Could anyone standing at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center dedication on October 2, 1965 have imagined the new hospital would evolve into the community based system of care it is today? The visionaries of the new medical center were confident that the opening of a new facility was necessary to adequately serve the healthcare needs of a growing Baltimore County. What they didn't know was that GBMC would become one of the most renowned and progressive healthcare systems in the region.
Today, GBMC HealthCare has evolved into a family of organizations, including Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), Greater Baltimore Medical Associates (GBMA), Gilchrist Hospice Care and Greater Baltimore Health Alliance (GBHA). The 245-bed medical center (acute- and sub-acute care) handles more than 26,700 inpatient cases and nearly 60,000 emergency room visits annually. The main campus in Towson includes three medical office buildings: Physicians Pavilion East, Physicians Pavilion West and Physicians Pavilion North I. Additionally, GBMC operates multiple Patient-Centered Medical Home primary care practices throughout the community, providing convenient, compassionate and well-coordinated care for patients.
As Two Become One…
GBMC as it is known today is the result of two Baltimore City hospitals merging and relocating to Baltimore County: The Hospital for the Women of Maryland, of Baltimore City (Women’s Hospital) and Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital.
Founded in 1882, Women's Hospital – as the name implies – only treated women's illnesses. Prior to that time, it was customary for women to be treated at home. The idea of the dedicated hospital, recalled one writer, was to "give the women of Maryland a chance to have the best specialists at a nominal sum."
Women’s Hospital grew to serve thousands of women from Baltimore and its surrounding counties, but by the mid-1950s, the facility was painfully outdated, requiring substantial outlay of capital improvements. Moreover, the nature of healthcare was changing – no longer were specialty hospitals en vogue. Instead, they were becoming medical centers with many specialties.
Meanwhile, administrators at the well-respected Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital were considering their hospital's future. Originating as a clinic in Dr. Julian John Chisolm’s carriage house, the hospital was supported by the Presbyterian Church and overseen by the Board of Governors with considerable assistance from a Board of Lady Managers. Presbyterian grew to include a notable residency program and Eye Department, which was fortunate to have Dr. Richard Hoover as its Chief of Ophthalmology. As time passed, the hospital came to have an outstanding reputation in the fields of ophthalmology and otolaryngology.
In the mid 1950s, Women's Hospital formed a committee to discuss its future, which included a decision to meet the need for a hospital north of the city. By 1958, Women's Hospital had obtained land in Towson, a community on the brink of urbanization, which was projected to grow in population by 69% between 1960 and 1980. The land was purchased from Sheppard Pratt and started by a gift of $1,000 from Mrs. Edward Yaggy.
Combining Two Institutions
By 1960, there was a discussion among the two hospital boards and their chiefs of staff to consider combining the hospitals to form a new, general hospital. Committees were formed to represent each hospital. The chairman for Women's Hospital was Mrs. H. Norman Baetjer, and the Chairman for Presbyterian Hospital was Mr. Carlton Guenther. Included on the committees was each hospital's chief of staff, Dr. John E. Savage from Women's Hospital and Dr. Alvin P. Wenger from Presbyterian. Mr. John Motz moderated the committees. After much discussion about how to most effectively combine the two institutions, an agreement was reached.
Fundraising for the new medical center was a collaborative initiative of both hospitals, which generated approximately $16 million. The future site for GBMC was dedicated September 7, 1962 and construction began in December 1963. The same year, a group of innovative women from both originating hospitals, who were dedicated to the health and well-being of their local community, formed the GBMC Volunteer Auxiliary. They worked tirelessly to help lay the foundation for today’s GBMC HealthCare system. By May 1964, the frame for the hospital had been built and work continued at a fast pace for completion of the region's newest medical center.
On October 2, 1965, a dedication ceremony highlighted by remarks from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his brother Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower, validated the official blending of Women's Hospital and Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital and signaled the GBMC’s ongoing commitment to healthcare.
The new hospital was unlike anything Baltimore had ever seen. The 'patient always comes first' healthcare philosophy was applied to every aspect of the hospital planning. The largely single-patient rooms had every amenity for its time, including consoles with telephone, radio and call button within easy reach, and a bathroom 'astep-and-a-half ' away from the bed. Nursing stations were placed along corridors so no patient's room was more than 40 feet away, versus the 112 feet in other hospitals. New for the time was a 'self-care' unit, which allowed patients freedom to walk around, visit each other and wander through the many landscaped gardens at GBMC. The design and architecture of the facility was clearly innovative for the time and carried out a priority to create an environment conducive to patient care and comfort.
In those early days of GBMC’s operation, Volunteer Auxiliary members donated their time and talents wherever possible to help keep patients, visitors and staff happy and overall costs down. The Volunteer Auxiliary still exists, fifty years later, and boasts more than 450 active volunteers whose considerable contributions are a major reason for GBMC’s success.
GBMC has also maintained its roots in women’s services, ophthalmology and otolaryngology from the merging of its founding hospitals. All three specialties remain strong at GBMC HealthCare to this day.