Deep within the walls of the Arizona Cancer Center at 3838 N. Campbell are the steel girder bones of Tucson General Hospital. When Tucson General was sold in 1986, sale proceeds were used to establish the Tucson Osteopathic Medical Foundation, but the sale also had a downside: the center of the close-knit osteopathic physician community began to unravel. The hospital limped along under many owners for another 15 years but its bonding heart was broken.
As Tucson General memories fade from the minds of patients, physicians and staff it is important to remember this home-grown, locally-supported institution and re-tell its amazing story.
After all, we'll never see the likes of Tucson General again.
Prior to the Civil War there were few hospitals in America. Those that did exist were mainly dedicated to charity cases or the military. Most people were treated in their homes or in a physician's office - up to and including surgery.
For 50 years after the Civil War hospitals were built all over the country. They bore little resemblance to today's medical centers and were mainly places for surgical operations or for patients to be nursed back to health. Hospital founders were military branches, religious orders, big business, and interested individuals, usually physicians.
After 1910, with the rise of scientific based medicine, hospitals became more complex. Government, big donors and corporations were needed just to finance the infrastructure.
Tucson Hospitals Founded in a Variety of Ways(1)
Tucson's hospitals mirrored national trends.
Our first hospitals were military. Camp Lowell had two different hospitals downtown in the 1860s and Fort Lowell's adobe hospital (built in 1873) is a protected ruin just off N. Craycroft Road in Fort Lowell Park. Dr. Walter Reed, who helped identify the source of Yellow Fever and namesake of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, served at Fort Lowell for two years.
Tucson's, and Arizona's, oldest continuously operated hospital is Saint Mary's. At the request of Bishop Salpointe, it was founded by the Sisters of Carondelet in 1880. Southern Pacific Railroad patients helped make the hospital a success. St. Joseph's Hospital was opened by the Sisters of Carondelet in 1961.
Individual physicians founded hospitals in our city. John C. Handy MD operated hospitals in converted private homes for the county throughout the mid-1880s through his death in 1891. George Goodfellow MD, famous gunfighter surgeon and often known as America's first trauma surgeon from his days in Tombstone, bought a hotel and ran it as a hospital in the early 1890s. He performed the world's first perineal prostatectomy there. In 1910 Dr. Rogers founded the Rogers Hospital in a building that still stands on Stone Avenue today. In 1912, Jerimiah Metzger MD founded the Tucson, Arizona Sanatorium on Adams, between Euclid and First Avenue. Today it is an apartment building (the Castle) but for many years it was the Southern Methodist Hospital until it closed, victim of the Great Depression, in 1939. Boris Zemsky MD founded a psychiatric hospital in the early 1960s. It had several locations until it moved to the TMC Campus and Palo Verde Hospital is still in operation.
Government Has Had a Role
There was a VA camp/hospital at Pastime Park east of Oracle Road as early as 1921. Today's VA Hospital was built in 1929. Both were built in response to the numbers of service members with lung diseases who had come for the dry desert air.
Pima County built its first hospital in 1935 using New Deal funds. The hospital stood between 38th and 39th streets, east of Sixth Avenue (near today's Food City). In 1977 it built Kino Community Hospital (now University of Arizona Medical center South Campus) on Ajo Way. Hill-Burton federal funds for hospitals were made available after World War II. The last US hospital built with Hill-Burton money was University of Arizona Medical Center on Campbell Avenue in 1971.
Later hospitals were financed by hospital corporations. El Dorado Hospital, Northwest Hospital and Oro Valley Hospital were built this way.
Southern Pacific Railroad built its hospital (later known as Carl Hayden Community Hospital) in the 1930s where the federal court house stands now. You can still see the hospital fountain in the shadow of the giant federal building.
In 1926 a group of physicians sought to create a first-rate clinical hospital in Tucson to test their theories that the sun could cure a variety of diseases. They soon realized they could not afford to build it on their own, and enlisted Alfred Ericsson, a multi-millionaire advertising guru, to help. They created Desert Sanatorium. It was a success but closed during the war. Tucson was challenged to come up with money to turn it into a community hospital. The community responded and Tucson Medical Center opened in 1944.
So where does Tucson General fit in this mix?
Founding a Special Hospital
In 1949, there were 17 osteopathic physicians practicing in Tucson and 10 more scattered throughout Southern Arizona. They were not allowed on staff of existing hospitals and were forbidden from even renting medical offices from established MDs in the area.
In its early years osteopathic medicine eschewed both pharmaceuticals and surgery. Osteopathic medical students were trained in a different environment, using different disease theories. Early in the 20th century the American Medical Association defined osteopathic medicine as a cult and forbid its members to work or partner with or refer to osteopathic physicians.
By mid-century, however, osteopathic training was similar to other medical schools and osteopathic physicians had nowhere to operate and care for very sick patients. They could refer patients to MDs who could not accept the referral and instead treated patients as though they were new to their own practice - with separate work-ups and appointments, tests, etc.
Throughout the country, DOs faced similar dilemmas.
Where osteopathic medicine had long been established, hospitals had naturally grown up, especially near osteopathic medical schools. In new areas, like Tucson, osteopathic physicians had to build them.
Carlton Towne DO took the lead in creating Tucson's first and only osteopathic hospital in the spring of 1949. The building that was eventually used for the new hospital was the "New Stork's Nest," a small maternity hospital operated by Ruby Tappero, at 2834 E. Grant Road. Due to impeding struggles, Ms. Tappero offered the building to the DOs and on April 16, 1949 Tucson General Hospital was incorporated as a non-profit community osteopathic hospital.
The founders of the hospital included: Drs. Carlton Towne, Coy Purcell, Robert Grant, John Duncan, Van Fossler, Homer Fredericks, Ernest Johnson, and Thomas Odom. Additional physicians on the medical staff were: Drs. Leona Benton, Virgil Halladay, Burton Gotshall, Selwyn Lewis, and Dale Jamison (from Phoenix). The newly incorporated hospital had 15 beds, eight bassinets, an operating room, a delivery room, a small business office, two empty rooms for x-rays and a laboratory, and a kitchen. Even though the new hospital had the essentials to establish itself, there was still a need for additional finances.
To help meet the financial costs of Tucson General, all staff physicians were mandated to pay membership as well as patient and surgery fees. In 1949, the annual medical staff membership fee began at $5 per year and by 1954, the fee had climbed to $2,000. However, there were some generous patients and citizens that donated money to support Tucson General. In addition to these forms of support, the Tucson Osteopathic Auxiliary was also extremely supportive to Tucson General.
The Tucson Osteopathic Auxiliary was organized in 1949 by the wives of the Tucson General founders, which included: Betty Duncan, Jane Fossler, Jane Fredericks, Dorothy Grant, Johnie Johnson, Clara Odom, Zim Purcell, and Hazel Towne. Members of the auxiliary held social mixers, organized the annual state osteopathic convention, used their sewing talents to mold linens for the hospital, and provided general support for Tucson General in the beginning years. Tucson General needed all the support they could gather because only after three years of opening, did they outgrow their facility.
Due to Tucson General's massive growth, plans were developed to construct a new $250,000 hospital. On December 4, 1954 Tucson General relocated to 3838 North Campbell Avenue. Tucson General continued to grow rapidly during this time as well as add more beds and additions to the hospital.
In the 1960s, Tucson general was advertised nationally as being in the "heart of Arizona sun country and expanding to become the Osteopathic medical center of Arizona and the Great Southwest." Richard Reilly DO opened Westcenter on the Tucson General campus in 1969 and pioneered humane and effective addiction treatment. His leadership and advocacy put Tucson on the map as a treatments destination - that continues today at Cottonwood and Sierra Tucson.
Another change Tucson General encountered was the integration of DOs and MDs in the early 1970s. A four story addition changed the hospital's profile in 1970 and the bed total increased from 156 to 277. In 1975 a new emergency room was built as was the closest facility to the burgeoning Catalina Foothills.
The physician lounges were busy places and doctors were able share advice and get to know one another. Community physician all did rounds on patients they admitted, so the hospital became a place for physicians to keep track of colleagues and was a source of great pride for the physicians who practiced there.
Interns began training at Tucson General in 1958. In 1976 Issa Hallaq DO began an internal medicine residency program at the hospital and in 1986 started a family medicine residency. Sixty percent of the residents who trained at Tucson General stayed in Tucson.
Tucson General gave osteopathic physician in training a place to get hand-on, practical hospital experience at a time when most allopathic schools still had doors closed to them.
The oldest osteopathic medical school in the country, Kirksville, created "Kirksville in Arizona," in which medical students spent their senior year at Tucson General Hospital and physicians in the community.
Although Tucson General grew quickly and had the modern advances for its time, the hospital suffered hardship in the 1980s as a result of changes in the hospital industry and an economic crisis in the country
The non-profit osteopathic hospital was sold to Summit Health Ltd. in September of 1986. Tucson General was the last hospital in Tucson that had remained independent without the support of the government and/or larger corporations (although an argument can be made that TMC, with only a loose association with the Voluntary Hospital Association buying group, is similar). Even though Tucson General was no longer independent, the funds from the sale of the hospital gave birth to the Tucson Osteopathic Medical Foundation in August of 1986.
The Tucson Osteopathic Medical Foundation was established as a private operating foundation, with the purpose to advance public health education, offer professional medical education, and expand the public's knowledge of osteopathic medicine.
Today, the Foundation has 13 Board members, five staff members, and provides two premiere CME events in Tucson. The Southwestern Conference on Medicine® is approaching its 25th year and served nearly 400 participants in 2015. In addition, the Foundation also provides micro-grants each month for public health-minded organizations/projects in Southern Arizona, provides osteopathic medical student scholarships, has provided loans to osteopathic medical students, held public forums on current health issues, and implemented training programs in schools dealing with drug and alcohol abuse.
The Later Years of Tucson General
After Tucson General was sold to Summit Health Ltd. In 1986, the hospital experienced many obstacles and changes in ownership. The hospital changed owners several times and eventually faced crippling financial turmoil. In 2000, the Arizona Department of Health Services issued "intermediate sanctions" against Tucson General due to their inability to make payroll, pay bills, or buy proper pharmaceutical supplies. All remaining patients at this time were transferred to nearby hospitals due to the fact that Tucson General planned to hold a foreclosure sale that same week. Tucson General officially closed in 2001 and demolition of the hospital began in 2004.
The demolition of Tucson General made way for the $20 million University of Arizona Cancer Center. The University of Arizona Medical Center purchased Tucson General specifically to build what is now a state of the art cancer prevention and treatment centers. UAMC paid $4.6million for Tucson General according to an affidavit filed with the Pima County Recorder's Office. The Cancer Center is one of only 41 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the U.S. and the only one in Arizona to be designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.
1) Pima County Medical Society History Committee unpublished compilation.
2) Johnson, Scott. (1992). Something more...Osteopathic medicine in Southern Arizona. Tucson, AZ: Tucson Osteopathic Medical Foundation.
3) Erikson, Jane. (2000, October 7). State moves to shut down ailing Tucson General. The Arizona Daily Star, pp. A19.
4) Erikson, Jane. (2001, March 10). UMC pays $4.6M for Tucson General. The Arizona Daily Star.
5) Denogean, Anne. (2004, December 4). Old hospital is coming down for cancer center. The Tucson Citizen.