A Tradition of Caring

Washington County Hospital Association was chartered by the Maryland Legislature as a voluntary nonprofit organization on April 7, 1904. In October of the following year, the hospital opened its doors to patients for the first time.Original Hospital in old Moller House

From its opening in 1905, Washington County Hospital has made patient care a priority, as evidenced by investments in nursing education, technological advancements and community-minded programs.

The first hospital was in the former M.P. Moller residence at Potomac and Fairground avenues in Hagerstown. It had 10 beds, six staff members and 12 physicians. In the first year of operation, 106 patients were admitted.

In 1912, the Moller residence was no longer large enough to handle the patient load, according to documents prepared by Washington County Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association.Keymar College turned Washington County Hospital The hospital moved to its long-time site on Antietam Street, which was previously home to the former Kee-Mar College, founded in 1853 as Hagerstown Female Seminary by Maryland Synod of the Lutheran Church.

The hospital’s school of nursing opened almost simultaneously with the hospital and had three students in its first class. A photo of the first nursing class reveals the three graduates wearing nursing uniforms and caps for their 1909 Nursing School capping ceremonygraduation. The other two people in the photograph are assumed to be the first superintendent, M. Grace Matthew, and her assistant, who were hired by the hospital board and tasked with overseeing and developing the strict but intensive nursing program, which continues to be recognized more than a century later.

The hospital, now Meritus Medical Center, recently received Magnet recognition from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The honor — recognizing the highest level of professional nursing and patient care — makes the hospital the only one in Western Maryland and the Tri-State region recognized as a Magnet facility. Only 8% of hospitals nationwide have earned the distinction. While the Magnet designation recognizes the entire organization, the focus of it is nursing excellence.

When the hospital’s nursing school closed in 1971, Hagerstown Junior College, now Hagerstown Community College, filled the gap by offering an associate degree in nursing, also a program that continues to receive accolades for health-care excellence.

The hospital’s transition to Meritus Medical Center in 2010 reflected the organization’s commitment to keep pace with the changing health needs of its community. Today, a far greater number of patients are treated than the 106 who were seen during the hospital’s inaugural year. The emergency department alone has approximately 70,000 patient visits each year.

Beyond the hospital, Meritus offers a range of health system services. Meritus Medical Group consists of practices outside the hospital. These include family, pediatric and specialty practices, such as endocrinology, internal medicine and oncology.

The early days

In the hospital’s early days, Board of Trustees Treasurer Edward W. Mealey, who also helped establish the Washington County Free Library, spoke on the belief that hospital doctors relied heavily on nurses.

“The nursing profession has grown to be so indispensable, largely because the science of medicine has developed so wonderfully,” Mealey stated, according to the book “The Washington County Hospital School of Nursing” by Julia Lizer Huffer.

While nurses have played a significant role throughout the hospital’s history, they were especially significant during the 1940s during World War II. Many doctors signed up for military service, which created severe shortages of physicians across the country.

In the summer of 1943, Congress passed the Bolton Bill, establishing the United States Cadet Nurse Corps. Washington County Hospital School of Nursing was in the first group of schools to meet approval for participation in the corps, Huffer notes in her book.

During the 1940s, the health of the nation continued to improve as penicillin became widely Blood Bank available, better blood transfusion methods aided in surgery, and nuclear technology allowed for advancement in radiation therapy, according to encyclopedia.com.

As the decade progressed, Washington County Hospital expanded. In 1950, the hospital added a new A-wing, which sat adjacent to the Kee-Mar property. The major portion of the Kee-Mar building was razed to provide for a new nursing unit.

As wings were added, the capacity to treat a growing number of patients increased. A special care nursery allowed the hospital to expand into pediatric care. Years ago, babies would be sent home with their parents in open-top cardboard boxes. Now, new parents are required to have a car seat before leaving the hospital. If a family doesn’t have a car seat, one will be provided for them. Nurses teach parents how to secure the seat in the vehicle and how to secure the baby in the seat.

Preventive care and less-invasive procedures have enabled hospital stays to be shortened for new mothers and those being treated for routine procedures.

Technological advancements

Laparoscopic technology, which allows a surgeon to operate on the abdomen or pelvis with small incisions and the use of a camera, has improved the precision of surgical procedures and patient recovery time. The hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab enables surgeons to quickly respond and treat patients having heart events.Cardiac Cath Lab

The way doctors work continues to evolve, as well. Years ago, family doctors would make rounds at the hospital. The care of patients within the hospital is now shared with hospitalists — doctors who are trained specifically for hospital care. They work in bedside situations, with family doctors, specialists, surgeons and other hospital staff – an entire health-care team.

The health system team has grown from the initial 18 staff hospital members in 1905 to about 2,843 today, making Meritus Health a top employer in the county.