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Home » » Bassett Has Been Pioneering Rural Health Care For 100 Years

Bassett Has Been Pioneering Rural Health Care For 100 Years

Written By Editor on 6/6/22 | 6/6/22

One hundred years ago today, Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital (doing business today as Bassett Medical Center) opened its doors to the public for the first time. Its name honors Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett, an area physician whose care and vision elevated the level of medicine in her community. She liked to refer to her brand of compassionate care and rural doctoring as reflecting “a more excellent way.”


The philanthropist, Edward Severin Clark, funded construction of the new Bassett Hospital. His generous gift has been immeasurable and has been continued by the Clark family for ten decades since.


“Over the years, Bassett Hospital hosted the first bone marrow transplant, the first tissue transplant in America, and even the first immunotherapy for bee stings,” notes Bassett Healthcare Network president and CEO, Dr. Tommy Ibrahim.


“Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who pioneered bone marrow transplantation first at Bassett and later at Stanford University, ultimately won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his vision and dedication,” observes Ibrahim. “Bassett, clearly, has not been your typical rural hospital over the decades.”


A Legacy of Hard-Earned Lessons


Like many health care institutions in America, Bassett has at times struggled to deliver high-quality medical and health care in the communities it serves. Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital closed its doors for a brief period of time in the early 1920s after the sudden passing of Dr. Bassett in October 1922. Global wars and pandemics, like the latest COVID-19 pandemic, have brought Bassett other struggles to endure. But in the process Bassett has learned lessons in the good, the bad, and the ugly of modern American doctoring—lessons Bassett has been willing to openly share with others over the decades.


“Bassett has persevered and relentlessly pursued its mission to serve its patients and rural communities through changing times for a century,” says network board chair, Douglas Hastings. “That perseverance is the result of the efforts of thousands of committed Bassett caregivers over the years. It is a unique success story in American health care.”



A Legacy of Rural Health Leadership


In time, Bassett became a national leader in fostering healthy rural communities. Bassett hosted a conference on rural health care in 1938 that brought the nation’s leaders in rural health to the Otesaga Resort to dig deep into rural health morbidities. Co-sponsors and participants included Columbia University, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic, General Electric, MetLife, and others.


The Carnegie Commission to Congress in 1970 noted that Bassett and Mayo Clinic were the leaders in rural health. It has remained that way to this day.


“As always, Bassett’s work continues apace,” says John Davis, MD, a retired Bassett physician who authored the book “Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York,” which is a historical perspective on Bassett Healthcare Network. “This is the story of the little rural hospital that really could!”


“Today, Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital has blossomed into the modern Bassett Medical Center, a facility that is nearly 3,200 caregivers strong,” says Ibrahim. “It has also evolved into a health care network. It consists of five hospitals and serves an eight-county area in Central New York that is the same geographic size as the state of Connecticut by Bassett Medical Group’s over 600 practitioners.”


“We have two long-term care facilities. We sponsor 21 innovative school-based health clinics that provide K-12 students with medical, dental, and mental health services. And we have clinics in communities where hospitals are not readily available,” continues Ibrahim. “We have also long sponsored the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH). Its work serves people in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and even Iowa.


A Legacy of Research and Teaching


“Bassett reopened in 1927 when a group of young doctors from Presbyterian Hospital in New York City came to Cooperstown to meet with Stephen Clark, Edward Severin Clark’s brother. They agreed to reopen Bassett’s doors as a medical, research, and teaching hospital,” Ibrahim explains.


“As a result, Bassett has been a partner with Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons teaching medical residents what it takes to be a rural-focused physician. That remarkable partnership has lasted more than nine decades itself.


“Our one hundred years of serving, learning and growing form the foundation of all that we are today and plan to be going forward. But we only live up to that legacy because of the hard work, dedication and excellence of our team of caregivers and practitioners,” Ibrahim continues. “Thanks to them, our cancer, heart, orthopedic, surgical, and other clinical and research institutes bring a level of care not usually seen in rural communities.


“Because our people are by far our most-prized asset and our hope for the future, over the past two years, we’ve invested well over $30 million in programs to support Bassett Healthcare Network’s workforce,” explains Ibrahim. “That investment is only a start and will keep our high level of care going for our patients, neighbors, family and friends.


“We have a legacy to honor and a rural-proud community to keep serving,” Dr. Ibrahim says. “We look forward to seeing what our many continuing Bassett initiatives will bring to New York State and rural American health care over the next 100 years.”

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