Bethany Medical Center and its hopeful legacy
The Kansas City Star
A lot of trees and grass now grow where Bethany Medical Center once stood near 12th Street and Central Avenue.
Plans never materialized for a multimillion-dollar, senior housing campus, where the 415-bed hospital founded in 1892 once stood. Bethany closed in 2001, and its buildings were razed in 2004.
It joined St. Joseph, Menorah, Park Lane, St. Mary’s and Trinity Lutheran as urban hospitals that either closed or followed the area’s population into the suburbs. Another shakeup is ahead with St. Joseph and St. Mary’s being for sale now.
Although Bethany is gone, it’s important to remember the medical center’s great legacy.
It was at then-Bethany Hospital 50 years ago this year that the first intensive care unit devoted to heart attack patients was established, wrote Gerard B. Hannibal and Karen J. George in a May American Journal of Nursing article.
The new coronary care unit was the work of internist Hughes Day through a grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation. It represented a “new era of patient care, one that would soon revolutionize both nursing and medicine,” the magazine notes.
Something had to be done. Before Day’s breakthrough, sudden death was common among patients with myocardial infarction. “The mortality rate was about 40 percent by one estimate,” the article notes.
Four medical and nursing innovations helped make Day’s efforts possible. One was external cardiac defibrillation.
It’s something that people today take as commonplace, but it wasn’t back in 1962. A second breakthrough was closed-chest CPR — again, something we’d have thought was always done, but it wasn’t back then.
A third was intensive nursing care to detect any change and react with lifesaving action. The fourth was continuous cardiac monitoring to enable medical professionals to know when a patient was in trouble.
The space program with John Glenn in 1962 becoming the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth also made a contribution. The constant monitoring of animals and astronauts in the late 1950s and 1960s showed it was possible for cardiac patients to benefit.
“Day’s goal was to quickly identify sudden cardiac death through an alarm system and resuscitate the patient within the crucial four minutes before brain death,” the magazine article noted.
Day said he knew a team of specially trained nurses was needed to “recognize cardiac rhythm disturbances and to rapidly intervene,” the article said. Bethany’s coronary unit opened on May 20, 1962. Day developed a “crash cart with a defibrillator and code blue signal that alerted the appropriate staff to the emergency.”
There were some setbacks. But “within a year of its establishment, the coronary care unit at Bethany Hospital had seen a significant decrease in mortality rates from 39 percent to 19 percent,” the magazine said.
Other coronary care units followed Bethany in 1962 in Toronto, Philadelphia and Sydney, Australia. The efforts did not occur without grumbling.
“Coronary care units were expensive, and funding was difficult,” the magazine noted.
Yet a four-year study showed a significant drop in mortality rates in the first six months: 12.5 percent for patients in the coronary care unit compared with 26.3 percent for the control group. “Results were attributed to early treatment and continuous nursing observation,” the magazine noted.
It also was the result of a “blurring of boundaries” between the roles of nurses and physicians, the magazine said. Expect a lot more blurring to occur as the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented and more patients seek the help of medical professionals.
By 1967 more than 300 coronary care units were begun in this country, and by 1971, the number had grown to 1,750. The treatment has made steady advances, with such things as Day’s and Bethany’s work seeming commonplace now.
But it was radical then. Treatment that used to take weeks of hospitalization in the 1960s is only a matter of a few days now. Day and Bethany Medical Center have both passed on. But the legacy they leave ensures so that more people survive heart attacks.
Whatever goes in the field where Bethany Medical Center used to sit should include a monument or statue of Day and the work that was done to help save lives.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.