The Beginning of the Medical Center
Part II ( continued from Part I )
In 1954 our Medical Center opened its doors, and was an immediate success. In its first year, eight maternity cases were handled, and people spent seven nights in bed here for various ailments. From the 36 x-rays taken that first year (using Dr. Vail's equipment), a number of strains were diagnosed as fractures and given proper treatment. When people were sent to the mainland for treatment, their x-ray plates were sent with them. Everyone was proud of our new facility.
Dr. Vail and his wife, who served as his nurse, were an equally important part of the community. He pushed for blood typing and water testing, and brought over the Charlevoix Health Officer John Reynolds to suggest ways to improve the dump. She started a lending library in her home, where Russ and Joy Green now live, and held a story hour for kids. She also gave music lessons, and teamed up with Father Joe to provide entertainment at the Hall. She got the Floribunda Rose adopted as the Beaver Island flower. A streetlight was put up in front of their home. The first Episcopal services were held here, drawing a surprisingly large crowd.
Improvements were made as chances presented themselves. Don Cole made a sequence of signs. Dan Clark donated a cart for moving patients, and Mrs. Stark from the Detroit News donated a sterilizer. The loan from Erwin Belfy was paid off, thanks in part to a donation from St. James Township, and the argument with the undertaker Charles Portius over his unpaid pledge was settled. Agreement was reached with the County, which had refused to pay Dr. Vail for treating Welfare patients. At the end of the summer of 1955 a surgical table from Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids was procured by Elaine Smith and Bishop McNeil, who were on Butterworth's Board. The Medical Center was among the first to receive the new Saulk vaccine, and started a program to vaccinate the school children.
Babies began to appear at an increasing rate, considering the population had dropped to 210 (by 1956.) It seemed wives had waited to get pregnant until the new facility was in place, and then went about their business with unfettered passion. In May of 1955 Mary Ellen Burke became the first mother to give birth to her second Medical Center child.
But a serious problem was on the horizon. One of the reasons Dr. Vail came to the Island was that his health was shot, and he needed to adopt a less-hectic way of life. Doyle Fitzpatrick said that making a house call was so exhausting for him that he frequently asked to lie down on a couch before he went into the bedroom to see his patient. But just as they had done for so many others, our recuperative airs worked wonders for him, and his health was soon restored. Unfortunately for the Islanders, this also restored his zest for a more challenging practice, and he announced his desire to return to Bay City. He gave notice on May 1, 1956. As a parting gift he donated much of his equipment, including his x-ray machine.
Distraught, the Medical Center Committee asked the State Health Commissioner for help. Requests for a new doctor went out, and to everyone's surprise there were 28 responses. Six were chosen for the short list, and four of these were invited to come for an interview. Of these, Dr. Frank Luton, a man of broad experience and high honors, had the greatest stature by far. The only problem was, he had already been in practice for 55 years. Still, when he expressed his willingness to serve, the committee agreed. He bought Henry Allen's house, now owned by Skip, and moved here at the end of October in 1956. For the moment, we were out of the woods.
Continued - See Part III