It’s been 100 years since a committed, caring and highly determined group of 30 women came together in Mrs. Richard Watson’s Doylestown parlor to create the Village Improvement Association, which went on to found Doylestown Hospital.
A century later, Doylestown Health, as it’s now named, is an award-winning regional healthcare facility, recognized for its cardiac and cancer units and personal attention to patients and visitors, said a panel of some of the hospital’s most influential leaders at a recent community program.
“Through Their Eyes,” author Anne “Cookie” Biggs, joined Sheri Putnam, vice president and chief strategy officer for Doylestown Health; Marianne Chabot, chair of the Doylestown Hospital and Doylestown Health Foundation boards of trustees; Rich Reif, retired president and CEO of Doylestown Hospital, and Jim Brexler, Doylestown Health’s president and CEO at the James-Lorah House in Doylestown Borough.
Several dozen people, many, members of the VIA, listened and laughed as Putnam led the engaging conversation about the hospital’s unique beginning and its decades of growth.
“It was always about the people and it will always be about the people,” Putnam said of Doylestown Hospital. “It’s as close to a family as an organization can get.”
Recognizing a need in the community, as the Spanish Flu of 1918 swept through the country, it was the VIA that created the initial eight-bed hospital in 1923, explained Biggs, who wrote the history of the hospital’s first 75 years. And, it was Mrs. Watson (she was not referred to by her first name, said Biggs) who “came into her own,” after her husband died and she started a “women’s club” that went on to become the VIA.
“She was a very strong person,” Biggs added.
To fund their effort, VIA members collected coins in small blue velvet bags, they provided countless hours of unpaid work, doing the laundry, preparing meals and changing beds.
Chabot echoed the strength and mission of the VIA, “You have to have gumption to start a hospital and you have to gumption to run it…and manage to have it grow and grow and become something it will not be possible to do without.”
The hospital did not have its first professional administrator until 1960. It has had just three in its history.
When he was hired in 1989, Reif said, “They were looking for a woman. They recognized the importance of women in leadership, and their compassion…it was not about filling beds, it was — and is — about taking care of the community.”
Women remain in leadership roles today, as the VIA continues to oversee the healthcare system.
“That commitment then and still today doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Brexler. “It’s a partnership, the community engagement continues. It’s an extension out to the community and it’s returned.
“We would not be where we are today without the VIA,” said the CEO.