The Early Years

(Excerpted from "The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital" by Clinton VanZandt Hawn, M.D.)

Mary Imogene Bassett was born to Doctors Wilson and Mary A. Bassett in Mount Vision, NY in 1856. In 1874, the family moved their growing medical practice to Cooperstown. They practiced in a house that still stands on lower Fair Street and treated their patients for $6-$12 week -- including room and board!

Bassett Healthcare is named in honor of a physician who devoted herself generously for many years to the sick and unfortunate of Cooperstown and the surrounding region. The hospital's first Physician-in-Chief, Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett died in 1922, but is still remembered as a wise and skillful physician and a devoted and unselfish friend.

At a time when few women found recognition in medical careers, Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett distinguished herself early. She was only 31 when she graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She received further training and became an Instructor in Nervous Diseases at the Philadelphia Polyclinic and College for Graduates in Medicine. She published several articles in that field and was subsequently elected delegate to the Philadelphia County Medical Society and the American Medical Association (AMA).

After the death of her mother in 1893, she abruptly turned to a rural general practice in Cooperstown with her aging father. Her father died in 1905 and Dr. Mary Imogene continued alone. She had a very active practice in and around Cooperstown. She was a beloved, dedicated physician who was called "Dr. Molly" by many of her patients.

A Dream Comes True

(Excerpted from "The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital" by Clinton VanZandt Hawn, M.D.)

Among Dr. Bassett's friends and patients was Edward Severin Clark. He had great admiration for her. According to anecdote, he heard her express a wish for a laboratory to provide scientific data with which she and the other Cooperstown practitioners could better care for their patients. Mr. Clark granted her wish, building not only a laboratory, but a fully-equipped 100-bed fieldstone hospital building. Named "The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital," it was meant as a living memorial to Dr. Bassett.

In 1918, the hospital was nearing completion and was offered by Mr. Clark to the US Government for use as a temporary convalescent home for aviation officers until late 1919. The public opening of the hospital came in June 1922, with Dr. Bassett serving as Chief-of-Staff. Tragically, she suddenly died of a stroke at home in October of that year. Mr. Clark directed that the light in the cupola be lit every night in memory of her -- and it is to this day.

Soon after Dr. Bassett's death, the hospital began struggling to keep its doors open. The 100-bed hospital proved too large for the small village and its local practitioners to support and the facility closed in 1925.

"Is it visionary to think of the hospital of the future and perhaps the not very distant future as a socially progressive health center?"
-Dr. George Miner Mackenzie, Director, The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, 1929-1947

As the story is told, one day, several senior residents at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City (located then on East 70th Street) were discussing their hopes to work in a rural hospital. A junior resident, Dr. Henry S. F. Cooper, overheard their conversation and mentioned that he knew of a vacant, state-of-the-art 100-bed hospital in Cooperstown, New York. Dr. Cooper was a descendant of Judge William Cooper, who had founded the village of Cooperstown in 1787.

The residents were intrigued. Within minutes, Dr. Cooper had crossed the street and was sitting in the home of Stephen C. Clark, Sr., who had become interested in the empty hospital his brother Edward had built. Dr. Cooper suggested the idea of reopening the Cooperstown hospital, with Mr. Clark's support.

On the following day, the residents and Mr. Clark traveled by seaplane, landed on Otsego Lake, and began planning for the revival of The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital. In March 1927, the hospital reopened with Dr. Mackenzie assuming directorship in 1929. He served as both Director and Physician-in-Chief for the next 18 years.

Dr. Mackenzie envisioned an ideal rural hospital dedicated to patient care, education and research, where the practicing physicians were full-time and salaried. His guiding philosophy was to create the strengths of a university hospital in a rural region. His vision, which shaped the hospital's original mission, continues at Bassett today.

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Mackenzie developed a revolutionary self-insurance plan, an early version of today's health maintenance organizations. This plan was developed to help people pay for medical services. Subscribers paid in advance an annual premium of $25 for a single individual or $100 for a family of four or more. Full coverage was provided for hospitalization, all doctors' fees, preventive care, surgery and specialty care. Starting in 1930 on an experimental basis, the plan operated for nine years. During this time, it seemed to be successful -- subscribers were satisfied and the hospital found it a convenient and financially viable method of providing medical care. The plan was reluctantly terminated in 1940 at the urging of the New York State Department of Social Welfare, backing at that time the establishment of a Blue Cross Plan.

Just before his retirement, Dr. Mackenzie also established a formal link in 1947 between The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. This agreement furthered Bassett's development as a strong academic institution and gives many members of the Bassett medical staff faculty appointments at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

A Leader in Rural Medicine

"Construction at The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown of proposed facilities for the critical administration of total-body radiation to man, should expedite the clinical development of this promising field."
-Editorial, The New England Journal of Medicine, September 12, 1957

After Dr. Mackenzie's retirement in 1947, Stephen C. Clark again played an essential role in the hospital's development. He personally recruited Dr. James Bordley III from Johns Hopkins University to head Bassett Hospital.

Under Dr. Bordley's leadership, education and medical research began to grow, as did Bassett's reputation for innovation and leadership in rural medicine. Dr. Bordley expanded Bassett's education programs to include nurses. In response to nationwide nursing shortages, Bassett initiated undergraduate nursing education affiliations and the student nurses were housed in the former Cooperstown Academy building, remodeled and named Bassett Hall.

In 1953, the Bassett Auxiliary was formed and in October 1969, the Friends of Bassett became officially recognized. Both groups actively raise funds to enhance Bassett's patient care, research and education endeavors. In the 1990s, the Friends of Bassett raised over $7 million during the first capital campaign to help fund the construction of the Bassett Clinic in Cooperstown.

Research boomed in the 1950s with the award of numerous grants and the assembly of a pioneering group of researchers including Dr. Joseph W. Ferrebee, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, Dr. Theodore Peters, Jr., and Dr. David A. Blumenstock. In 1956, these Bassett physicians completed the first bone marrow transplant in history. The bone marrow from a healthy twin was transfused to a twin with leukemia, after whole body radiation had wiped out the sick twin's malignant leukemia cells. Landmark work in heart and lung transplantation was also done at Bassett during this period. In 1990, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering transplantation work, which has led to the successful treatment of leukemia.

"Every statistic shows that rural medicine lags far behind what is available in urban areas...But Cooperstown...is a remarkable exception. Reason: it has The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, a mini-medical center that ranks among the best in the US."
-Time, January 25, 1971

The 1960s brought the opening of the Bassett Research Institute and in 1967, ground was broken for a new inpatient building that doubled the number of hospital beds and provided a new cafeteria and pharmacy. Dr. Bordley's successor, Dr. Charles Ashley, undertook significant expansions in staff, buildings, specialty services and nurse-staffed health centers. During his directorship, the number of outpatient visits increased from 60,000 to 140,000 per year and the overall Bassett staff tripled -- from 400 to 1,200. In 1973, the first Bassett nurse practitioner was established in Edmeston and in 1978, a second community health center opened in Cherry Valley. This innovative solution to the shortage of physicians in rural areas marked the beginning of Bassett's regional health center network.

In 1970, the Carnegie Commission called for drastic improvement in the quality of US rural medicine and pinpointed one existing hospital as the ideal prototype -- Bassett. One year later, Time magazine featured Bassett as a model of rural health care delivery.

Farmsafe, the predecessor to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) was established in 1980 to reduce the incidence of farm-related injuries and illnesses in the region. At the same time, the Bassett Research Institute began conducting some of the first major population studies of rural Americans.

Transformation to a Vertically-Integrated Health Care System

“This is a great example of a way to deliver health care in a challenging, rural environment with a widespread population with significant health care needs.”
-Dennis Whalen, President of the Healthcare Association of New York State

During the period from the mid-1980s to 2014, Bassett Hospital experienced remarkable growth and change under the leadership of its longest serving president, Dr. William F. Streck, who was appointed acting director in 1984 and formally assumed leadership of Bassett in 1985 through July of 2014, when he announced his retirement.

During Dr. Streck’s tenure, the organization transitioned from a group practice of 70 physicians in Cooperstown, into a health care delivery system employing more than 400 providers. The Bassett system now serves eight counties across 5,600 square miles, logging more than 700,000 outpatient visits a year, and employing 4,300 staff. As a result, the Bassett Healthcare Network, a major economic engine for the region, is recognized as one of the top 100 most integrated health systems in the nation and a leader in rural health care delivery.

These changes grew from Dr. Streck’s vision for the future of what Bassett could become and his astute anticipation of changes in the health care environment. Over three decades, he and his management team artfully maneuvered Bassett’s growth, strategically expanding access to community-based primary and specialty care as well as acute care at affiliated hospitals in upstate New York. In Cooperstown, the Bassett Clinic opened its doors in 1992, providing a spacious and inviting primary and specialty care center. The Louis Busch Hager Cancer Center is located within the Bassett Clinic. The primary care network has expanded to 28 community-based health centers and 19 school-based health centers with a variety of practitioners. These providers began offering the region's first health maintenance program, Community Health Plan of Bassett, in 1986. By 2012, the Bassett Health Plan was launched as a joint effort with insurers and offered a method for population health management.

The Cooperstown hospital added a Birthing Center and Special Care Units, and expanded its Dialysis and Intensive Care Units. Advanced cardiac care arrived in the region with the opening of the Bassett Heart Care Institute (BHCI) in 2003. From prevention and detection to surgery and rehabilitation, BHCI offers a complete range of cardiac and coronary care services. Bassett is also a designated Area Trauma Center and Stroke Center.

By 2009, the Bassett Healthcare Network included six corporately-affiliated hospitals: Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, O'Connor Hospital in Delhi, Cobleskill Regional Hospital in Schoharie County, Little Falls Hospital in Herkimer County, A.O. Fox Hospital in Oneonta, and Tri-Town Regional Hospital, a 24-7 emergency department with laboratory and radiology services, in Delaware County. The leadership continues to evaluate new affiliations that will further stabilize and provide opportunities to strengthen the organization.

The research mission of Bassett continues to enrich the organization. In 1985, Dr. Streck brought focus to this mission with the formal establishment of the Bassett Research Institute. Over the last 30 years, research gradually transformed to meld successfully into the changing goals of Bassett and the evolution of the health care system. As population health emerged as a national interest, Bassett’s New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health and other population and health-system studies were ongoing in the Research Institute’s Center for Rural Community Health. The Institute’s “Upstate Health and Wellness Survey”, reflecting 20-year trends of health issues, provides research investigators with a clear view of the health challenges and priorities for the region.

The quality of Bassett’s medical education programs and its commitment to the academic mission remain high. Medical education has undergone its own transformation. In the early years, Bassett was a wonderfully comfortable academic institution. Like so many other programs, it experienced challenges in the 1980s. Today, the medical education program is secure and residency programs are stable. Bassett maintains affiliations with a number of medical, nursing and allied health programs and schools, all of which help attract practitioners to this rural region. The latest development, launched in 2010, is the Columbia-Bassett Medical School – a hybrid program with an innovative curriculum and a course of studies focusing on ethics, evidenced-based medicine, health care systems, integration, leadership and business management.

Bassett Healthcare Today

On July 1, 2014, Dr. Streck's successor, Dr. Vance Brown assumed the responsibilities of President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bassett Healthcare Network and Bassett Medical Center.

Today the cupola light continues to burn in Dr. Bassett's memory and the missions of patient care, research and education remain unchanged. The visionary goals of Bassett's former leaders, educators, researchers, physicians, employees and volunteers continue to guide the organization through growth and change.

Just as generations of patients and families have passed through Bassett's front doors, so have generations of dedicated employees, health care professionals and other supporters whose compassion and caring will long be remembered. These individuals have always been the heart and soul of Bassett and will continue to distinguish Bassett as a health care tradition for many generations to come.

  • Cancer Clinical Trials

    Marianne was a Bassett patient who participated in a cancer clinical trial after she was found to have early stage breast cancer.

    read more

  • Children's Eye Health and Safety Month

    September is Children’s Eye Health and Safety month, and Bassett ophthalmologist Dr. Laura Kilty encourages all families to make sure students receive vision screening and learn eye health and safety practices.

    read more