Marshfield, October 1931
The beginnings of St. Joseph’s Hospital and the establishment of minimum surgical standards
By Kris Leonhardt
As thousands of desperate immigrants—destined for a land that promised hope and prosperity—packed the ports of Liverpool, Queenstown, Hamburg, and various other European cities, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother were already making the United States their home.
The Sisters arrived in Marshfield in 1890. They had come to the city at the request of the pastor of St. John’s to create a hospital near the established church. When the nuns arrived they were met with disappointment as they viewed the recently charred remains of the city, stemming from the 1887 fire, as well as a non-existent hospital building.
Not to be deterred, the Sisters set up a six-patient medical facility in a rented home in the city and got to work.
In 1891 the exterior of a new hospital building was completed on the grounds. The modern day St. Joseph’s Hospital and Marshfield Clinic occupy that space today. With the interior unfinished, the Sisters moved to the basement of the building and ran the hospital out of that location for 17 years.
The nuns struggled through the next years to make ends meet until Bavarian priest Sebastian Kneipp introduced a new medical procedure that would help build the hospital. Using the Kneipp Water Cure, a form of hydrotherapy using water application through various means to provide treatment and relief, the hospital began to draw patients from all over the state and the Midwest.
The income from the increased traffic helped the Sisters expand the hospital and grow to other facilities throughout Wisconsin. In 1901 the Sisters laid the foundation with rocks from local farmers for a chapel and six-room addition to the Marshfield facility. In the next decade and a half, they would add operating rooms, surgical dressing rooms, patient rooms, an elevator, laundry facilities, a lab, and a school.
While the hospital grew and other medical facilities sprung up around the country, institutions were also being implemented to oversee the operations of these new facilities.
In 1913 the American College of Surgeons (ACS) was founded in an effort to improve the quality of surgical care by placing standards on medical facilities.
The Minimum Standard document was drafted in 1919, and the ACS focused on surgical education and improving care in the following years.
In 1926 a manual was created that outlined a Hospital Standardization Program, and the ACS began looking into cancer and trauma programs as well.
As the Great Depression bore down on the country, Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother’s St. Joseph’s Hospital had grown to 175 beds, and the ACS tightened up its medical standards. By 1930 minimum standards were established for all surgical residencies throughout the country.
In October of 1931, the Director General of the ACS announced that the 3,319 hospitals in the United States had been reviewed for standard requirements. In his speech during a Hospital Standardization conference, he stressed the importance of safe medical practices during hard economic times.
During the speech it was announced that St. Joseph’s Hospital was one of just 42 hospitals in Wisconsin that obtained approval under the new, stricter ACS standards.
It was also noted that the creation of one particular standard may have been a large factor in many institutions not gaining approval. With the new requirement to submit 100 clinical records documenting operations performed, many surgeons could not produce the required documents as they had failed to keep such records.