Even from a distance something looks wrong. The giant building, once the healing home for up to three hundred patients at a time, the workplace for tens of thousands of caregivers since 1883, the 271 bed Riverside Hospital of Toledo where I became President & CEO at 33 & led until 1983, is a ghost house.
The place is as desolate as a an abandoned mining town. If tumbleweed grew in Toledo, Ohio dead bundles of it would dance with the wind across the overgrown parking lot & rattle the once-welcoming doors.
Riverside Toledo (unlike the thriving Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, where I was CEO for twelve years) was never a major medical center. It served a blue collar community in an industrial city whose energy was also fading.
We did the best we could & Riverside thrived during my eight years there. Employee & patient satisfaction was sky high. If we did not have fame we certainly gained respect. My successors, Carroll Ashley & Scott Shook, were outstanding. No one could save a hospital in that part of town.
What do you do with a dying hospital? Transplant it if you can. That is how Mercy St. Anns was born in 2002.
What do you do with a dead hospital building? The choices are always limited. What was once a complex health center is collapsing. One Toledoan wrote in 2015 that no one had bothered to clear out things like vials of blood. The online magazine Roadtrippers actually touts it to tourists because, "It is believed by former workers & visitors that some parts, like the tunnels, are haunted."
Gloria Brown, a 36 year employee I remember, posted that the building is spooked. She hears that, "Call lights come on in empty rooms & you can hear babies crying in the OB dept."
Maybe, Gloria is right. As I gazed at the ruins, I heard the whispers of those I loved as family: Bruce Trumm, who changed my life when he recruited me from an incredibly unlikely place - a federal courthouse where I was a Justice Department prosecutor. He thought I would make a good leader. I turned him down twice before accepting.
I gratefully recall the voices of Marian, Tracy, Terry, Pat, Harold, Steve, Cherie, Helen, Shirley, Jane, Mary, Jean-Guy, Eli, Sam, Zeno, Althea, Kandy, Hugh, Rita, Carole, Cindy, Rose, Marlene & hundreds more (including my sister Martha who volunteered.) These were companions not just fellow employees.
That is the best legacy of empty hospitals. Meaning glows for those who appreciate the days when lives were saved & the long nights when loving caregivers entered patient rooms to bring cures, compassion & kind hands to comfort the suffering.
The buildings do not matter much. Meaning flows from caregivers.
Happy Holidays & special thanks to everyone who devoted their hearts & souls to helping others inside those now crumbling walls.
photos by Erie