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Salem Hospital Celebrates 150 Years

As Salem Hospital marks a milestone anniversary, caregivers who have seen the hospital's changes over the last 50 years reflect on what it means to the community.

Hospital gate at 31 Charter Street, site of the original Salem Hospital 

1874 was the year that the Bronx officially became part of New York City. Levi Strauss received his patent for blue jeans with copper rivets, selling them for $13.50 a dozen. Harvard University made history by winning the first football game that charged admission, business magnate John D. Rockefeller and explorer Ernest Shackleton were born, and British scientist Richard Caton noted electrical impulses from the brains of animals - laying down the principles that would lead to the development of the electroencephalogram (EEG).

All these historical events from 150 years ago have a legacy that continues today, but there's one that stands out for the North Shore: when Salem Hospital first opened its Charter Street doors to patients on Oct. 1, 1874, thanks to a gift from Captain John Bertram. As the hospital celebrates this milestone anniversary, clinicians, nurses and staff are finding pride in Salem Hospital's ability to innovate and enduring commitment to the community.

"Salem Hospital has roots," says Maury E. McGough, MD, a primary care physician who came to the hospital in 1982 as a resident. "The staff has been here a long time and is committed to caring for patients as if they're a family member. If you're a doctor or nurse at Salem Hospital, you know that you're likely to run into this patient at the grocery store or your kids will go to school together. It's a small, rooted community that cares deeply about each other."

The Best Care, Right in Salem's Backyard

Suzanne Nevins, a neonatal nurse who graduated from Salem Hospital's nursing school in 1974, remembers when it was rare to be able to save the life of a 34-week-old premature infant. Now, Salem Hospital teams can save the lives of babies born at 24 weeks gestation. She's seen plenty of other changes over her 50-year tenure, especially with new technologies.

"Every change has been dramatic," says Suzanne, who has retired from the special care nursery and still works as a lactation consultant and hospital chaplain.

For Dr. McGough, those dramatic - and groundbreaking - changes include Salem Hospital's status as the first community hospital to do cardiac angioplasty and stents. Salem Hospital was also one of the first community hospitals to install at a surgical robot, which attracted surgical residents trained in this new technology needing to hone their specialty skills.

"We have some of the best trained subspecialists you could have at any community hospital," Dr. McGough says. "These are doctors that trained at the best institutions, but they don't want to do research or publish. They want to actively practice clinically, teach and be part of a vibrant, forward-thinking medical community. We're able to offer a level of care that doesn't happen in a lot of community hospitals because of the depth of what we can do."

A Generational Commitment

When Dr. McGough first started, she remembers meeting surgeons and finding out they were the children of other Salem Hospital clinicians. "They didn't want to be anywhere else," she says. "There are generations of physicians who are committed to this community."

Retired pulmonologist Jacob R. Karas, MD knows many of those clinicians, as he has trained most of them since assuming the role of the hospital's Director of Medical Education in 2001. His service to the North Shore medical community dates to the 1960s and covers a broad range between Lynn Hospital, Union Hospital and Salem Hospital.

"I'm in a unique position to appreciate the changes that have occurred over the last 50 years," says Dr. Karas, who has come to appreciate Salem Hospital's culture and its role in the community. "It's been the experience of a lifetime, and I feel very much a part of Salem Hospital. I encourage all my family and friends to receive their medical and surgical care at this remarkable institution."

The generational phenomenon is true of patients as well. Suzanne calls it "grandma syndrome," as she has cared for the newborns of children who were her patients - back when they were babies themselves. "I can't tell you the joy I've had, seeing the families who have had their babies here," she says.

The Next 150 Years

As Salem Hospital looks to the future, growing and evolving as others continue Capt. Bertram's philanthropic legacy, Dr. McGough believes the hospital is at its best. She cites Salem Hospital's A rating from the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, the hospital's strong ties within the Mass General Brigham network, positive surveys from The Joint Commission and A "High Performing" designation in U.S. News & World Report's 2023-2024 Best Hospital rankings. As the honors come in, she still sees room to grow, with hopes that education and training become more integrated and that teaching programs become more connected to Mass General Brigham.

But for Dr. McGough, "best" means more than industry accolades. Salem Hospital is the largest employer in the city of Salem, and Dr. McGough sees how much the hospital gives back as part of that role.

"We've done more outreach to communities in Salem rather than expecting them to find us," Dr. McGough says, mentioning the mobile health van that brought awareness, vaccines, masks and testing kits to neighborhoods during the COVID-19 pandemic. "For migrant families who are trying to get a foothold in America, we've helped them get enrolled in health care plans and find food and community service resources. Now, we're even hiring those who have completed training programs to come work in our hospital."

"We don't turn anyone away," Suzanne says. "Throughout the years, we've had people come in from other countries, and we always have our doors open. As Salem Hospital continues to grow and evolve, we still set that example," she adds. "That's the mission of Salem - to take care of our community."