Clinical History (1 of 3)
National Jewish Health* has a long and distinguished history in the treatment of respiratory, immunologic and related disorders. It all began in the late 19th century with a desire to provide treatment for a disease that was devastating the nation – tuberculosis (TB), or consumption as it was more commonly called.
Free Hospital for Indigent TB Victims
Denver’s dry and sunny climate had become famous throughout the country for its supposed beneficial effect on TB, which disproportionately affected poverty-stricken individuals. One of the first people to conceive of a free hospital for these indigent TB victims in Denver was Frances Wisebart Jacobs. She worked with the Jewish community to help create and fund National Jewish, which first opened its doors to patients in 1899. Although it was originally funded by the Jewish community, from its inception, the hospital’s services have never been limited to a specific religious denomination.
National Jewish was unique because it was the first institution in the United States to make treatment of indigent TB victims its primary goal.
The Early Years
During the first 40 years of its existence, National Jewish was a tightly regulated institution where proper nourishment, outdoor exposure and adequate bed rest were staples of the TB treatment regimen. For the most severe cases, where the body failed to heal itself, additional treatment included surgery and lung collapse therapy (pneumothorax).
At the turn of the century, there was a strong belief in the therapeutic value of fresh air, so in the early years of the hospital, patients often slept on balconies outside their rooms to take advantage of the Colorado climate.
Typically, patients lived a quiet, dependent, sanatorium existence for three to five years. And in the latter part of their hospitalization, those patients who were getting better had the added bonus of rehabilitation, social and education programs. The education programs were intended to equip patients, who often came from lives of poverty, to function more effectively in the world outside of the hospital.
Children in the Preventorium
Malnutrition, poverty and overcrowding in city slums were the main culprits leading to contracting TB. Therefore, when the preventorium concept gained popularity in the country, National Jewish seemed a logical place to house well but impoverished children so they could get medically-supervised food and exercise. (A preventorium was a place where people who were likely to get sick were sent to receive preventive care.)
The Hofheimer Preventorium at National Jewish was built and opened in 1920. The facility, while designated to keep well children healthy, also treated children with TB of the bone, joints and similar afflictions. Some of the young patients stayed at the institution for three or four years. The preventorium was closed in 1942, yet in its 22 years of existence it cared for 730 children.
NEXT: Holistic treatment and Expansion of Services
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*Over the years, the National Jewish Health name has evolved to better communicate our mission. However, all names have included a common component –the words National Jewish. Therefore, the name National Jewish is used in all references to our institution throughout this history overview.