Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett liked to refer to her brand of compassionate care and rural doctoring as reflecting “a more excellent way” and today, the whole of central New York knows the hospital opened and named in her honor 100 years ago this week as Bassett Medical Center.
Philanthropist Edward Severin Clark funded construction of the original Bassett Hospital; the Clark family has continued its stalwart support of the institution throughout the 10 decades since. And what a legacy the hospital carries.
“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,” said 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.“
“Bassett, clearly, has not been your typical rural hospital over the decades,” he said.
“There are two things that strike me as Bassett’s greatest assets today,” Dr. Ibrahim said. “The first is this sure foundation provided by Mary Imogene Bassett and our other founders. The second is the hard work, dedication, and excellence of our caregivers and practitioners as they build on that foundation.”
“Thanks to them, we provide our community with the health care they need and deserve,” he said.
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,” said Dr. 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.”
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,” Dr. Ibrahim said. “They agreed to reopen Bassett’s doors as a medical, research, and teaching hospital.”
“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,” he said. “That remarkable partnership has lasted more than nine decades itself.”
Dr. Ibrahim continued, “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. 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.”
“We have a legacy to honor and a rural-proud community to keep serving,” Dr. Ibrahim said. “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.”