Can you imagine having to travel more than a hundred miles for a simple medical procedure?
That's what residents of the Eastern Shore faced decades ago. The isolation of the region — a thin strip of land bordered on one side by the Atlantic Ocean, on the other by the Chesapeake Bay — meant that some people would die of simple ailments such as appendicitis.
But people here wanted to make life better. Dr. William J. Sturgis Sr. would become instrumental in that effort. In 1903 he was on a train ride home from Baltimore, where he had taken a patient for surgery, when he read an article outlining the success of the first American community hospital built, in Jefferson County, Mo. “Then and there,” Dr. Sturgis said, “I decided I would devote the rest of my life, if necessary, trying to persuade enough of the good people on the Eastern Shore to help in the establishment of a well equipped hospital for the people of the two counties.”
Dr. Sturgis, known today as the father of the hospital, went on to lead the effort to raise the necessary funds. In the campaign of 1920, the goal was $150,000. That successful drive asked people to give a day's wage, and each contribution was acknowledged by a personal note from the President of the hospital board. Judge John E. Nottingham replied to one Chincoteague waterman: “I beg to acknowledge receipt of your very generous donation” — which happened to be $1, a day's wage. The judge continued, “I'm sure you will be proud of the institution upon its completion.”
Shore residents were proud when that 25-bed facility, Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital, opened in 1928, about the time the Great Depression. In an effort to generate cash flow, the organization sold medical insurance to local citizens. One dollar a month would guarantee up to 21 days of hospitalization at a cost of $5 a day. That included three daily meals at an average cost of 21.5 cents each.
Things changed over the years and that original brick building grew to house 104 beds. But by the 1960s, even those beds were not enough and it was decided to construct a modern facility.
The building that opened in 1971 was licensed for 143 beds, including a 13-bed Skilled Nursing Facility and a 14-bed Mental Health Unit. A state-of-the-art Emergency Department opened in late 1996. The following year an Intensive Care Unit was added, along with renovated and expanded Radiology and Surgery Departments. Another bold step the Board of Trustees took in the 1990s was to diversify the organization and begin ancillary services. This led to the creation of Shore Health Services, an independent community healthcare delivery system that included Shore Cancer Center, Shore Medical Center at Metompkin, Shore Healthcare at Home and Shore Cardiopulmonary Wellness Services.
It was during this transitional period that the name of the hospital changed to Shore Memorial Hospital, continuing to honor war veterans while integrating into the new organizational structure.
In 2009 the board took another big step to secure our future by completing an affiliation with Riverside Health System. The move created new opportunities for expanded and enhanced services, so that Shore residents could get the care they need right here.
The hospital name has changed accordingly, and today we are proud to be called Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital.
In 2017, on an unseasonably warm February day, years of construction and planning culminated in the opening of a new Riverside Shore Health Services campus in Onancock, Virginia. The new campus includes Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, Riverside Shore Cancer Center and Riverside Medical Group offices. Designed and built from the ground up, the facilities offer an ideal environment for providing health care with today's technology and medical advances, and was designed to be adaptable into the future as health care evolves.
Dr. Sturgis and his associates would probably look in awe upon the comprehensive healthcare system available on the Shore today. But Shore Health Services remains committed to the same principles upon which that small brick hospital was erected — to provide quality, compassionate care to all who need help. That was the mission in 1928 and it remains our mission today.