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MedStar, Women’s Board battle another pandemic 100 years after opening –

by Terri Hogan

Senior Staff Writer

MedStar Montgomery Medical Center finds itself dealing with a serious pandemic, just as it did when it opened its doors as Montgomery General Hospital just over a century ago.

And the Women’s Board of Montgomery General, which was founded during that health crisis more than 100 years ago, is still by its side and moving forward with its 100th annual Picnic and Bazaar in an effort to continue its support of the hospital and the community.

Karen Nordstrom, president of the Women’s Board and a member of the hospital board of directors, said it was a coincidence that a flu epidemic was instrumental in the founding of the hospital by Dr. Jacob Wheeler Bird.

“It came out of nowhere, just like this one has,” she said. “We are dealing with an almost identical type of flu and identical scenario.”

She added: “We have weekly call-in meetings and we always talk about the irony of what we are dealing with now, just like what they dealt with in 1919. It makes no sense — it’s been 100 years almost to the month. It was a Spanish flu epidemic that hit in waves, like they say COVID-19 will.”

The beloved summer-time Picnic and Bazaar, which raises funds for the hospital and scholarships, is planned for July 28.

“We don’t have to make a decision yet,” Co-chairwoman Dee Hawkins said. “We need the ability to stay hopeful at this time and see this event as being more important than ever — not just the Women’s Board 100th annual Picnic and Bazaar, but a true celebration of community.”


In the beginning


A group of eight women, originally known as the Ladies Auxiliary, participated in every possible way to prepare a temporary structure for Dr. Bird to open the hospital — sewing bandages and linens, collecting and preparing foods, and raising money.

The hospital opened before it was completed because of the flu epidemic – and in the midst of a blizzard.

Although today’s medical standards limit how the Women’s Board can help, members continue to provide support through fundraising. Over the years, the Women’s Board has raised over $20 million for the hospital.

Nordstrom said board members are working with the hospital’s philanthropy department to raise money for the Associate Emergency Support Fund.

Amy Cohen, Women’s Board vice president, scholarship chairwoman and 100th Anniversary co-chairwoman, noted the similarities of having a temporary structure that was recently erected outside the hospital to treat additional patients if necessary.

“In 1919, they also had to create additional space to accommodate the number of sick people,” she said.


MedStar Montgomery today


Hospital officials say that while they have treated some very sick COVID-19 patients, they have also been able to discharge many patients home to the care of their families.

“Our team is working around the clock to develop and deploy plans in a rapidly changing environment,” Thomas J. Senker, president of MedStar Montgomery Medical Center, said. “We are working collaboratively with our colleagues throughout our MedStar Health system, as well as with federal, state and local authorities to implement the best plan of care for our patients and their family members.”

Utilizing technology that was not available during the epidemic of 1919, the MedStar system has facilitated thousands of Telehealth visits and online chats between health care professionals and patients.

Officials say that while the chances of an individual contracting COVID-19 in the hospital are very low, Telehealth allows for appropriate social distancing and reduces the risk of exposure to hospital staff and patients.

The hospital is allowing access only to patients and staff.

MedStar Montgomery officials report a recent decline in emergency room visits, which is likely due to fear of exposure, as well as people utilizing other care options like Telehealth visits.

However, if someone experiences a serious medical issue, her or she should seek appropriate and immediate care, MedStar officials say.

“The general concern many people are feeling is that if they come to hospital, they are putting themselves at higher risk for being exposed to COVID-19, but the likelihood that someone will die from ignoring a heart attack is higher than contracting and dying from the virus,” Dr. Katherine Byrd, chair of the MedStar Montgomery Emergency Department, said. “Earlier intervention means better health outcomes.”


Community Support


MedStar Montgomery officials say they are thankful to have the support of the community, which has been generous with donations of food, supplies and messages of gratitude, as well as financial support.

At the April 14 virtual meeting of the Greater Olney Civic Association, president Matt Quinn encouraged the community to continue to support MedStar Montgomery Medical Center “now, more than ever.”

A group of women in the community are making masks for the health care professionals and others are donating to local food establishments to provide meals for the hospital employees.

In response to offers of assistance, MedStar Health has created a path to help its #HealthcareHeroes. Interested people may text CAREGIVER to 71777 or make an online gift at .

Donations can be designated to benefit MedStar Health or be specifically directed towards MedStar Montgomery or other MedStar facilities.

“To our community, we want you to know that MedStar Montgomery Medical Center is here for you, to support your health and wellness needs every step of the way,” Senker said.

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