This is the first post of a three part series by Tammy and the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee (HRC). In December 2018, Lancaster community members were told UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster — one of only two hospitals in Lancaster City — was slated to close by March 1st. UPMC had owned the hospital for just over a year before choosing to close it; however, the hospital had previously stood as St. Joseph’s Hospital, an institution in the community for over 130 years.
This three part series written by the Lancaster HRC includes: Part one – a brief history of St. Joseph’s; Part two – A personal history of St. Joseph’s; and culminates with Part three – The Weekend of Action and final Chapel Service (February 2019). Although UPMC closed the hospital doors at the end of February, the Lancaster HRC has not stopped fighting. For more information contact Lancaster HRC coordinator Tammy at email@example.com.
History of St. Joseph’s Hospital
St. Joseph’s Hospital was built as a charity hospital in 1878 and was the first hospital in Lancaster County. It was built and operated at first by St. John of God Order of Brothers and almost immediately ran into financial difficulties. The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia took over the hospital in 1883 with an operating budget of $2.50, two apples and a mission to minister to the sick and poor. When they arrived, the building didn’t have electricity, running water, or beds. Despite being met with a strong anti-Catholic sentiment, the Sisters won over the community by their devotion to the community and the care they gave to their patients. The Sisters, who worked tirelessly without a salary for many years, scrubbing floors, cooking the food for their patients, keeping medical records, and washing all the clothes and linens of the hospital, also provided spiritual support to their patients with daily visits by the pastoral care department, most of whom were not Catholic.
Due to their less-than-shoestring budget, the Sisters made a weekly trek to Central Market to garner donations from vendors for both themselves and their patients. During one Central Market visit, one Amish man reluctantly tossed a bar of soap into their basket, perhaps sharing in the strong, prevalent anti-Catholic sentiment present at the time in Lancaster County. His wife became seriously ill that same night and was taken to St. Joseph’s hospital for treatment. The Sisters that went to Central Market that day recognized the man and personally saw to the care of his wife. Due to their care, that same Amish man supplied the hospital with soap for many years. (Picture caption (below: Sr. Anne Lawrence performs her duties as pharmacist at St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster, PA)
Their devotion and care of their patients and for the community became known throughout Lancaster and the hospital grew. In 1884, the first operating room was established and the hospital became incorporated in 1885. At the turn of the century, a new wing was built for surgery and established The Training School For Nurses in 1902. In 1950, the community partnered with the Sisters, in recognition of their care and devotion, the original Victorian building was replaced by new buildings. Serving 121 patients in their first year, over the next 120 years St. Joseph’s evolved into a specialty hospital with a medical staff that encompassed over 30 medical specialties. (Picture caption: St Joseph School of Nursing founded in 1902, last graduating class was in 1969, 741 nurses graduated from St Joseph School of Nursing.)
Due to the dwindling number of women becoming nuns, the Sisters’ ability to continue their service at the hospital was becoming impossible, and their devotion and service to the community was costing the hospital millions of dollars. They reluctantly sold the hospital in 2000 to a for-profit Florida chain, which renamed the hospital Lancaster Regional Medical Center, who in turn sold it in 2017 to UPMC Pinnacle. The Sisters believe that the evolution of the hospital and the special place it holds in the hearts of many, of which both Lancaster Regional and UPMC Pinnacle reaped and exploited the benefits, was due to their devotion to the care, both physical and spiritual, to all who came through their doors and resided in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“Times change. I’m not sure why this decision has been made, but I trust that the Lord will take care of all the good people in Lancaster.”- Sister Dreisbach.
In a recent LNP article It was stated this was the reaction of Sister Joan Dreisbach to news of the pending shutdown of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster, formerly known as St. Joseph Hospital. Sister Joan Dreisbach spent roughly 25 years at the former St. Joseph Hospital between 1957 and 1984.
Dreisbach, now 89, is known to many in Lancaster from her years directing St. Joseph’s nursing school and later serving as the Catholic hospital’s president.
She learned of the planned closing of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster when a reporter reached her by phone at Assisi House, the Philadelphia-area retirement convent where she now lives.
“I have a very tender place in my heart from all of those experiences,” Dreisbach said. “I will cherish my memories.” Click here to read the whole article.
Feeling Blessed, The Sisters of St. Joseph Hospital Gave All
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