As Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center celebrates its 80th anniversary next year, its history includes a difficult birth - it was founded during the Great Depression - and a determined rebirth with a new hospital in 1972. Of that time, former trustee Tom Levesque of Windsor recalls, "A lot of people said we didn’t need a new hospital, that the town wasn’t big enough, and that we couldn’t afford it. … I think we showed them that we did, we were, and we can."
For almost 80 years, the region has supported a community hospital that grew beyond the dreams of the original founders. Mt. Ascutney Hospital traces its roots to 1933, when the Windsor Hospital Corp. formed. Organizers were trying to keep a hospital in town after a private one struggled.
Windsor Hospital was established in what is now the Stoughton House on Main Street, a former mansion deeded to the cause by Allen Evarts. After a fund drive raised $700 for second-hand hospital beds and an old Army operating table, Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Patch traveled to Maine to procure them.
"It was small and personal," said Dr. Dale Gephart, a retired physician who worked in the old hospital briefly before the present hospital opened. "It was a real home atmosphere," said Jan Lynch, a retired nurse who served several stints as hospital administrator. "Staff were very caring."
Windsor was a busy town in the hospital’s early decades. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Plant and the Cone Automatic Machine Company were major employers, and a state prison was located in the downtown district. Shoppers headed to Main Street stores on Friday night to buy shoes and clothes and groceries.
By the late 1960s and early ’70s, the hospital was again facing challenges. The doctors who’d been the foundation were at retirement age, and new physicians were needed. The old hospital building no longer met codes, and state officials were threatening to shut it down. Meanwhile, regionalization had become popular among planners. State officials were promoting a regional hospital proposed for Charlestown, N.H., to replace many of the community hospitals in the area.
But Windsor Hospital’s board and administration had other ideas. Lynch said they decided to build a new hospital on former prison farm land on County Road, a project that they undertook without state or federal support, or dollars. "The idea of building a new hospital was a major turning point in its history," said Dr. Gephart. "It offered an opportunity to decide what kind of hospital it would be, and who it would serve."
Without outside aid, the hospital depended on local support. Employers in town allowed payroll deduction for contributions. Area residents pledged over $600,000 for the new hospital, which opened in 1972. It had a 30-bed nursing home attached, and eight extended-care beds. With the change came a new identity. Windsor Hospital Corp. still exists as the corporate name, but the hospital does business as Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, reflecting a new, wider mission.
The new facility was larger, but it retained many of its old qualities. One was a tendency to retain staff for long tenures, something that continues to this day. Lynch said, "It was a homey atmosphere. You could grow along with the facility." She estimated that when she started at the old hospital in the 1950s, it probably had a staff of about 30. Last year, the employee roster topped 500.
Since the opening of the new facility, Mt. Ascutney Hospital has added a rehabilitation unit and a therapeutic pool, creating a niche that serves a wide region. While the early hospital relied on four mainstay doctors, the medical staff in 2012 numbers nearly 100, including full-time staff and many who provide specialty services on a part-time basis. Its regional scope includes membership in the New England Alliance for Health, a three-state network of hospitals and healthcare organizations.
Locally, the hospital partners on community projects such as the Historic Homes of Runnemede senior housing and the Windsor Connection Resource Center. It has taken the lead in community education programs and sponsored the Windsor Community Health Initiative. In keeping with this dedication to the community, the organization changed its mission statement in 2011 to reflect that commitment. The new mission for the organization is “to improve the lives of those we serve.” This mission more accurately reflects the multiple components of the relatively small, but diverse organization. As a testament to the organization’s work in this area, it was named as the winner of the American Hospital Association’s Foster G. McGaw Prize for community service in 2011. This is the most prestigious community service award for hospitals in the country.