A History of Caring
1916: Men of Vision
That was how Delaware Governor Russell Peterson described Dr. James Beebe and Dr. Richard C. Beebe when he spoke at an open house to the Beebe Hospital, now Beebe Medical Center, in 1970.
At this same location in 1916, these two "men of vision" founded the first private hospital in the state that was not located in Wilmington. Appropriately enough, it was in Lewes—The First Town in the First State. Not even Doctors James and Richard Beebe could have envisioned the precedent-setting medical facility that would bear their name. The sons of a local merchant and housekeeper, the Beebes shared a common goal of introducing modern medicine to a rural area where such services were nonexistent.
Some of the brothers' early emergency operations were performed on a kitchen table situated in a nearby farmhouse with instruments sterilized in boiling water on a kettle stove.
When the two brothers joined practice, they opened a tiny four-room hospital adjacent to their father's home. It had just enough space for an operating room and two patient rooms with a total of three beds.
Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin E. Shaw, Wilmington natives who vacationed in Rehoboth Beach, were instrumental in the expansion of the Beebes' hospital. Through their benevolent donations in 1921, the hospital expanded to include a fully equipped modern addition, complete with operating and delivery rooms and an X-ray department. With this addition, the hospital bed total reached 35.
To keep with the increasing demand, Beebe Hospital introduced its Nursing Training School in 1921, a school which was accredited by the Delaware State Board of Nurse Examiners. The Shaws' donation made an addition to the hospital possible. This addition raised the hospital's bed capacity to 60.
Even with the expansions, Beebe was still in its infancy stage of growth. The decades that followed were marked by generosity of men and women with the same vision as the hospital's founders. They were individuals whose unparalleled generosity planted the seeds of growth for the hospital as its surrounding towns began to develop.
But the generosity was not limited to just finances. It took people such as Ernest Gooch, a close personal friend of the Beebe family, whose multifaceted talents were called upon for many aspects in Beebe's initial stages. It took people such as the hundreds of volunteers who devoted hours of personal time to assist their community hospital each day.
Finally, it took the surrounding community and its overwhelming support to keep Beebe Hospital at the forefront in every aspect of medicine.
These are truly men and women of vision, the same vision Dr. James Beebe and Dr. Richard Beebe had when they first opened Beebe Hospital's doors in 1916.
The Beebe School of Nursing was founded in 1921 at the request of a young girl seeking advanced nursing education in her home town. The physical growth of the school came quite later with the dedication of the Jean Ellen DuPont McConnell Nurses Home in 1960. The hospital-based nursing school now sends its graduates into the healthcare profession each year.
Benjamin F. and Helen M. Shaw were benevolent gift-givers to the hospital, donating not one, but two wings. The first, which was completed in 1921, included operating and delivery rooms, an X-ray department, and an increase in bed capacity to 35. The Shaw's philanthropic nature again led to another wing in 1927 in memory of their daughter, Natalie Townsend Shaw. The second wing brought the bed total to 60.
Beebe Hospital's solarium was one of the many overused facilities that received a reprieve with the construction of the four-story Thompson Wing in the mid 1930s. The new structure upgraded the capacity for more patients with six new rooms and also provided new nursing quarters, operating facilities, and a kitchen and dining rooms.
Ernest Gooch was a name just as synonymous with Beebe Hospital as the Beebe brothers themselves. Remembered for his unending generosity, including driving the hospital's first ambulance, Gooch was considered a member of the Beebe family and was credited with raising James after his mother died when he was only five. "He was held in such high affection with my family," commented Elsie Beebe Sweezey.
The $100,000 Mary Thompson Wing addition to the Beebe Hospital was dedicated in 1938. It has been named in honor of Mrs. Henry R. Thompson of Greenville and Rehoboth Beach, who had been instrumental in supporting the building campaign. The featured speaker was Dr. P. Brook Bland, professor emeritus of Jefferson Medical College, who had made the dedicatory address at the opening of the hospital's first wing in 1921. He recalled his prophecy that Beebe Hospital would become one of the largest institutions in the state and predicted it was destined for greater usefulness and importance.
Although the hospital had only one delivery chair, a total of 80 newborns were delivered in 1938. As the numbers of Beebe babies delivered continued to increase, so did the need for quality maternity care. In 1957, the Maternity Department was located on a busy second floor corridor. Another addition to the Shaw Building, in 1958, provided all the privacy and operating efficiency needed to care for newborns, as well as a Pediatric Department with colorful cribs and beds.
The community not only benefited from Beebe Hospital's advanced technology but also in an area on which no dollar value can be placed—patient care. The hospital's location allowed neighbors to care for neighbors and close relationships to form between staff and client, relationships that can get lost in the busy halls of larger metropolitan hospitals.
Throughout the years, dedicated employees and volunteers from members of the local community have been essential to Beebe's success.
The Lynch Wing was beneficial to the hospital not only to accommodate the increasing population in the Sussex County area, but also to help further Beebe's progress in the scientific area of medicine.
The maternity rooms in the Lynch Wing were considered some of the most modern facilities of the day, leading the hospital into the 1970s. The rooms were equipped with two fully adjustable beds, modern furniture for visitors, a telephone, and a two-way nurses' call system.
The community of coastal Sussex, which surrounds Beebe Hospital, was still in its infancy in the early 1980s. Therefore, transportation to and from the hospital was often quite difficult. Beebe Hospital opened a summertime Emergency Room in 1981 in the resort town of Bethany Beach as the only freestanding seasonal emergency facility in Delaware. Ambulance service included that of the Millville Fire Company. The emergency facility was moved to its current location in Millville in 1983.
One of the most notable physical changes occurred in 1985, when Beebe added its five-story Rollins Wing, named for John W. Rollins. The new structure, coupled with renovations to the Lynch Wing, now boasted 58 state-of-the-art patient rooms, a critical care unit, consolidation of an outpatient treatment center and same-day surgery, and expansion of diagnostic imaging and emergency services.
Since its beginning, Beebe Medical Center's history has been one of expansion and growth. The most recent additions were the Clinical Building with the Tunnell Cancer Center and the parking garage, completed in November 1995. Beebe's growth continues with the acquisition of Lewes Convalescent Center in December 1995.
Beebe Medical Center offers an array of inpatient, outpatient, emergency, and diagnostic services. The Tunnell Cancer Center, named for Robert and Eolyne Tunnell, houses the first radiation oncology treatment center in Sussex County. Beebe Home Health; the Lewes Convalescent Center; Sussex Imaging Centers in Georgetown, Millsboro, and Millville; and Gull House geriatric day care in Reboboth further meet community needs. The medical center can also boast such other community services as health screenings, educational seminars, patient education, numerous support groups, a speaker's bureau, and physician referral services among others.
- 1996: Added an angiography suite.
- 1998: Added a cardiac catheterization lab at the Hastings HeartCare Center to help in the diagnosis of heart disease.
- 1999: Completed the Long Neck Health Center to bring family physicians to the Long Neck area. Physicians are now operating their private practice from the center and Beebe also operates its Wound Care/Diabetes Management and blood draw services there.
- 1999: Beebe expanded the Lewes Emergency Department from 13 to 19 beds.
2000 to Present
- 2003: The Beebe Health Campus Outpatient Care Center opens to serve patients west of Route 1 for outpatient services, including diagnostic imaging, women's imaging, express testing, and physical therapy.
- 2007: Cardiac Surgery program begins at Beebe Medical Center, in affiliation with Christiana Care Health System.
- 2007: New Tunnell Cancer Center facility opens on Rt. 24 campus, moving from the main campus in Lewes.
- 2008: Hudson Wing opens offering 37-bed Emergency Department, 20-bed Critical Care Unit.
- 2012: School of Nursing renovation/building planned to accommodate doubling the student enrollment.