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130 Years Being "Of the City"

Alexandria Hospital Marks Anniversary

Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the 130th anniversary of Alexandria Hospital.

Since Julia Johns first challenged her group of female activists at St. Paul's Church on that December day in 1872 to form the Alexandria Infirmary Association, the world and Alexandria have been entirely transformed. But a local constant has been the sense of community that permeates what is now Inova Alexandria Hospital.

An enormous amount of both the changes in medical practice and procedure as well as the constancy of humanistic caring can be attributed to one of the hospital's longest-practicing physicians and guiding visionary for more than 50 years of the institution's 130 year history. That person is Dr. George Speck.

At 92, he retired only within the past seven years. It was his leadership and tenacity that positioned Alexandria's hospital to be on the cutting edge of many innovations in patient care and medical science.

In 1953 Alexandria Hospital was the first on the East Coast to institute the use of epidural anesthesia in obstetrics. The head of the OB/GYN department at that time was Dr. Speck.

"We were using a block to overcome labor pain, and Dr. John O'Connor, head of anesthesiology, suggested this epidural procedure that was being used in other surgical procedures," Speck explained.

"My patients were also the first to have it used for Cesarean births."

To further soothe his patients, Speck was the originator of having music played in the labor, delivery and operating rooms. A graduate of George Washington University Medical School, Speck also served as the hospital's chief of staff.

One of his most memorable accomplishments was creation of a 24-hour, professionally staffed emergency room. It was the first of its kind in the nation and became known as the "Alexandria Plan."

That occurred in 1961.

"When I first came here, the emergency room was run by volunteer doctors. Each of us had to give a day to do this. It was very inefficient. Then five doctors who were all in private practice formed a group to staff the ER on a full-time basis," Speck explained.

"They wanted a guarantee of $75,000 to cover expenses. Since many of the patients were indigent, I went to City Council for the funds. They hesitated, but I pointed out they had a large contingency fund, and this was for a city service. They voted yes that night," he exclaimed.

SPECK WAS ALSO the first physician to sit on the hospital board with a full vote. Previously, the doctor board representative had no vote. "Physicians now have a voting say in running the hospital," he pointed out. Later his son, City Councilman David Speck, served as head of the hospital Board of Directors.

In Dr. Speck's view, "This hospital is outstanding. All the doctors are board-accredited. And it is fortunate to have so many civic-minded people to support it."

However, there was one major mistake in the institution's long history, according to Dr. Speck. It was the closing of the School of Nursing. "If they hadn't stopped the three-year nursing program, there wouldn't be a shortage of nurses today at this hospital," Speck insisted.

He and his son established an endowment to be given to a student nurse, he said. When the school closed, it was transferred to benefit nurses in obstetrics and neonatology, care of newborns, particularly premature babies.

INITIATING THE in-house recognition of the anniversary was the dedication of the new Mother/Baby Unit on Nov. 22 of this year, which is designed to bring a "homelike atmosphere to new mothers after giving birth," according to Kozloff.

"Over the past 130 years, Alexandria Hospital, now Inova Alexandria Hospital, has delivered more than 100,000 babies," noted Kenneth Kozloff, Inova Alexandria Hospital administrator and vice president.

Last year alone more than 3,200 were delivered. In 1934, Willard Scott, the original Ronald McDonald, was born at Alexandria Hospital.

At the ribbon-cutting for the 35-room unit, Kozloff emphasized, "We selected the unveiling of this renewed unit to kick off our anniversary celebration because 130 years ago childbirth was the main cause of death among women." But it is only one of many innovations at the hospital in recent years:

. 1983 - Cardiac Rehabilitation program established;

. 1986 - Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Center opened;

. 1988 - Senior Health Access, a community outreach program for senior citizens, launched;

. 1989 - Cancer Center opened. New Cancer Garden was dedicated in 2000, and the Center hosted its first annual Celebration of Life for cancer survivors and their families. Nearly 300 attended;

. 1990 - Sleep Lab established, first of its kind in Northern Virginia;

. 1999 - First hospital in the United States to use the new ultrasound infusion catheter; and

. 2001 - Hospital's External Disaster Plan was implemented immediately following the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. All available physicians, nurses and staff were activated. Twenty-three patients were treated, including civilian and military Pentagon personnel, a Virginia State trooper and seven firefighters.

IN 1997, Alexandria Hospital merged with Inova Health System and changed its name to Inova Alexandria Hospital. Kozloff, who was named the hospital's administrator in 2000, said, "It's very fortunate that we joined Inova Health System. Without this merger our technological advances would not have been possible. We offer a full spectrum of services, and the Inova linkage has made this seamlessness possible."

At the dawning of its next 130 years, Inova Alexandria Hospital is again involved in a major expansion to better serve the Alexandria community. A $55 million expansion was initiated in 2001, which calls for adding 10 emergency bays, a new critical care unit, larger radiology and cardiovascular units, and a three-level, 500-vehicle parking garage.

In addition to the new facilities, the hospital plans to reconfigure its physical organization to better serve both the patients and the demands of increasing medical realities. Presently, care is being provided for 15,000 inpatients and 63,000 outpatients annually. This is done with a staff of 1,600, making Inova Alexandria Hospital the largest employer in the city.

But with all the medical advances and all the firsts racked up over the last 130 years, and the physical metamorphoses from the Alexandria Infirmary at Dr. Murphy's house, Inova Alexandria Hospital is still "of the city."

"The past 130 years were probably best capsulized by Rebecca Jackson, R.N., one of the hospital's longest-serving nurses, when, in looking back over her career, stated, "Nothing is more rewarding than what we do here. We've been invited to be part of peoples' lives."