Fifty years ago, the Misericordia Sisters saw a need for quality health care in west Edmonton. They purchased 50 acres of land and, after securing the support of the Government of Alberta, set to work establishing a new hospital.
The Misericordia Sisters had been dedicated to meeting community needs and caring for those who did not have a voice in Edmonton since 1900. The original hospital they founded was located downtown near the current Grandin LRT station. When it came time for a new hospital, there were two other facilities downtown, so they saw an opportunity to meet an unmet need in the west end.
“The charism the Sisters brought with them, to serve those most vulnerable with unconditional love and mercy and to welcome all no matter their circumstances, is alive and well,” says Jan Schimpf, Senior Operating Officer. “It’s about hospitality, which continues to resonate with our teams today.”
On July 18, the Misericordia Community Hospital will celebrate its 50th anniversary in its Jasper Place location, thanks to the Sisters’ dedication and tenacity.
Along with an active treatment hospital, the Sisters established a home for unwed mothers, a nursing school and an auxiliary hospital on the new site. They also constructed a utility building, a 20-room Sisters’ residence wing and a chapel.
The Misericordia Sisters opened the hospital — a 555-bed and 100-bassinet full-service facility — on July 18, 1969. The hospital boasted state-of-the-art operating rooms, an intensive care unit and an emergency department. It also offered general practice, surgical, medical, psychiatric, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatric services, as well as laboratory and rehabilitation medicine. The hospital cost $21 million to build.
The last patient admitted to the old hospital was a single woman in labour. She was moved to the new hospital, and her baby was the first to be born there.
As the new hospital grew, so did its relationship with the community. Volunteers became a vital part of the hospital’s operation. In 1971, the Misericordia Hospital Volunteer Association was formed to raise money through ancillary services like the gift and coffee shop. The association donated all its profits to the hospital. It was the first of its kind and became a model for others like it in the province.
In 1976, the Misericordia Sisters decided to withdraw from Edmonton due to their declining numbers and the increasing complexity of hospital services. They left as they arrived, with little fanfare and a commitment to ensuring ongoing care for society’s most vulnerable. The Alberta Catholic Hospitals Foundation was created to continue the mission and values of the founding Sisters.
A nurse’s memories
“Things have changed in the 34 years that I’ve worked as a nurse here,” says Janet Wass, Unit Manager. “For one, the units are much smaller. When I started, each of the surgical units had 40 beds. Now the units have 20-28 beds.”
For the surgical patient, hospital stays are shorter, many procedures are done through day surgery, and medical advances and resources in the community allow patients to recover at home.
“Back when I started, the nurse did everything,” says Janet. “Now we have licensed practical nurses and healthcare aides as part of the team to help with patient care.”
Many tasks have become automated. Instead of setting up an IV, there are now pumps to run the drip. Nurses used to take a patient's vital signs manually, and now that process is also automated.
“There are two things that I think might surprise people about the hospital,” says Janet. “We’ve had a float in the Klondike Days Parade. I remember the Engineering department building the float in 1982.”
“The second thing that might surprise people is that the hospital used to have a hair salon. It was for patients and staff. I know there were several staff who used to get their hair done there because it was convenient.”
Janet says she’s stayed at the Misericordia for over 30 years because it has a real family feel. “You develop a lot of friendships, and they become your family.”
Memories from the Engineering department
“I grew up in the west end. From an early age, I was interested in electronics. Then at 15, I broke my leg in a motorcycle accident and ended up in hospital for two or three months,” says Doug Kiss, recently retired Misericordia hospital employee.
That visit had a big impact on Doug. He learned about the importance of quality health care and became interested in making it his career. He took the biomedical electronics program at Grant MacEwan College. In April 1979, he started working as a biomedical electronics technician in the Maintenance department at the Misericordia Hospital, never forgetting what it was like to be a long-term patient in a hospital.
When Doug started, the hospital used paper and pneumatic tubes to send his group work orders. In the early 1980s, his department created its own computerized network software system for tracking maintenance requests and delivery. They were the first in Edmonton to have this kind of system.
“From the perspective of being an electronics maintenance guy, I saw many different technologies,” says Doug. “We started out with lots of tube equipment in the hospital, then we went to transistors, then integrated circuits and finally microprocessors.”
“The hospital always felt like home to me,” he adds. “I often felt a sense of peace when I was working on the units. I felt like I was doing something productive for society and the hospital.”
Doug retired on May 31, 2019, after a 40-year career with the hospital.
Reflections from a nursing school student
Annette Fayant was in the last group of nurses who completed their three-year nursing training at the Misericordia Nursing School. She graduated in 1993. She’s worked at the hospital since 1995.
“I lived in the nurses’ residence while I was in school,” says Annette. “It was a lot of fun, and you were close to the school when you had work to do. I also liked being with a group of like-minded people who were all studying the same thing.”
The training was intense. The nurses coming out of the nursing school were prepared to provide high-quality care to their patients. By their second year, they were working shift work and weren’t always beside their instructor. In their third year, it was more like an apprenticeship, and the other nurses were guiding the students.
“I really like this hospital — the size and the community feel. It’s not so big that you don’t know people, but it’s big enough that we have lots of resources,” says Annette.
Looking to the next 50 years
The Misericordia Community Hospital is looking forward to continuing to grow and serve the residents of Edmonton and northern Alberta. In 2023, a new Emergency department will open on the site, ensuring patients have access to the best possible care close to home.
“We will continue to serve the community well,” says Jan. “We’ll meet you where you are and help move you forward. We’ll continue to look for new, innovative ways to care for those we serve to ensure we are meeting their needs. ”
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