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Wall traces 80-plus-year history of Bellevue

Thursday, January 23, 2014
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Ellis Hospital President James Connolly shows off a new history wall unveiled at Bellevue Woman’s Center on Thursday, January 23, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Ellis Hospital President James Connolly shows off a new history wall unveiled at Bellevue Woman’s Center on Thursday, January 23, 2014.

— The Bellevue Woman’s Center may no longer stand in its original glory, but all has not been lost of the beloved Georgian-style manor that once sat on a hill off Route 7.

An entire wall inside the newly renovated medical facility now depicts Bellevue’s history, from its start in a rectory in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood to its present-day status as an esteemed center for women’s health care.

Two familiar pieces of architecture from the old mansion were preserved and now bookmark a timeline on the wall. One is an arched window from the mansion’s second-story hallway. The other is a wooden banister that was part of a staircase inside the mansion.

Before it was Bellevue, the mansion had been the summer home of the late Charles W. Stone, an inventor and engineer who worked closely with Thomas Edison. When present-day hospital officials began digging into the history of Bellevue, they were delighted to uncover the previous address for Bellevue Maternity Home, which began in 1931 but didn’t operate from the mansion until 1942.

“We didn’t know where it had been prior to being here on Troy-Schenectady Road [Route 7],” said Ellis Medicine spokeswoman Jenny Susko, “so that was really eye-opening for us.”

Mary Grace Jorgensen was a 28-year-old registered nurse and mother when she and her husband, Elmer, founded Bellevue Maternity Home at 523 Bradt St. The site, now pictured on Bellevue’s history wall, was the former rectory for Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood and featured six beds. In its first year, at a time when nearly 60 percent of all pregnant women still delivered their babies at home, the home delivered 94 babies.

In 1935, Bellevue moved to a larger three-story home at 1567 Union St., where there was room enough for 24 beds.

Seven years later, Bellevue officially opened in Stone’s mansion at 2210 Troy-Schenectady Road in Niskayuna. The site consisted of eight acres originally deeded to Capt. Johannes Clute by Mohawk chieftains. In 1942, its first year there, Bellevue delivered 896 babies and earned the nickname “The Stork Club.”

“This building was really gorgeous,” said Ellis Medicine CEO Jim Connolly. “The inside had this rich woodwork, and it had a lot of rich traditions, too, for people who worked there. So when we talked about the need to take the building down, there was a lot of concern because of its really pretty architectural features and the tradition around the Jorgensen family. So we said we’ll try to capture as much as we can in retaining some of the pieces to remind people of what was here before.”

The second half of the 20th century brought overwhelming change to women’s health care and Bellevue as a consequence.

In 1973, a $4 million addition was built onto the mansion to provide more patient rooms and expanded surgical, X-ray and laboratory areas. By this time, Jorgensen’s daughter, Dr. Grace G. Jorgensen, had taken over as president and was running a 40-bed hospital that served a 17-county area. The hospital became incorporated, with Jorgensen as the principal shareholder.

Reimbursement rate formulas were deregulated and budget funds had to go toward staff, equipment and mandatory inspections required by state and national rules and regulations. The hospital found it difficult to break even, let alone make a profit. By 2001, Jorgensen had made up her mind to give up family control of the hospital and apply for not-for-profit status.

In 2007, Ellis Medicine assumed responsibility for Bellevue services when the woman’s center surrendered its license in the wake of state health care reform mandates. The mansion was torn down in January 2012 to make room for a modern facility.

Many of the longtime Bellevue nurses on staff today remember the younger Jorgensen, said Dr. Maria Fort, head of pediatrics and neonatology at Bellevue. They often stop and remark on her photo and her mother’s photo, which now hang on the history wall.

Ed Reilly knew Jorgensen through his time as Niskayuna town supervisor from 1970 to 1979 and again from 1989 to 1997. Reilly, a past president of the Schenectady County Historical Society, was approached by Ellis Medicine to help put together Bellevue’s history wall. He recalled Thursday during an unveiling of the wall that the younger Jorgensen was married inside the Bellevue mansion to Howard Westney in 1953.

“Was she really?” asked Connolly, shocked.

In addition to hospital archives, Ellis Medicine relied on Reilly and The Daily Gazette to help dig up old information on Bellevue’s origins and history. One fascinating discovery was an old hospital bill from 1935 that showed new moms typically stayed at the hospital for 14 days — 10 of them bed-ridden — at a cost of $6 a day.

The bill now hangs on the history wall, along with photos of the three Bellevue locations, the Jorgensens, Gazette clippings and other vintage photos. Some of them feature less familiar faces that are still recognizable to longtime staff members, said Karen Lantzy, director of women’s services.

“Our nurses recognize the faces in some of these pictures,” she said, pointing to a black-and-white photo of two nurses in a patient’s room. “They’ll stand here and say, ‘Oh my god, I remember that person, I remember this person.’ ”

That was the whole point of putting the history wall in one of Bellevue’s most trafficked corridors, Connolly said.

“We figured we would put it in a prominent place in the hospital as an ongoing remembrance of where we came from, where our roots are,” he said.

 
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