Community health efforts seem to be springing up everywhere these days, including highly publicized efforts to get folks to quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more and reduce stress. But some 120 years ago, the original community health effort was launched with the creation of what is today known as “Mount Desert Island Hospital.”
At a gathering of community leaders at the Marlborough Hotel in September of 1897, members of the Village Improvement Association determined the town needed to do more when it came to medical care. In prior decades, the town suffered through outbreaks of typhoid fever and diphtheria. Although the threat of contagious disease was eased greatly by improvements to the town’s sewer and water systems, the presence of a hospital available for surgeries and convalescence made Bar Harbor the envy of similar communities in Maine.
The first building of the Bar Harbor Medical and Surgical Hospital was up and running in 1899 and quickly proved too small. It doubled in size in 1905.
The hospital demonstrated its role as an invaluable resource in 1918 during the global influenza epidemic. The main hospital, the isolation hospital used to treat contagious patients, and the town’s Odd Fellows Hall all were pressed into service to save lives and help make people well.
The name was changed to Mount Desert Island Hospital in 1931.
It has continued to grow since then, not only in size, but in the depth and scope of its offerings. The establishment of the Colket Inpatient Center in 2007 continued the institution’s long tradition of responsiveness to community needs and treatment trends. The hospital also has grown its network of clinics and health centers, and has enhanced treatment options through the creation of programs or institutions such as the Lisa Stewart Women’s Health Center.
Not only has the hospital been a stalwart institution of healing and health for area residents, it also has managed to be among the highest quality institutions of its size in the country. Though rated as a “small rural” hospital, with more than 500 employees, it is one of the largest economic engines in the area.
While the future direction of delivering health care services in this country remains unclear, the residents of Mount Desert Island should take comfort that most of their health care needs can be met right at home by their friends and neighbors. Now, as at the beginning, the hospital has put service to the community front and center.
Having a resource such as Mount Desert Island Hospital on a small island is a sure sign of good community health and a luxury that many people in the United States, and around the world, can only dream about.