When Hiram Hitchcock founded Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital (MHMH) in 1893 in memory of his wife Mary Maynard Hitchcock, he could hardly have predicted that his vision for building a hospital in Hanover, NH, would impact the delivery of healthcare in our region for more than 100 years.
Sometimes humble beginnings set the stage for life-changing advancements. Nearly a century later, in the mid-1980s, hospital administrators and trustees began planning for a new state-of-the-art facility that would accommodate the increasingly complex healthcare needs of the growing Upper Valley population for generations to come.
Construction of the $228 million hospital project began in 1988 on the 225-acre wooded site in nearby Lebanon. On October 5, 1991, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) opened its doors to patients and visitors. Amid great fanfare, including a spirited procession from the old location to the new one, a community barbecue and an evening laser lightshow attended by hundreds of employees and community members, a new era of healthcare delivery began for the people of New Hampshire and Southeastern Vermont.
The ensuing three decades have brought significant growth in our facilities, our number of employees, patients and the services we provide. The creation of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) system in 2013—comprised of DHMC, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, Cheshire Medical Center, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, New London Hospital and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire—made D-HH the largest private employer and provider of healthcare services in our region. Coupled with our 24 Community Practice Group clinics, the Jack Byrne Center for Palliative & Hospice Care and the new Ambulatory Surgery Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester, D-HH employs more than 13,000 staff who care for nearly 2 million patients each year.
For Associate Nurse Manager Lori Wood, BSN, RCN-NIC, the connection to D-H spans the majority of her life, going back to 1974 when she began working at MHMH as a high school student operating the switchboard and delivering meal trays. Since her graduation from the former MHMH School of Nursing in 1980, she has found her professional home and advanced her career in the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) at DHMC where she has seen a great many changes.
“The move to the new DHMC facility in 1991 allowed us to double the capacity of the Intensive Care Nursery so more medically fragile newborns in our region could receive the complex care they need close to home. I’ve seen many technological advances over the past 30 years, but the biggest shift is the way parents are now embraced as an integral part of the care team. We’re truly providing family-centered care,” says Wood.
For John “Jay” Welenc, D-H has provided an opportunity to thrive in a career that has spanned leadership roles in Food and Nutrition Services, Environmental Services and Transportation. Many of the biggest changes he’s seen in the past 30 years are related to technology. Prior to the move in 1991 when new Macintosh computers arrived on desks at DHMC, food orders were done manually by phone, fax and on paper.
Welenc has seen first-hand how new technology has brought efficiencies across the organization, including in his current department, Safety and Security, where he serves as a dispatcher. “Back 30 years ago most every door was a hard lock with a key. Main doors were never locked. Badging systems now allow us to control access. Security cameras were rare and clunky in 1991. Now they cover all entrances, public areas, parking lots and high risk care areas,” he says. The safety of our staff, patients and visitors remains our highest priority.
Executive Vice President of DHMC Susan A. Reeves, EdD, RN, CENP, who directed the patient move 30 years ago remembers, “Back in 1991, I was the nursing activation coordinator and patient move director. This means I spent about 18 months prior to the move equipping the patient care areas of the new medical center and training nurses and physicians about how we would work in our new facility.
“I also led a small team (a few are still on staff today) to plan and execute the move of our patients to the new hospital. We moved 228 patients in just under 9 hours.”
Reeves, another member of the MHMH School of Nursing Class of 1980, has been part of the D-H community for more than 40 years. She has served in a number of senior leadership roles including currently also serving as the chief nursing officer of the D-HH system. Her storied career with the organization is a testament to the many opportunities available across the health system.
As we mark the 30th anniversary, Reeves was recently asked what she is most excited about as we look ahead to the next 30 years of providing world-class care to our region. She highlighted a few areas that stand out: the expansion of D-HH services in Southern New Hampshire, the possibility of our research enterprise making major breakthroughs in disease detection and treatment and the continued positive impact of our programs and services on the health of people across New Hampshire and Vermont.
As we mark this important milestone for DHMC, we invite you to take a look back to the fall of 1991 as Reeves narrates a video of the big move, you can watch it above.