Much of what remains of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital can be found on the fourth floor of the library at Wright State University. Old staff photos, patient intake records, and weathered maps of the hospital’s campus are all kept at the Special Collections and Archives Center at the university. The artifacts were donated to the school after the hospital closed.
“The hospital had three separate pieces of land...it was gigantic,” says archivist Bill Stolz, who helps maintain the collection. “They had an orchard, animals, and a small working farm.”
St. Elizabeth’s, or St. E’s, started as a 12 bed hospital in 1878 and continued to expand. Founded by the Catholic Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, the hospital was known for taking in those who couldn’t pay for health care.
“Well, everybody went to St. E’s,” says Gwen Buchanan, a lifelong resident of the Carillon neighborhood and the president of the Carillon Civic Asssociation. “It was just our local neighborhood hospital.”
Buchanan worked at the hospital for six years in the 1990s. She remembers the hulking St. E’s building in the backdrop of many of her childhood memories.
“You could just go down to the corner, walk five houses down, make a left, walk over four streets and you’re there. I could walk to work. But, we did all kinds of things at the hospital. We celebrated events, we had big cultural events there.”
Neighborhood hospitals often play more than a health-care role in their communities, says Mark Holmes, a health policy professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the effects of hospital closures.
“The hospital can serve as a kind of locus of volunteering. The personnel and employees of the hospital are often very active in a community and provide that sort of social capital so to speak,” said Holmes. “It can also serve what economists often call the amenity effect and that is knowing that the hospital is there makes it a desirable place to live.”
Hospitals also have a measurable effect on the local economy.
“Think about the environment around that hospital,” says Holmes. “The hotel for visitors to stay, flower shops, restaurants, all the other things that sort of spring up around there.”
So, when St. Elizabeth’s, then officially known as Franciscan Medical Center, announced its intention to close in 2000, there was a lot at stake for the neighborhood.
“I was away from home whenever they told they'd made the announcement that St E’s was closing,” says longtime Carillon resident Betty Mann. “And whenever I came back to town, I had to go visit the site and I literally cried because my birth place shut down.”
The closure stung, she says. After the hospital shut down, many of Mann’s neighbors lost their jobs. Others, who relied on the hospital for low cost health care, were forced to look for alternatives.
Many studies show these ripple effects are common when neighborhood hospitals shut down. But research shows the economic effects are often temporary as communities adjust, at least in areas where other health care services easily accessible.
Mann says that’s what happened after St. Elizabeth’s closed. She says this is mainly because other hospitals weren’t too far away.
But it’s not just the location of another health care facility that can influence how quickly a community bounces back after a closure – it’s also the overall economic condition of the surrounding neighborhood.
Barbara Pinson, with the Carillon Civic Association, says she worries Good Samaritan’s departure will be felt more sharply in West Dayton than St. E’s loss was in Carillon.
“Back then, there was a lot of prosperity going in the neighborhood. So it was a whole different thing,” said Pinson. “But over there now with Good Samaritan, there’s a lot of blight in that area and they don't have no grocery stores, they don't have a whole lot of stuff. And now they lost their hospital. They don't have anywhere to go. Even though we've lost the hospital, we still have an urgent care.”
The former St. E’s building became Elizabeth Place in 2003. It now houses outpatient health services. Dr. Holmes, with UNC, says it’s not uncommon for hospital buildings to be converted into other types of medical facilities.
Research suggests the overall impact of many urban hospital closures can depend on what happens to the hospital building itself.
There’s no word yet on what will become of the Good Sam building. When the closure was announced, Premier Health said it would set aside $10M to fund development efforts. The group has also pledged to demolish the facility, although local activists are challenging that plan.