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Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Gibbons gone

Hospital staff recalls decades of service, changes in treatment

By Margie Wuebker

A crane begins reducing the former Gibbons Hospital building on Fayette Street t. . .

CELINA - If walls could talk, the old Gibbons Hospital would tell stories of lives beginning and ending, of concerned people pacing the floor and of grateful patients recovering.
Those brick walls, some nearly 90 years old, faced demolition crews Tuesday. The entire structure is expected to be razed by the end of the month.
Registered nurse Nancy Toms worked at the 35-bed hospital for nearly 6 1/2 years in the 1960s. She was one of two nurses and two aides on the night shift.
Some shifts were more memorable than others. The wail of an ambulance brought a nurse from the floor because the emergency room was not staffed around the clock.
"We all worked together to serve the people who came through the doors," she said. "In a small setting like Gibbons, we knew the patients, and they knew us."
Toms remembers one night in particular, completing rounds and then heading to the front office to prepare a patient roster for the morning crew.
"I heard footsteps coming down the hall and assumed it was one of the girls," she said. "I looked up and there was a man I did not know swinging his arm ... all I could see was his hook."
The itinerant had entered the hospital through an unlocked door and waved his arm to get her attention. He was cold, hungry and in need of help for an aching leg. Local police arrived and took him to the county jail for the night.
Policy changed in the wake of the incident, with all doors locked after visiting hours. Anyone in need of assistance had to push a buzzer at the front door and wait to be admitted.
Carolyn Leffler sat at the front desk greeting visitors and manning the switchboard during early evening hours.
"Children were not permitted in patient rooms so I often baby-sat in the lobby," she said. "I had a daytime job elsewhere, but I thoroughly enjoyed my association with the hospital."
Dr. Donald Fox, who opened a medical practice in Celina in 1954, spent considerable time at the hospital making rounds, performing surgeries and delivering babies. The hospital was considerably smaller than Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, where he had completed his residency.
"I remember taking the tour with (administrator/owner) John Gibbons and thinking about the challenge of working in a small hospital," he said. "You quickly get used to not having state-of-the-art equipment at hand and doing a good job in spite of that."
His wife, Kathleen, admitted she had second thoughts about delivering her second child at such a small hospital.
"I received wonderful care and so did my baby," she said. "The meals were so good ... homemade food from the kitchen in the basement."
The post-war boom of the late 1940s resulted in a 10-bed addition to the maternity ward. Gibbons Hospital set records in terms of births during 1948 and 1949 as soldiers returned home and started families. A record 21 babies occupied the nursery during one period.
More than 13,000 babies were born at the hospital - the first in 1933 and the last on June 28, 1980, just two days before closing. With Dr. James Otis in attendance, Aaron Lucas Peggs became number 13,560. The son of David and Barbara Peggs of Montezuma, he tipped the scales at 8 pounds, 12 ounces.
Fellow staff members recall registered nurse Nancy Desch rocking babies and singing lullabies during her nursery shifts.
Desch, who pedaled a bicycle to and from work, did not encounter parking problems like other staffers. Before the addition of a small parking lot at the back, the hospital had two reserved spaces along Fayette Street. Even Fox scrambled to find a spot.
The beginning of the end came in 1970 when the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare terminated the hospital's Medicare affiliation. The decision was based on the hospital not meeting new standards. However, Gibbons Hospital continued to operate another decade.
Fox traveled to Columbus with Gibbons and Jared "Jerry" Halderman, president of the hospital's board of trustees, for a meeting with state officials.
"We pleaded our case," he said. "The handwriting was on the wall ... the state wanted to close small hospitals and that was it."
Halderman announced the impending July 1 closure in the May 30, 1980, edition of The Daily Standard.
The closure left Celina with neither inpatient hospital services nor an emergency care facility. Another hospital in the city, Otis Hospital, had closed three years earlier. Many staff members and patients went to Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Coldwater, the forerunner of what is now Mercer County Community Hospital.
An auction was held at Gibbons that drew a large crowd. Fox purchased several copper fire extinguishers that had been mounted in hallways since the hospital had no sprinkler system.
Gibbons set out to find a buyer for the facility that had been in the family for years. His father, Dr. John T. Gibbons, had opened the original hospital in 1923 adjacent to his home. That facility - part of the current first floor - was formally incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1935. Several additions were made over the years.
In the 1990s, a group of pro-life visionaries made a $20,000 downpayment on the building and opened Harbor House Maternity Home for pregnant teens. The facility and the related Elizabeth Pregnancy Center occupied what had been the founder's home and the hospital maternity ward.
Harbor House closed several years ago, and the facility sat vacant until the organization obtained money for demolition. The cleared lot is planned to be sold, no buyer has yet been announced, and a new chapter will begin at the site.
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