Western Maryland Hospital

Western Maryland Hospital, located on Baltimore Avenue circa 1909, is shown in this postcard image courtesy of the Albert and Angela Feldstein Collection.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series looking at the 1911 attempt to oust the Western Maryland Hospital superintendent from her job.

Doctors at the Western Maryland Hospital believed that they knew best how to run the hospital, although they weren’t the ones in a position of authority to do so.

In 1911, a group of doctors at the hospital charged Superintendent Florence Tanney with being “temperamentally unfit” to administer the hospital. Drs. James T. Johnson, James M. Spear, William F. Twigg, Thomas B. McDonald, A. Leo Franklin, Henry V. Deming, C. L. Owens, William W. Wiley, Frederick W. Fochtman and Thomas W. Koon (chief of staff) all signed the charges as a group. They said witnesses, including themselves, could testify that Tanney was “forgetful and nervous and that her physical and mental condition was run down,” neglectful and mistreated patients.

The Western Maryland Hospital had been around since 1888 when the Maryland legislature passed an act that established the Western Maryland Home and Infirmary for the Aged.

“The facilities were initially located in private homes. The need was realized for a larger facility that would provide hospital care for the large number of railroad accident victims,” wrote Al Feldstein in “Postcard Views of Allegany County, Maryland.”

A new building on Baltimore Avenue was opened in 1892 and the name eventually became Western Maryland Hospital. It would become Memorial Hospital in 1929 and the Western Maryland Health System in 1996.

In January 1894, a group of doctors traveled to Annapolis to meet with Gov. Frank Brown and members of the legislature and complain about the management. Because the state had approved the hospital creation and provided much of its funding, the governor had the power to appoint the majority of the board of directors to the hospital, and the legislature had the ability to cut off the primary source of hospital funding.

Doctors complaining as a group had worked in 1894, and the board of directors wound up asking for the surgeon-in-chief’s resignation.

Hospital management came under fire again in 1907 for its poor handling of Cumberland Police Officer August Baker when he was shot in Shantytown. In this case, however, it was the city that launched an investigation rather than the doctors.

The Cumberland Evening Times reported the city had launched an inquiry into the management of Western Maryland Hospital “in consequence of a seeming manifestation of unconcern, lack of facilities or possible failure to conform with certain red tape regulation promulgated by the management, those ministering to the dying officer felt compelled to go elsewhere.”

By 1911, the doctors were once again unhappy, and Tanney was their target. By filing the charges with the board, they were required to hold a hearing. Having prevailed in 1894, the doctors felt confident they would prevail again.

Tanney’s hearing took place before the hospital’s board of directors in the hospital’s sun parlor on the evening of Dec. 19. A.A. Doub represented Tanney and David A. Robb represented the doctors.

Chair James W. Thomas told those in attendance that the board did not recognize the charges as coming from an official body, but any individual had a right to bring charges. He also informed the doctors that they and their witness would have to testify under oath and not simply submit affidavits.

So, with the stage set and the ground rules established, the hearing began.

James Rada Jr. can be reached at jimrada@yahoo.com or 410-698-3571.

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