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UC attracted Shriners Hospital to Cincinnati in 1963

UC College of Medicine has had a long collaboration with Shriners Hospitals for Children-Cincinnati.

For more than 55 years, the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine has been integral to the success of the Shriners Hospitals for Children–Cincinnati. The college, in fact, was responsible for the 30-bed hospital coming to Cincinnati in the early 1960s.

Despite the recent announcement by Shriners Hospitals that the facility at 3229 Burnet Ave. will close sometime in 2020 with patient services relocating to Dayton Children’s Hospital, College of Medicine faculty will continue to collaborate on burn research with the hospital, says Andrew Filak Jr., MD, interim senior vice president for health affairs and dean.

“The partnership continues to reap benefits today with scientific and clinical faculty having joint appointments at UC and Shriners. Recent research in the areas of infection prevention in the burn model and skin engineering have garnered national attention,” says Elizabeth Dale, MD, assistant professor of surgery, director of the Burn Center at UC Medical Center and a staff physician at Shriners. She says that Shriners Hospital also provides rich clinical opportunities for medical students and residents. Dale expects the clinical relationship between UC faculty and residents and Shriners to continue if the move to Dayton happens.

The Shriners scientific staff is largely made up of UC researchers, added Charles Caldwell, MD, professor and director of research in the UC Department of Surgery. About a dozen faculty with active grants have laboratories there.

“Research has always been a significant part of Shriners Cincinnati. The largest accomplishment was significantly lowering burn mortality in the 1960s and 70s to what it is today. Burn mortality was a significant issue back then and Shriners Cincinnati was at the leading edge in mitigating this mortality,” Caldwell says.

Dale noted that “UC faculty who are leaders in the fields of burn injury, wound healing, hypertrophic scarring and skin engineering work in labs at Shriners Hospital.” UC faculty also have been national leaders in burn care and research, she says. Bruce MacMillan, MD (1974), J. Wesley Alexander, MD (1985), Glenn Warden, MD (1993) and Richard Kagan, MD (2008) have served as presidents of the American Burn Association (ABA). Six faculty, including Steven Boyce, PhD, and Cora Ogle, PhD, emeriti professors of surgery, and former faculty William Altemeier, MD, MacMillan, Alexander and Warden, have received lifetime or special achievement awards from the ABA.

“It really has been a gem of our academic medical center,” added John Kitzmiller, MD, professor of surgery, chief of the Division of Plastic, Reconstructive and Burn Surgery and a UC Health physician, who sees patients at Shriners two days each month. “There is a lot of history between the Department of Surgery and the Shrine. It’s been a big part of our program’s education, research and patient care.”

Bringing the Shrine to Cincinnati

Clifford Grulee Jr., MD, dean of the College of Medicine from 1963 to 1973, led the effort to bring Shriners Hospital to Cincinnati shortly after his arrival in Cincinnati. That year, Shriner’s Hospitals for Crippled Children—as it was called at the time—dedicated $10 million to establish three pediatric burn institutes. The Shriners was founded as an offshoot of the Masons in New York City in 1870 and started Shriners Hospitals in 1922. By the early 1960s they operated 17 hospitals.

UC was one of 67 universities that expressed an interest in becoming the home of a Shriners Burn Institute. Ultimately, Shriners selected 21 for site visits. On May 28, 1963, representatives of the Shriners Burns Institute Program came to Cincinnati to tour the College of Medicine and Cincinnati General Hospital (today the UC Medical Center) to survey it as a possible location. A burn center in Cincinnati would be strategically located to care for about 25 percent of the burn patients in North America, it was noted at that time by Alfred Porter, chairman of the Burns Institute Committee.

Just five weeks later on July 2, 1963, the Imperial Potentate of the Shriners announced that Cincinnati had been selected and the Shriners would provide $3.3 million in funding for a hospital to be built. Burn Institutes also were awarded to the University of Texas Medical School at Galveston and Massachusetts General Hospital in association with Harvard University.

In a 1963 Enquirer interview, Grulee said an important factor leading to the selection of UC was the extensive research into the treatment of burns and surgical infection that had been done at the college by Altemeier, who served as chair of the Department of Surgery from 1952 to 1978. Grulee also cited the Cincinnati’s approval in 1960 of more than $17 million in funding for the construction of a new 11-story General Hospital and the strong relationship between Cincinnati Children’s and the college’s pediatrics faculty there as other reasons why UC was selected.

Three days later—on Friday, July 5, 1963—the UC Board of Directors signed an affiliation agreement with Shriners Hospitals. It was also announced that the Shriners would provide $50,000 to fund seven additional beds in the General Hospital Burn Unit to begin providing services to pediatric burn patients. Altemeier said this would ensure that a referral system for patients would be in place by the time the new hospital was built. The Shriners burn ward opened Feb. 1, 1964 as the second Shriners Burn Institute following the Nov. 1, 1963 opening of a similar temporary seven-bed unit at John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas at Galveston.

Shriners Hospital

Shriners Hospital under construction.

“It was a real feather in our cap when that beautiful facility” was awarded to Cincinnati, Grulee recalled during a 1980 oral history interview with what is now the Winkler Center for the History of the Health Professions. “It was a wonderful research facility and a very fine thing for this area as far as patient services are concerned.”

The agreement between UC and the Shriners stipulated that all hospital building costs and operational expenses would be paid for by the Shriners and that no patient would be charged for care. The hospital physicians would be College of Medicine faculty members who would provide care, conduct research and train physicians to treat burn patients.

On Jan. 28, 1964, MacMillan, a UC professor of surgery and an Altemeier research colleague, was named the first chief of staff at the burn hospital. MacMillan would continue in the role until he retired in 1985. A 1945 graduate of the College of Medicine, MacMillan died months after he stepped down as chief of staff.

An honor to the community

Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati would eventually be built on city-owned land at 202 Goodman St., at the corner of Eden Avenue. At the time the spot was used as a 115-space parking lot for General Hospital. UC was a municipal university owned by the city of Cincinnati at the time. General Hospital also was owned by the city in 1964 and was operated by the university. On Feb. 3, 1964, the city council’s Finance Committee approved an ordinance providing for a 99-year lease of the land to Shriners for $1 a year. The full City Council approved the ordinance two days later.

A groundbreaking for the hospital was held on Sept. 12, 1964. The architects of the hospital were from the Cincinnati firm of Potter, Tyler, Martin & Roth, the same firm that designed the nearby new General Hospital. Frank Messer and Sons, Inc., was named the general contractor for the four-story building. Its cornerstone was laid Sunday, May 22, 1966. A Cincinnati Enquirer editorial that day declared, “It is an honor to the community since we were among three cities selected as sites for the institute which will be devoted to the care of badly burned children—and, as importantly, to research into the nature of burns as well as the teaching of treatment techniques for them. It is a source of pride since the selection of our community reflects the respect in which the University of Cincinnati Medial School staff and facilities is held, important factors in the Shiners Burn Institutes committee’s choice.”

Shriners leadership at 1964 hospital groundbreaking.

Bruce MacMillan, MD (center) with Shriners representatives at the Sept. 12, 1964 groundbreaking.

Silent movie star Harold Lloyd visited Cincinnati in September 1966 to check on the progress of the hospital’s construction. Lloyd, then 73 years old, was chairman of the Board of Trustees of Shriners Hospitals and led a delegation to meet with UC officials and see how construction was coming along. On his visit, he told Enquirer reporter Steve Hoffman that Cincinnati’s burn hospital was a “tremendous project” and that it was “a joy to see what’s being done.”

The new hospital was dedicated on May 21, 1967. A Shrine parade preceded the ceremony and a public open house followed. Lloyd returned to Cincinnati to attend the festivities. UC leaders, including President Walter Langsam, joined Altemeier and MacMillan in the ceremonies. The building was outfitted with more than $500,000 of “ultra-modern burns medicine equipment.” The first seven patients from the Shriners unit at General Hospital were transferred to the new Shriners Burn Institute on Feb. 19, 1968.

The hospital’s reputation and patient population continued to grow during the next 20 years until the hospital outgrew the building. As pediatric medicine grew more family focused, some staff were moved out of their offices to create more room for families to be with their children while they were undergoing treatment. Some closets were even converted to offices.

On May 11, 1987, UC and Shriners announced they would swap land parcels so a new burn hospital twice the size could be built. Under the agreement, UC would knock down General Hospital’s Old Administration Building on Burnet Avenue and give the land to Shriners. UC would take control of the original Shriners Burn Institute. The deal was approved by the UC Board of Trustees on May 24, 1988. The new $41.3 million Shriners Hospital at 3229 Burnet Ave. was dedicated on May 16, 1992.

The College of Medicine initially used the former Shriners Hospital building as cancer research space for the new Barrett Center. In 1999, the building was renamed the Hastings L. and William A. French Building to honor Hastings French and his nephew William French for their donations to the university.

The former hospital—now simply referred to as “French East”—has been the home of UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences since 1999 after completion of $6.3 million in renovations. The College of Allied Health Sciences will vacate French East this summer once construction is finished on the new Health Sciences Building next to Kettering Lab Complex.

Photos courtesy Winkler Center for the History of the Health Professions.