Jewish Healthcare Institutions in Colorado

Beginning about 1872, Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892) cared not only for tuberculosis patients in their homes, but also for homeless people with tuberculosis down by the Platte River and out on West Colfax. She sometimes brought physicians to treat them, and she gave them soup, clothing, soap, and coal, and she didn't hesitate to take care of people who collapsed in the streets, hemorrhaging from tuberculosis.

Frances Jacobs took the tradition of neighborliness to a completely new level by seeking out Denver's most neglected residents in the roughest part of town. She was a community organizer, but she was also very much a hands-on caregiver.

As a great admirer of what the Catholic Sisters and so many others did in Colorado, I feel confident in saying that no one ever played a more important role in creating Colorado's humanitarian healthcare tradition than Frances Wisebart Jacobs.

She not only initiated the Jewish healthcare tradition in Colorado, she and a few of the Catholic Sisters were the co-founders of Colorado's humanitarian healthcare tradition.
After Frances Jacobs' premature death in 1892, her colleague Rabbi William Friedman opened the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives (1899). Then Charles Spivak, MD, opened the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society (JCRS) sanatorium (1904).

Mrs. Jacobs, Rabbi Friedman, and Dr. Spivak — and many of those who came after them — focused on the people who needed healthcare, not on what was in it for them. National Jewish and JCRS were built because there were so many people in Denver who needed healthcare but had no way to pay for it. Both institutions welcomed people of all beliefs.

The Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children opened in 1908 as a residence for children whose parents who were patients at the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives or the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society. As the treatment of tuberculosis changed dramatically, the Sheltering Home evolved into the National Asthma Center, which merged with National Jewish Hospital in 1978.

Beth Israel Hospital began as a residence for Jewish seniors that opened in 1920. Then in 1923 it added a a 50-bed general hospital. In 1964, a new 132-bed Beth Israel Hospital opened on the southwest corner of West 17th Street and Lowell Boulevard. It closed in 1987.

General Rose Memorial Hospital opened in Denver in 1949 following a five-year national fundraising campaign by a group of Jewish physicians and community leaders led by Maurice Shwayder, a founder of the Samsonite luggage company.

Those leaders had suggested that Denver needed an acute care hospital where physicians and patients of all creeds, races, and national origins would feel welcome. The hospital was intended "to serve the need of every creed," as Maurice Shwayder liked to say. In a display of creative initiative seldom seen in Colorado before or since, those leaders invited some of the most famous entertainers of the day to Denver to help raise funds for the new hospital.
In 1947, while General Rose Memorial Hospital was still under construction, its Physicians' Conference Committee decided that a physician practicing at Rose "has to be a member of the Denver County Medical Society or eligible to membership by virtue of his or her medical training."

Until that time, every Denver hospital required physicians who applied for a staff appointment to be a member of the Denver County Medical Society. The physicians who were getting ready for the opening of General Rose Memorial Hospital wanted to make it possible for African-American physicians — who were not welcome in the Denver County Medical Society — to be part of the Rose Hospital staff.

World War II veteran Edmond F. Noel, MD, was therefore able to become the first African-American with staff privileges at a Denver hospital. Other African-American physicians soon applied, and other Denver hospitals — and the Denver County Medical Society — followed the lead of General Rose Memorial Hospital.
In the middle of the 20th century, General Rose Memorial Hospital reinvigorated Colorado's humanitarian healthcare tradition by establishing notably high standards of care and welcoming physicians, surgeons, and patients without regard for religion, ethnicity, or race.

Contact book [at] coloradohealthcarehistory [dot] com with additions, corrections, suggestions, or for more information. Thank you!

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