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Celebrating a Century of Care

In 2012, Lawrence + Memorial celebrated its centennial, and it’s worth noting that New London was a dynamic place a century ago. Ledge Light had just started flashing at the mouth of the Thames River, Connecticut College opened to women in 1911, and a visiting nurse association was already going door-to-door treating the sick.

But the city lacked a significant hospital.

Several smaller hospitals had served the people in the years leading up to 1912, including the “Cottage Hospital” on MacDougal Street, established in 1848, and later, “Memorial Hospital,” built in 1893 on Garfield Avenue in New London. Other hospitals in the early days included a private facility on Broad Street run by Dr. Hugh F. Lena, and the Home Memorial Hospital on Pequot Avenue.

The influential citizens of the day believed New London and its surroundings needed and deserved a better hospital. One anonymous writer in the late 1800s wrote: “A seaport without a public hospital is a town bereft of one of its most necessary instruments of humanity. What is needed is a good-sized building where there can be several wards, where a corps of trained nurses can be employed, and where the latest appliances of science in the treatment of the sick can be brought to bear.” One man took the mission to heart: Sebastian Lawrence.

Sebastian, whose father Joseph made a fortune in the mid 1800s from the whaling industry, left in his will half a million dollars ($100,000 for construction, $400,000 for operations) for the establishment of a new, state-of-the-art hospital.

The Joseph Lawrence Free Public Hospital opened its doors on April 8, 1912, with 30 beds, a maternity ward, a nursery, and another modern convenience of the time: an elevator. There were only about a dozen doctors connected with the hospital at its beginning, and approximately 480 patients were treated that first year.

Fast-forward to the recent past: On May 19, 2012 at the Uncas Ballroom at Mohegan Sun, 2,000 people – leaders from all aspects of our community – gathered for a gala dinner-dance to celebrate the 100th birthday of the hospital now called Lawrence + Memorial Hospital (the Joseph Lawrence Free Public Hospital merged with Memorial Hospital in 1918).

The event symbolized more than a simple salute to a local institution. The advancement and growth of our local hospital is a direct reflection of the education, determination and vision of our citizenry over the last century.

Today, L+M cares for tens of thousands of patients every year. The Emergency Department alone, with sites in New London and at the Pequot Health Center in Groton, treats 86,000 patients annually. The hospital also gives back millions of dollars worth of community benefits through services to the under- and un-insured.

Our local hospital is a community centerpiece that offers many of the latest advances in healthcare, from three-dimensional CT scans, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, the only Newborn Intensive Care Unit in all of eastern Connecticut, and emergency procedures that can save the lives of stroke and heart attack victims. In June of 2012, L+M broke ground on a new Cancer Center in Waterford.

With these facts in mind, celebrating L+M’s centennial was a chance to step back from the hustle and bustle of the moment and realize how far we have come as a community.

It’s easy to think we live in a most colorful time and that life was less vibrant a century ago, like a sepia-tone photo of yesteryear. But the forward-thinking citizens of our past made the decisions and devoted the resources to create the world we have today.

L+M’s centennial was notable because the hospital is one of the best examples our community has of what a region can do when it works together, when dedicated people put their talents toward a common goal and neighbors help neighbors. The result is a better quality of life. It’s a history lesson worth replicating.