Cobleskill Regional Hospital History
In the Beginning: Building the Hospital Was a Community Effort
In 1994, the Community Hospital of Schoharie County became affiliated with Bassett Healthcare Network, and took the name Bassett Hospital of Schoharie County. The hospital’s name has since changed to Cobleskill Regional Hospital, and its services have evolved, but the essence of the institution – community spirit – is still alive and well. Today, sixty-four years after its founding, Cobleskill Regional Hospital still stands as a testament to what a community can accomplish through teamwork, perseverance, and shared sacrifice.
Cobleskill Regional Hospital opened its doors on Aug. 15, 1956, after nearly a decade of planning, fund raising and construction.
The first obstacle was getting municipalities within the county to agree that a hospital was needed and decide where it should be located. Roger Becker Sr., who served as 1st vice president on the hospital’s 1956 Board of Directors, remembers going to schools to speak to community members about the project. At one school, he said, “they threw erasers at us.”
“It was tough going,” said Becker. “Money was tight in those days.”
The project was abandoned, but not forgotten. In 1950, a group of businessmen and professionals formed a committee to keep the idea alive. When the Cobleskill Development Corp. donated a parcel of land off East Main Street for a hospital site, the 16 towns across Schoharie County got behind the project, and the fund-raising campaign started to take off.
As a young Rotarian, Cobleskill businessman Lew Wilson was involved in the campaign. “It was a hard sell for a while,” he said. He remembers a severe accident in which the victim died on the way to a hospital in Albany. “The doctors said a half hour would’ve made the difference,” he recalled. “That was the spark that really got people thinking about having something closer. I had very little problem after that when I went out to ask for contributions.”
Still, it remained a challenge to raise the $600,000 required to build a one-story, 50-bed hospital.
“The whole community finally came together,” Becker said. Various service organizations divided up streets and went door to door. School-children collected pennies. Businesses and civic groups held benefit dinners, dances and auctions. After two years of hard work, community members raised $412,000. The federal Hill-Burton fund provided another $206,000, and the decade-old dream of a Schoharie County hospital began to come to fruition.
“It was almost hopeless at the start,” Becker said. But there was never any question of giving up. “We wanted to build it. Period.”
The Early Years
When it opened on Aug. 15, 1956, Cobleskill Regional Hospital had an emergency room, medical, surgical, and obstetric services, a fully equipped radiology department, and a laboratory. Its medical staff included 18 physicians plus 58 consulting specialists, 21 nurses, and 14 nurse’s aides.
The hospital’s services were used immediately. On its 20th day of operation, it had a census of 31 patients. In its first 45 days, 39 babies were delivered, and 42 cases were seen in the emergency room, including seven minor surgeries. The cost for a private room was $17.50 per day.
Cobleskill Regional Hospital operated on a tight budget in its early years. Dr. Seeley Phillips, a retired veterinarian who served on the Board of Trustees from 1955-60, recalls a discussion about installing an elevator that is still in use today.
“When the man from the elevator company talked to us about it, he told us about how fast the latest model would go,” said Phillips, now 88. “We were worried about spending money because we didn’t have any. There was always a lot of debate when it came to deciding to spend money. Some other board members thought that the less expensive hydraulic model would be too slow. So finally I said, ‘Well it only has to travel 12 or 15 feet, so how fast does it really need to be?’ And we decided on the hydraulic elevator, which they said would last for more than 50 years.”
The hospital flourished in its first decade, and a need for a larger facility quickly surfaced. In the late 60s, Lew Wilson co-chaired a fund-raising drive for the hospital’s first addition. Under his leadership, the board, Auxiliary and other community stakeholders raised more than $450,000 for a 16-bed addition known as the Holmes Wing. It was named for Bank of Richmondville President John D. Holmes, who contributed a generous gift.
In 1974, Wilson spearheaded another fund-raising campaign, called Operation Update. The $1.8 million goal was met when inventor Earl Johnson of Charlotteville gave $75,000 plus another $400,000 through his estate after he died. The new Emergency Room wing was named in his honor. The project doubled the physical size of the hospital and included new surgical, laboratory and ambulatory care areas.
Today, many things have changed, but the community spirit that was the foundation of the hospital remains strong.
“We stay family, and we treat patients like family when they come in,” said Janet Gorton, who has worked at the hospital for 38 years and is its longest-tenured employee. “We’re a small, rural hospital and we’ve carried our heritage along with us.”