A year or so after all the construction was complete, and the hospital had been virtually rebuilt, it became apparent that neither the patient occupancy rate nor the financial plight of St. Margaret’s had been improved. All that money had been spent to no avail. The neighborhood blight problem had not been solved and Baptist Hospital continued to make inroads into St. Margaret’s share of the health-care pie. However sad it was, the situation came as no surprise to the PH&J crowd, who had by then been an inside observer of St. Margaret’s trends for two decades.
Sister Almeda so advised the Daughters of Charity and a last gasp study was authorized. This time community leaders were involved, and were warned that Montgomery might well lose its oldest medical institution. Apparently three different options were on the table:
- Expand the hospital still further, transforming it into a regional medical center spread over a secured six block area, and thus creating a safe neighborhood environment.
- Move the entire facility ten miles to the East, from downtown to the heart of the affluent white suburbia beginning to grow around the AUM campus.
- Strengthen its heart-related specialties but otherwise leave the hospital where it was, counting on community leaders to re-direct community support.
This time around, PH&J was the only design firm that was engaged to assist in the study. Apparently Sister Almeda felt that St. Margaret’s prior venture into the employment of national level architects and construction managers was so disastrous that she would not take that path again. I, of course, felt somewhat vindicated for my cantankerous and skeptical attitude over the preceding decade.
For Option One, PH&J made elaborate studies of a future hospital campus which had its major entrance facing Union Street. The campus area was bounded by Adams Avenue, Union Street, Highland Avenue, and a line 1/2 block east of Jackson. A budget of $60-million was projected.
To support Option Two, St. Margaret’s apparently had an option to purchase land for a complete new hospital facility on Taylor Road. The site was at the Taylor Road intersection with Morrow Road. PH&J prepared a cost estimate which envisioned duplicating the existing hospital capacity at the new site.
I was in attendance at a big meeting of her Hospital Board and the group of community leaders, at which Sister Almeda outlined the details of each option. The good Sister carefully explained the East Montgomery choice, solemnly intoning that the new facility would be at the intersection of Taylor and Morrow Roads–at which point she burst out laughing, thinking that she had just shared the most humorous irony of all time. Just think, she went on, the new site would be named for their great rival, Baptist Hospital, which was epitomized by its administrator, Taylor Morrow.
But, this time around, neither Indianapolis nor Rome agreed to pour in additional sufficient funds to support either option one or two, and the local powers were left only with Option 3. The hospital was to stay where it was, on its own. A strengthened heart-related program was put in place but it was not enough and the old institution continued to fail. Community support did not improve. Not long afterwards, the Daughters sold out to a hospital chain and departed our city. It was a loss that us old-timers still bemoan.
The implementation of Option 3 marked the end of my St. Margaret’s saga, as PH&J had no further association with the hospital.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)