Morton Plant Hospital, opened 100 years ago out of sheer need, was built through a grassroots effort and made history as north Pinellas County's first hospital. Much has changed over the last century since its 20-bed beginnings, but the community focus remains. To honor the milestone, Morton Plant is celebrating its first 100 years all throughout 2016 — highlighting a century's worth of medical advances, institutional growth and outreach.
While wintering at the Belleview Hotel in 1912, Henry Plant, the son of millionaire railroad magnate Morton Freeman Plant, was seriously injured in a car crash. No hospital existed at the time in the Clearwater area, so Plant called for a railroad car stocked full of medical supplies and surgeons to be brought down from Chicago, according to records.
The boy spent months recovering in the railroad car parked beside the hotel, which sparked the idea for a future medical center.
Plant propositioned the town a few years later: raise $20,000 to build a hospital and he would donate a $100,000 endowment.
A group of mostly women met the fundraising goal in two months through donations by the community of 2,500. On Jan. 1, 1916, the Morton F. Plant Endowed Hospital opened with 20 beds, five bassinets and one operating room — the first hospital to be built in northern Pinellas County.
The female role
Women played a constant role in Morton Plant's foundation, a unique feat considering the times. It was a group of female Clearwater residents who took on the initial fundraising drive in 1914 to build a hospital.
With Plant's $100,000 endowment contingent on their success, this group easily met their goal in a matter of weeks, establishing the West Coast Hospital Association.
When the hospital opened its doors in 1916, the female nursing supervisor ran the hospital as chief executive, a tradition that lasted until 1952 when a separate hospital administrator position was established.
Morton Plant Hospital began as a nonprofit medical center, and continues to operate that way, meaning no individual or corporation can benefit from the operation of the institution, said Duane Houtz, former Morton Plant administrator and unofficial historian.
"This means that monies that would go to the stockholders are going to pay for either better services or care for the poor," Houtz said.
The focus remains on community outreach, and Morton Plant has developed several programs over the years to better support patients and their families.
The Cancer Patient Support Services is the first and only program in Pinellas County to offer free counseling, stress management, yoga and other support services to cancer patients and their families. The goal is to help patients "cope more effectively with the emotional and physical changes resulting from a cancer diagnosis," according to communications manager Beth Hardy.
The hospital also developed Camp Living Springs, a free weekend adult cancer retreat that gives survivors a chance to get away from daily treatments and to bond with other patients.
In 1997, the hospital also began a relationship with University of South Florida to launch the USF-Morton Plant Mease Family Medicine Residency. The accredited program helps educate family medicine residents and medical students in patient-centered, evidence-based medical care, Hardy said.
Morton Plant began as a two-story building with just enough room for 20 beds and a modest staff. Today it houses 687 beds, and in 2014 alone oversaw 2,249 births, 24,194 discharges and 80,208 emergency room visits.
It specializes in oncology, heart care, women's services, neuroscience and orthopedics.
In 2017, construction will be completed on the 200,000-square-foot Doyle Tower, a four-story patient and surgical tower with private rooms, a new surgical center and orthopedic units.
Morton Plant president Kris Hoce said the hospital's history is indicative of its future as a community-based resource committed to quality care.
"We've been here 100 years, and that positions us to stay around for the next century to make sure patients in the community have access to all the health care services they need," he said.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.