester Leech, Mrs. John O’Hara, Mrs. William Messenger and Mrs. George G. Swanger.”
Sturgess’ history states, “The D. J. C. house on the corner of South Main and Prospect Streets was for sale in early 1920 when Arnold retired and moved to Oberlin. Drs. Naurice Roasberry and R.W. Ernest bought the property with the intention of using the upstairs for their offices and rent the downstairs. In June 1920, the downstairs was rented by the hospital and remained there until it was sold in 1974.
“Unfortunately financial troubles plagued the hospital and in July 1931 the question of closing again came under discussion. On July 10, a public meeting was held to discuss the hospital’s future. During the meeting it was decided to place a one mill levy on the ballot in November in the village and in New London Township. The levy passed and membership of the board changed to include two members from the village and two from the township. Those four would then select three additional members. Later that number would change to five to be elected by the other four. The board would have charge of the affairs of the hospital, receive all monies coming to it and pay all bills.
“In 1943 the board was again confronted with financial issues and it was at that time Edith Lilly purchased the building from Roasberry and Dr. Erlenbach and gave the deed to the village and township. The deed was transferred in Nov. 1944.
“Additionally, Lilly’s gift included money sufficient to build an addition to the hospital as well as pay for changes that were needed to satisfy hospital regulations.
“Due to World War II, building or even remodeling of the hospital was not possible and Lilly’s monetary gift was invested in anticipation of the time when construction could begin.
“Some community members felt a new hospital was the better plan and the New London Hospital Building Corporation organized to design a new hospital.
“Board minutes show communication between the board and the building corporation continued. The last mention of the building corporation was May 10, 1950. In August the board moved to submit plans for a hospital addition for approval by the state and prepare estimates for the cost. In December, a special meeting of the board was held, plans for the annex had been approved at an estimated cost of $55,000. Construction was set to begin and in August 1951 the board held their meeting in the new annex.
“In 1963, board minutes indicated The Ohio Hospital Plan was read and much discussion followed relating to maintaining the hospital as well as building an addition to comply with the plan.
“Board members made the decision to build and fundraising began.
“Plans were approved and in 1968 construction of a new addition began. The addition was completed in June of the next year.
“With the passage of Medicare by congress in 1965, that meant hring a dietician to direct food service in the hospital, a certified public accountant to oversee finances and a hospital administrator responsible for the operation of the hospital.”
Stugress wrote, “A dietician was hired, I am not sure about a CPA and G.W. Bender who had recently retired as high school principal became the administrator.” She added, “Bender was not related to James Bender who was administrator for the Medical Services Group who later owned the hospital.”
Time passed and doctors H. A. Erlenbach passed away in 1962 followed by T.H. Smith in 1969. Drs. Slagle and Lanka moved out of the community leaving Dr. H.D. Erlenbach, who was also on staff at another hospital served as the village’s only doctor.
“Efforts to secure physicians were unsuccessful, and with debt mounting, the decision to sell the hospital was made. The sale was completed in February 1974.
“New London Hospital held a special place in the community,” Sturgess wrote. “Almost all New Londoners born between 1920 and 1969 began life at the New London Hospital. Agnes Sprague told me when she began work at the hospital after WWII she was shocked to see visitors wandered from room to room seeing all the patients in the hospital. And horror of horrors, Alma White, head nurse, carried every new baby from room to room as soon as he or she was wrapped in a receiving blanket. Alma assured Agnes New London Hospital had no infections in spite of all the visits, a better record that many larger hospitals.”
In closing her history of the hospital, Sturgess gave kudos to the women of the hospital auxiliary. “There never was a more dedicated or harder-working group of women. I assume the organization began after WWII. They raised the money that built the solarium, the room on the north east corner of the hospital and bought drapes and curtains for the rooms in the 1968 addition.
“When equipment was needed they had fundraisers to pay for it. They were hostesses for visiting hours and without them the hospital would have closed sooner than it did.”
When the hospital was sold the New London Proceeds Scholarship was established from money invested by the proceeds corporation.
“The sale of the hospital was a hard decision for the 1974 board,” she wrote. “But for many reasons it had become impossible to meet expenses of the hospital and the sale to a group of doctors seemed the best solution. It was operated for a few years by the group and eventually sold at a sheriff’s sale.
“The proceeds corporation was formed from the hospital board to oversee payments. The new organization followed closely the rules of the previous board and later the word ‘hospital’ was removed from the corporation’s title. Any expenditures of the corporation required the approval of the Huron County Court of Common Pleas and was still the case at the writing of Sturgess’ history.”
This is no longer the case according to proceeds corporation board member Mary Lou Harris.
Today, the proceeds board is made up of nine members with George Eastman as its president. Additional members include Harris, John Martin, Tab Wykcoff, Steven Fawcett, Diana Schwin, Carol Pondy, and Delores Marschall. There is one vacant seat.
The corporation’s mission, according to Harris, is to award a scholarship each year to a New London High School senior majoring in a medically related field of study, and make grants to individuals or groups in support of health and well being.
Grants have been made to help make a handicapped accessible deck at the New London Reservoir (Terry Wilson Memorial Deck), the New London High School track, New London Volunteer Fire Department, assistance in building the original Firelands Ambulance Service building, food programs of the the local daycare and sound system (hearing amplification for learning).