Friday, August 4, 2006

Community's second employee

Two weeks ago, I had a guest for lunch – Community General Hospital's second employee. He is Charles Calagaris and he started work for the Community Hospital Fund on April 1, 1959, more than three years before we opened our doors for the first patient at midnight on January 1, 1963.[1]

Mr. Calagaris was hired by John L. Brown, Community's first employee.[2] There is a plaque in Mr. Brown's honor in the corridor of the main lobby, across from the Business Office. Mr. Brown, who was Community's first employee and administrator, retired in 1982. With Mr. Brown, Mr. Calagaris directed the design, construction, and operations of the new Community Hospital from its opening and well into its first decade. In today's terminology, Mr. Calagaris would have been called Community's “chief operating officer.”
Mr. Calagaris brought me a number of Kodachrome slides, showing the construction of Community Hospital in the early 1960’s. He talked about some of the decisions he and Mr. Brown made in those early years. For example, did you know that CGH was originally conceived in an X-shape rather than the T-shape that was actually constructed? The reason? Air conditioning.

The Carrier Corporation donated air conditioning equipment to the new Community Hospital. In 1963 that made Community the first Syracuse hospital with central air. In planning for that, Mr. Brown became concerned that an X-shape for the building would mean more exterior surfaces. More exterior surfaces would mean greater exposure to heat and cold, making Community's utility expenses higher. So the X-shape was abandoned, and the T-shape we have today was adopted. Community's east and west wings form the top of the “T” with the north wing its stem.

Patient rooms were designed in dormitory style (with beds against the walls), rather than a more conventional hospital-style (with the beds extending into the rooms). This had the effect of reducing the square footage of each room, saving construction costs and creating a less institutional feel. But the dormitory style was controversial at the time. While Community Hospital was still in the design phase, Mr. Calagaris recalls that two prototype rooms were constructed in the S-3 building at Van Duyn to demonstrate how the dormitory-style rooms would work. Doctors and nurses visited the rooms and tried them out before accepting the dormitory style. Beds and equipment of several manufacturers were tested by the original staff in those prototype rooms.

In the 1950’s an intensive care unit was a new concept for hospitals, and none of the local hospitals had specially-designed ICUs. In fact, Community's original plans were made without a dedicated ICU, but Messrs. Brown and Caligaris changed the plans before construction to include an ICU on the first floor, opposite the public elevators (in the area that is now occupied by the Surgery Waiting Room, OR offices, and the Meditation Room). That first ICU had a horseshoe-shaped nursing station with direct line-of sight to each patient from the central core. Community replaced the original ICU in 19851 when the current intensive care unit was constructed on the third floor, north wing with the help of a gift from the estate of Dr. and Mrs. Sorgues.[3]

The original design of the nursery was the result of an experience with a nursery infection in Binghamton. The nursery was designed with four ten-bassinet rooms to permit staged cleaning of each separate room, as the babies rotated through the series of rooms. Remember, the 1960’s were during the post-World War II “baby boom” and Community and all local hospitals were very busy in the baby business at the time.

Mr. Caligaris left CGH in 1970 to oversee the construction of the Plaza Nursing Home on Crouse Avenue (now, Rosewood Heights Nursing Home), where he served as its first administrator. After Plaza, Mr. Calagaris joined University Hospital as its administrator until his retirement. He is still active in health care as the chairman of the board of the Syracuse Home Association in Baldwinsville.[4]

I would be remiss if I did not also recognize the long history of Mrs. Calagaris with CGH. Rose Calagaris began her volunteer work at CGH in 1964, one year after we opened. She continues as an active volunteer today, serving on the main desk on Wednesdays. Over the years she has accumulated 3,636 volunteer service hours at CGH.

It was great to visit with Mr. Calagaris. Both he and Mrs. Calagaris are a big part of who we are and how far we have come.

[1] When I asked Human Resources this week to check Mr. Caligaris’ employment dates, they had to check the archives and found his employee number: 002.

[2] I have written about CGH history in a previous posting: “Where we came from,” November 16, 2002.

[3] When CGH planned the current ICU in the 1980’s, it constructed a mock-up room in Onondaga County’s H-3 building (on the corner of Velasko and Route 173). There doctors and nurses saw and tested different head wall configurations and they assured themselves about the adequacy of space and maneuverability within the ICU rooms.

[4] Mr. Calagaris returned to CGH for six months in 1975, serving as consultant when CGH opened the sixth floor, which was newly constructed and licensed as a skilled nursing facility.