Mount Sinai Archives Blog

Happy EMS Week! History of Emergency Medical Services at MSBI

A history of the ambulance service at Roosevelt Hospital, today’s Mount Sinai West, is available here. See the Building Beth Israel series for more information about the history of Mount Sinai Beth Israel. An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here. 

National EMS Week is May 15-21. In this blog post, we’re celebrating by looking back at a brief history of emergency medical services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. 

The first ambulance service began at Beth Israel Hospital in 1906. It first used a horse-drawn carriage, later switching to automobiles in 1915. During this early period, ambulances were manned by members of the house staff, including Nettie Shapiro, MD, the first female house staff at MSBI in 1909.  

Harry Loeb, MD, posing with Beth Israel ambulance, circa 1915. This would have likely been the first motorized ambulance purchased by the hospital.

By 1984, Beth Israel was “the first voluntary hospital in New York City to have attending physicians fully trained in emergency service on duty around the clock, every day of the week.” New York City did not mandate such 24-hour care in EMS participant hospitals until June 1, 1987.

In 1990, the Division of Emergency Medical Services was named for David B. Kriser, a Beth Israel trustee, in honor of a $3 million bequest from him. This led to a major renovation, and the division doubled in size. 

 

Sources:  

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist

History of Mount Sinai Brooklyn

An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here See the Building Beth Israel series for more information about the history of MSBI. 

Mount Sinai Brooklyn is one of the more recent New York hospitals to join the Mount Sinai Health System. Prior to its most recent incarnation, the hospital dates to the 1950s and was a long-time division of Mount Sinai Beth Israel.  

Prior to the 1950s, the location was a series of interlocking lots. In 1953, the parcel was created at 3201 Kings Highway for Samuel Berson, MD, a specialist in allergy and immunology, to create a nursing home there. Though the exact timing is unknown, the nursing home was converted into Kings Highway Hospital shortly after with 212 beds. In 1980, King’s Highway Hospital opened its North wing, without an increase in the number of beds. As a small, private, community hospital, not much documentation has survived from those years. 

On July 11, 1994, a special meeting of the Beth Israel Medical Center Board of Trustees passed a resolution “that the Medical Center proceed to negotiate the acquisition of Kings Highway Hospital.” By adding Kings Highway to the existing Petrie and North divisions, “on the basis of total admissions per year, the acquisition makes Beth Israel the largest voluntary hospital in New York City and one of the largest in the United States.” 

The period following Beth Israel’s acquisition marked a time of rapid renovation and development at the Kings Highway Division. This included renovations at the Surgi-Center (1996); the introduction of three-bed inpatient Acute Dialysis Unit (November 1996); an expansion of the Russian Health Service and other Russian language amenities (1998); and an expansion of the emergency room from six to seventeen treatment slots (Summer 1998). Perhaps most significant was the groundbreaking for the new building starting in May 1998, which included underground parking, a new emergency department, ICU, and five new operating rooms. The new facility, called the Acute Care Pavilion, was built on what was previously the hospital parking lot, and opened in May 2000.  

These renovations and expansions continued with significant investment from donors. In February 1997, Beth Israel Kings Highway Division in Brooklyn received a $150,000 gift from the Leryna Foundation, the family foundation of Ely Levy, an electronics distributor and leader of the Sephardic community in Brooklyn. The gift doubled the number of beds in the ICU from six to twelve. In 1997, the Greater Montreal Convention and Tourism Bureau named Kings Highway Hospital as the beneficiary of proceeds for its production of Robert Lepage’s The Seven Streams of the River Ota at the Next Wave Festival of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And finally, in December 2002, the Louis Mintz Family Waiting Room in Critical Care Unit was endowed.

With Beth Israel’s merger into the Mount Sinai Health System, the Kings Highway Division was renamed Mount Sinai Beth Israel Brooklyn in January 2014, and then was shortened to Mount Sinai Brooklyn in May 2015. It remains part of the Mount Sinai Health System today. 

Sources:  

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist

Building Beth Israel, Part 2: Jefferson and Cherry

See Building Beth Israel, Part 1: Foundations for the first part of this series. An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here. More archival material about the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location is here. 

For much of the 1890s, the first decade of its existence, the location of Beth Israel Hospital was a moving target. The hospital moved from a factory loft, to an “old-fashioned parlor floor,” to two different rented hospital facilities. In its final locations during this period, split between buildings at 206 East Broadway and 195 Division Street, Beth Israel Hospital was financially solvent for the first time, enabling it to finally buy land of its own. In 1896, Beth Israel purchased a plot of land at Jefferson and Cherry Streets for the construction of a new hospital building.  

In 1899, the Beth Israel Board of Directors chose a design for the new hospital. The cornerstone of the building was laid on April 1, 1900.  

Much of the early funding for the new location was put up by Beth Israel’s Board of Directors, which, in addition to a mortgage, allowed for the purchase of the lot. However, the cost for the chosen design was well above initial expectations, and the final estimate was around $200,000 (about $6.5 million in 2021 dollars), requiring a significant fundraising effort.  

On May 26, 1902, the new Beth Israel Hospital at Jefferson and Cherry Streets was dedicated. It included 134 beds, with male, female, and maternity wards as well as private rooms. It featured a solarium, a common feature for hospitals at that time, in addition to outdoor space on the roof for staff and patient use. The Beth Israel Hospital Training School for Nurses was founded in 1904 and moved into this building. (Today, it is the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.)  

A black and white photograph from 1914. Four rows of young women in nursing uniforms, composed of floor length white dresses and a starched cap, pose for a class photograph in front of the Beth Israel Hospital Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. Handwriting at the bottom reads "1914 - Zina Epstein 940 Grand Concourse"

Class photograph of the 1914 class of the Beth Israel Training School for Nurses (today the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel) at the Jefferson and Cherry location.

By August 1912, a physiological chemistry laboratory opened at Beth Israel under the direction of Max Kahn, PhD. The laboratory was located on the top floor and could comfortably hold five people. Additionally, after extensive delays, a children’s ward opened in January 1919, but it was forced to close six months later because of the nursing shortage caused by the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Both the children’s and maternity wards were closed and re-opened periodically, based on available financial and staff support. 

As early as 1915, the Beth Israel Board of Directors began to purchase property on Livingston Place along Stuyvesant Square Park. Plans to move to this new location were delayed first by World War I, and then by the influenza epidemic. Construction began in earnest in 1922, and Beth Israel finally moved to its current location in the Dazian Pavillion in 1929, giving up the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. While it wasn’t the Hospital’s final location, Jefferson and Cherry Streets is where Beth Israel Hospital came of age and began to resemble the hospital of today. 

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist

Dr. Marie Nyswander, Early Leader in Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Women have been active contributors to Mount Sinai Beth Israel since its founding in 1890. From the Ladies’ Auxiliary formed in MSBI’s first year of operation, to the first female House Staff member Dr. Nettie Shapiro in 1909, to so many on our front lines today, women’s contributions have always been essential to the operation of the hospital. This year for Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring Dr. Marie Nyswander (1919-1986), a psychiatrist and an early leader in methadone maintenance in the treatment of heroin addiction. 

Dr. Nyswander was born in Reno, Nevada, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College (1941) and Cornell University Medical College (1945). From there she joined the Public Health Service in Lexington, Kentucky, where she first worked with patients with addiction issues. She later received psychiatry training at New York Medical College, and published a book, The Drug Addict As A Patient, in 1956. The book was among the first which argued for treating addiction as a medical problem, rather than a moral failing, likely influenced by the dramatic increase chemotheraputic treatments for psychiatric disorders in the 1950s. She went on to chair the New York City Mayor’s Advisory Board on Narcotics in 1959 and worked at a clinic in East Harlem throughout the early 1960s, alongside her own private practice 

Photograph of Drs. Nyswander and Dole

Photograph of Drs. Nyswander and Dole

In 1964, she was invited by Dr. Vincent Dole, a physician at Rockefeller Hospital, to join a study on the biology of addiction, which ultimately led to the discovery of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. Drs. Nyswander and Dole married in 1965. From the late-1960s until her death in 1986, she was affiliated with Beth Israel Hospital, where thousands were eventually treated through the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program. She also served on the President’s Advisory Board for Mental Health during the Carter administration. Both she and her work with Dr. Dole received many honors. 

Headline reads: "Methadone Credited With Rehabilitating 850 Addicts"

Article from January 20, 1969 issue of “Drug Topics”

Dr. Nyswander was a fierce defender of what has been a controversial treatment since its inception. Though detractors argue that methadone replaces one opioid addiction for another, Nyswander and Dole saw that abstinence-focused treatments were not always effective and that the symptoms of withdrawal caused by detoxification were needlessly challenging and painful for the patient. Methadone, an opioid itself, prevents drug cravings and blocks the ‘high’ of heroin.

Dr. Nyswander passed away in 1986 at the age of 67.

 

Sources: 

Courtwright, David T., “The prepared mind: Marie Nyswander, methadone maintenance, and the metabolic theory of addiction,” Addiction 92, vol. 3 (1997): 257-265. Accessed March 23, 2021. 

Dole, Vincent, Biographical photographs, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY. 

“Dr. Marie Nyswander Dies at 67; Expert in Treating Drug Addicts,” The New York Times (New York, N.Y.), April 21, 1986. Accessed March 23, 2021. 

Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program clippings, AA088.S003.SS001.B003.F029 – AA088.S003.SS001.B003.F047, Mount Sinai Beth Israel collection, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY.  

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist

Mount Sinai Beth Israel and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

An update to this blog post can be found here.

Founded in 1892, the early history of Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital was decorated with a series of success stories in the treatment of disease. Against the background of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, then affected by poverty, close living quarters, and dangerous working conditions, its residents, largely recent Jewish immigrants, were made vulnerable to many of the contagious diseases of that era. In its first years, Beth Israel contributed research to combat the typhoid epidemic of 1906-1907, established an after-care clinic to children affected by the 1916 polio epidemic, and is credited with finding the cure for trachoma, which had previously been a cause to turn away new immigrants at Ellis Island.

Only twenty-five years after Beth Israel’s opening, the United States was embroiled in the first World War. The Hospital encouraged its medical staff to join the Medical Reserve Corps, with approximately half of its doctors signing up. The Hospital had also encouraged its nurses, physicians and other staff to join the war effort.

This left Beth Israel in a precarious position when the 1918 Influenza epidemic reached New York City. Being chronically understaffed, Beth Israel’s Medical Board contacted the Department of Health for advice. The response was simply: “There is nothing to advise except the use of gauze masks which did not always prevent the disease.” In November 1918, the Hospital eliminated visiting hours, curtailed teaching hours, and turned the Male Medical Ward over to the Department of Health to use as an isolation facility for the pandemic. (The DOH never used the facility because they were similarly understaffed.)

Female ward of Beth Israel Hospital, Jefferson and Cherry Street, circa 1910

Ultimately, Beth Israel was only able to admit twenty-nine influenza patients. (Update: This number is disputed in other sources.) Seven members of the House Staff were awarded $25 (approximately $500 today) for “self-sacrificing services performed” and the Hospital offered special incentive pay to doctors and nurses to help combat the fact that they were understaffed.

Despite the limited patient intake, Beth Israel’s contributions to the 1918 flu pandemic were still impactful. In December 1918, Superintendent of the Hospital, Louis J. Frank, contacted Presidents Roosevelt and Taft to encourage universal nursing training in the education of women, likely in response to the chronic under-staffing at this time. By January 1919, many of the patients in the Hospital were admitted for “post-influenzal complications” leading to the care of many affected by the pandemic.

Sources:

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist