The Most Modern of Hospitals

In 1913, Roswell Park Added Patient Care to Its Mission of Research & Education
Roswell Park
Monday, June 13, 2016 - 4:20pm

More than 10 years after the founding of what we now call Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the New York State Health Department noted with embarrassment that something was missing.

“This laboratory is the first research institution in the world established for the investigation of cancer,” noted the department’s annual report for 1911. “Since then, nearly all the prominent countries have established institutions modeled after it.” But those countries had also built cancer hospitals, the report added, and Buffalo had not. The Buffalo Medical Journal chimed in: “The time has come when the laboratory should have hospital facilities.”

In fact, the idea of a cancer hospital in Buffalo had been considered 10 years earlier, but it never got off the ground. In 1901, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that “plans for a cancer hospital in connection with the Buffalo General Hospital have been filed with the bureau of buildings. They provide for a three-story, fire-proof building, which will be used as an annex of the Buffalo General Hospital and will be erected near that institution.”

Dr. Roswell Park, third from left (with mustache) operating in the surgical theater at Buffalo General Hospital.

Plans for the Buffalo General Hospital annex never moved forward. But then, in 1911, the New York State Legislature voted to provide $65,000 toward the cost of building a cancer hospital at the corner of Oak and Carlton streets. This time the proposed hospital would be associated not with Buffalo General Hospital, but with Dr. Park’s cancer research laboratory. Private donations totaling $20,000 were added to the construction funds provided by the state.

Electric and Automatic

The new hospital opened in 1913 with 30 inpatient beds and a “dispensary,” or outpatient clinic. As the new facility prepared to admit its first patients, the Buffalo Sanitary Bulletin called it “the last word in modern hospital construction.”

The New York Times added to the praise, describing the Cary Pavilion as “the most modern of hospitals…perhaps the most electric and automatic institution in the city of Buffalo and perhaps in the state of New York.”

A private patient room in the Cary Pavilion.

It was “noiseless,” with “beds rolled about on rubber wheels that make no sound." There are no bells. A patient desiring attendance merely presses a button that illuminates a number of electric bulbs throughout the building, calling the attention of the attendant.

“The solaria, or sun parlors, can be [transformed] into sleeping porches simply by opening the windows and introducing the beds. The latter are furnished with electric pads for the purpose of maintaining sufficient warmth for the patients who are at the same time enjoying the benefit of the open air.”

A physician recording the symptoms of a patient spoke into a “portable telephone, which will communicate his voice to a loud-talking box telephone in his private office. His stenographer sitting at her typewriter will immediately write the descriptions of the symptoms, etc., as they fall from the surgeon’s lips. Thus, upon his return to his office, he will have before him an accurate typewritten record of everything that he has noted.”

A New Era in Cancer Care

The Cary Pavilion was dedicated Nov. 1, 1913, during ceremonies at the University of Buffalo Medical School. Among the distinguished guest speakers: Dr. James Ewing, professor of pathology at the Cornell University Medical School, who in 1921 would provide the first description of what is known today as Ewing sarcoma.

“There is no field of hospital work so inadequately provided as are the needs of the inoperable cancer patient,” Dr. Ewing told the audience. Ewing predicted that the new hospital would also have a far-reaching effect on the training of physicians and nurses.

“As a factor in medical education, every one must see the immense influence [of] the cancer hospital.

“The new institution formally opening to-day is destined to add much to our knowledge of human cancer.”