St. Margaret’s – The Challenge

St Margaret Front Wing

The Front Wing of Saint Margaret’s as it Appeared in 1976; All of my Children Were Born Here. Up Until 1978 the Hospital Faced Adams Avenue; This Project Turned It to Face Ripley.

Montgomery’s St. Margaret’s Hospital was at a crossroads, and in Indianapolis the Order was most concerned.  Around 1973 they retired our good friend Sister Scholastica and replaced her with a youngish, big boned, brusque administrator of Scandinavian descent.  Her name was Sister Susan Radzke.  She and I immediately developed an acrimony toward one another, but I think many others shared my feeling about her.  I suppose this saga actually began with Susan’s arrival on the scene.

I continued to peck along in ‘73 and ‘74 doing small projects for the hospital, including life safety alterations and a new step-down nursing unit.  During this period we even remodeled an area into the first heart catheterization lab in Montgomery.  PH&J strove mightily to do a good job on these highly technical jobs.  A new nun named Sister Almeda Golson had arrived and was assigned as Director of Nursing Services.  She and I worked well in planning the nursing unit.  She was a delightful lady with a wonderful sense of humor–the exact opposite of Sister Susan. Life safety work is always terrible, and the nursing unit had to be carved out of a 1920 remnant of the hospital.  The heart lab demanded so much research, it was a natural loser.  It was unhappy work, but PH&J hoped our efforts would lead to greater things.

During the first two years of her tenure, Sister Susan was directed to make an assessment of the hospital plight for her Order.  In 1974 she verified earlier reports that the situation was dire, and that St. Margaret’s could not survive without another massive expansion and modernization.  Her report went up the line to Indianapolis, on to the parent order in France and on into the Vatican itself.  After much agony, the decision to invest an additional $20 million in Montgomery was sent back and the giant upgrade was undertaken.

Bill, Renis and I reflected on St. Margaret’s dire straits and its decision to make such a huge investment, which we had heard via the grapevine.  We were concerned for the hospital as well as for Montgomery itself, so large a role did St. Margaret’s play in its fabric.  Yet as sad as it made us feel, none of us could believe that even such a large expenditure would enable the institution to survive.  Nonetheless, we all wanted to be part of any team that would try.

Unbeknownst to us, however, a Chicago-based hospital management consultant called The Tribrook Group had already been employed to guide the hospital, and our prospects were dim in that regard.  Tribrook quickly convinced Susan that she should employ “big-time” players to carry out her program, and that the locals could not measure up. While we did not know it for some time, they also persuaded her to utilize “construction management” and “design-build”, the hot new buzz-words in the building business.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many St. Margaret stories. The rest can be found here.

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