Day of moving tributes

Memories: Employees mark the end of a hospital's century in downtown Annapolis with cheers and tears.

December 03, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

A few minutes after 1 p.m. yesterday, she came around the corner, strapped to a gurney but dolled up with a dab of lipstick. She was greeted with cheers, rousing applause and camera flashbulbs.

A burst appendix brought her to the emergency room at Anne Arundel Medical Center, the aging hospital in the center of the Annapolis historic district, on Thursday. Yesterday, 57-year-old Sandra McCarthy of Annapolis became the last patient wheeled out of the downtown hospital, which shut its doors for good a few months shy of its 100th birthday.

Within minutes, McCarthy was rolled into the future - the new $65 million Anne Arundel Medical Center, built less than three miles away on a sprawling campus where Annapolis meets its suburbs.

"Today's the sentimental journey to our new home," said Martin L. "Chip" Doordan, AAMC's president, who got teary as he watched the last patient depart. "It's time. It's all for the best, you know."

The first hospital at Franklin and Cathedral streets opened in a farmhouse in 1902. The brick building there - which will be one of the only pieces to remain after the rest of the hospital is razed to make way for housing - went up in the 1920s, rebuilt after a fire destroyed its predecessor. Over the years, as Anne Arundel County has grown, so has the hospital, topped with additions here and there.

But on the narrow Colonial streets, there was no room for significant expansion. The move began in the 1980s, when the hospital bought land on Jennifer Road. "We just outgrew the ability to meet the expected needs of the region we serve," Doordan said.

The first patient was moved shortly after 6 a.m. yesterday, not long after the emergency room was officially closed and the blue-and-white "H" signs that point toward the nearest hospital were painted over or taken down.

Eighty-seven patients were moved by ambulances. "Any questions?" Dorothy Thomas, the hospital's patient relations coordinator, asked each one, her smile unwavering even after many hours. "Have a nice ride."

"I understand the food is real good over there," 72-year-old pneumonia patient Thelma Doyle of Davidsonville said as she was being readied for her move. "There are quite a few things to look forward to. But I think it's a landmark that's gone, and they're going to tear it down, and that will be sad."

As one building was closing, the other was opening. Patients were welcomed to private rooms with private bathrooms and free television. And there was plenty of doctoring going on: By noon, one of the surgeons had performed three emergency operations - an appendectomy, a bowel procedure and a colon surgery.

Although yesterday marked the birth of the new hospital, for many of the longtime staff, it was more about saying goodbye to an old friend. Many bid farewell via marking pens, leaving handwritten messages (aka graffiti) on the once-white walls that will soon meet a wrecking ball.

"I met my husband here 20 years ago - we are still happily married" was scrawled on one side of the emergency corridor. Across the hall, perhaps in response, was written: "Mary Churchill met Steve in this room 20 years ago. Divorce is almost final."

Many had traced their hands and signed their names. On the sixth floor, by the elevators, someone had scribbled, "Hospital closed. Gone fishin'." Beside it was a more sentimental note: "Goodbye A6. We have loved being here and caring for the patients."

"Most of us have grown up here, had children born and parents die within these walls," said Kenneth Gummerson, the physician in charge of the emergency department, who has commuted from Baltimore for the past 19 years. "We're here until the last patient leaves. [After that] we're going to have a party here called `The Last Flight Out,' and then we'll go over and baptize the new place."

"I wonder how many times I've walked through that door," mused Joseph Halpern, an emergency room doctor here since 1987, as he walked through the door at the entrance. "When they put that padlock on, that'll be eerie."

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