Celebrating South Street Hospital

1900 – 1909: The Adam Beck Era

By early March 1900, Victoria Hospital was accommodating approximately one hundred patients. However, the enthusiasm and public praise of the new, expanded hospital soon gave way to public complaints of hospital conditions, including ineffective management, incompetent staff and nurses who were extremely overworked and unable to meet all demands made of them.

The Trustees’ solution was to hire additional nurses by lowering wages, paying no wages at all to first-year nursing students. As well, the Trustees delayed the opening of the new Children’s Pavilion, despite financial support from the community and the growing number of children patients who now represented one quarter of all patients served.

Public displeasure and criticism ensued, with several irate letters to the editor demanding a full investigation into the management practices of Victoria Hospital. As a result, the Trust reversed its decision and the Childrens’ Pavilion opened on May 3, 1900 with little public ceremony.

In the municipal election of 1901, Mr. Adam, later Sir Adam, Beck became London’s mayor. An ex officio member of the Hospital Trust, he took a serious interest in the hospital. Beck was determined to reduce hospital costs and bring in responsible management.

Beck first took action on the senior administrative position of the hospital: Hospital Superintendent. Traditionally, a staff physician took on this management role in addition to duties in patient care and as a lecturer for the Medical School. Beck and his supporters felt that the position merited a full-time commitment by a hospital staff member, accountable to the public.

In the municipal election of 1902, the electorate gave Mr. Beck and his favoured nominee for trustee, Mr. Isaac Waterman, a sweeping majority at the polls. The “new” Trust was free to deal responsibly and rationally with a number of long-standing hospital issues.

The Trust provided more private ward rooms for the growing number of people willing to pay for such accommodation while also adjusting the prices to ensure the rooms were affordable for patients of “modest means.”

Following public complaints of hospital meals, “steam tables” were purchased to keep food warm while being transported to the wards.

Several new and full-time appointments were made to administrative positions, namely Hospital Superintendent, Lady Superintendent of Nurses, Hospital Steward and Hospital Bookkeeper.

Finally, new accommodations were built for some sixty nurses. The new building formed the west wing of the main hospital building and would match the east wing which housed the private patients’ ward.

Excerpts from "Growing to serve... : a history of Victoria Hospital, London, Ontario." Authors: Norman. John Robert Sullivan, Norman R. Ball, and Victoria Hospital Corporation. Published: 1985 by Victoria Hospital Corporation, London, Ontario.

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