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Growth & Expansion

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Text contributions from Ian Saxine, MHS Historian. Items courtesy of Mercy Hospital.

Keeping Up With the Times

In 1941, as the United States stood on the brink of entering another world war, the growing city of Portland needed greater hospital capacity. To meet this need, the Sisters of Mercy arranged for the purchase of property at 144 State Street. That same year, the Sisters received additional control from the diocese over the management of Queen’s. To reflect the transition, Queen’s Hospital became Mercy Hospital.

For patients, the expansion was welcome news. When the old Queen’s Hospital closed in the winter of 1942-43, it contained 60 beds, but old hands remembered up to 98 patients treated inside at one time. Patients were kept “under the stairs” in St. Luke’s pavilion, and along the sun parlor. The fundraising campaign for the expansion demonstrated Mercy’s enduring relationship to the greater Portland community, securing over $300,000 from 6,831 individual donors in a public subscription drive. Mercy also received nearly $240,000 in federal funds for furnishings and equipment.

The new facility opened with 150 beds and 36 bassinets in 1943, hailed as one of the most advanced of its kind in northern New England. The old Queen’s Hospital buildings were kept for housing and classrooms for the 140 students then enrolled in the School of Nursing. The new expansion was formally dedicated on March 18 and 19, 1943 by Bishop McCarthy. The additional space was soon put to use: by 1946 Mercy Hospital was operating at 92% capacity.

To meet the demand, Mercy expanded again with the construction of an eight-story wing, occupied in 1951. The new addition included an Emergency Department (what today would be called an Emergency Room), although it would not be open on a 24-hour basis until 1964.

As before, the surrounding community had contributed to the fundraising campaign for the expansion, providing around $600,000 of the $2.25 million invested. On October 21, 1951, the Portland Press Herald published a special piece detailing the additions. One headline trumpeted the “Revolutionary Telephone System” installed in the building, which boasted a brand-new system of 110 phones dedicated to inter-hospital communication. In addition, hospital staff now enjoyed the latest pneumatic tubes for transmission of messages and prescriptions.