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The Lying-In Hospital of New York at Second Avenue

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01362u.previewA pillar of maternity care during the 1800s in the United States (and the 1700s through England), lying-in hospitals provided women with an alternative to delivering at home.

Unfortunately, many of the lying-in hospitals in the early years faced rampant epidemics and unbelievably high mortality rates. Indeed, the risks of complications and death in a lying-in hospital greatly exceeded the risks of delivering at home, even in the poorest neighborhoods.

Many historians have argued that the lying-in hospital model was a total disaster. Unfortunately, at the time women did not necessarily choose lying-in hospitals for delivery, but instead ended up there after poor, overburdened relatives who just wanted to pass the burden of care to an “institution” rather than shouldering it at home “forced” the issue.

In 1897, J. Pierpont Morgan offered to donate $1,000,000 so that the Society of the Lying-In Hospital of New York could build a new maternity hospital. The pledge came with two conditions: (1) the Society had to show its ability to raise the balance of funds necessary to run the hospital; and (2) the Hospital’s director at the time had to review and approve the clinical propriety of the new facility’s plans.

Prior to 1897, the facility existing at the site of the old Hamilton Fish mansion (2nd Avenue and 17th Street) provided care for as many as 32 patients in a two week period. It also had operating and delivery rooms. It was one of the few institutions in New York City dedicated to maternity care, and a new facility would only help to expand the hospital’s mission.

From demolition of the old building to completion, it took three years to build the new facility. The construction process faced numerous delays, including the loss of 80 tons of structural steel when it fell into the East River (the barge transporting the steel sank).

The new facility opened on January 22, 1902, complete with state-of-the-art operating rooms, an amphitheatre, lecture rooms, and a museum. It was able to accommodate 186 patients. Patient areas included open solariums on the roof, as well as large windows for fresh air and sunshine.

Considered at the time the best new maternity hospital ever built, the New York Lying-In Hospital treated paying and nonpaying patients, serving the poor communities in the lower east side neighborhoods. At the time, this area bordered by Stuyvesant Square saw more than 50,000 children born each year, and physicians could barely handle half the number.

By 1922, the Hospital had delivered over 131,000 babies while caring for about 5,000 women each year.  Unfortunately, the patient demographics (58% of the patients were treated for free and another 1,649 patients in 1922 paid about $2.50 a day) created financial hardships for the Hospital. By 1928, the Hospital completed plans to merge with New York Hospital-Cornell Medical College (70th Street and York Avenue).

On August 6, 1932, the Lying-In Hospital at 2nd Avenue and 17th Street moved its location. Although the patient care transitioned, the building itself faced an uncertain future. Manhattan General Hospital leased the Lying-In property through August 1957, starting operations 4 years after the Lying-In Hospital officially relocated.

On July 27, 1936, four ambulances making ten separate trips moved the patients of Manhattan General into the Lying-In Hospital facility. At this location Manhattan General Hospital continued to serve the community for 40 years. This included maternity services, but as a part of the hospital and not the hospital.

In the early 1960’s, the facility opened New York City’s first methadone clinic, and by 1965 it was purchased by Beth Israel Medical Center. In 1981, Beth Israel moved the clinical operations and sold the building for $8,000,000. The building eventually became 128 luxury apartments, and then later condominiums.

Photographs from Shorpy.com.

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Posted: September 24, 2014

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Category: All, Lost Hospitals, New York

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