For 100 faithful years, Beebe Healthcare has proudly served Lewes and greater Sussex County
This year, the hospital celebrates its 100th year in Lewes. It’s been a period marked by not just expansion across Sussex County but also by the evolution of modern medicine itself.
The Beebe family had deep roots in the community even before the hospital opened its doors in 1916. The founders’ great-great-grandfather was Ichabod Lewes, a river pilot who fought in the American Revolution. Their great-grandfather was also a river pilot, famously captured during the War of 1812.
According to hospital historians, the hospital’s founding brothers, Drs. James and Richard Beebe, were born in Lewes in 1881 and 1890, respectively, to local merchant Richard Beebe and his wife, Temperance Jane Magee Beebe.
Both attended Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. But instead of establishing medical practices in the city, they returned to their hometown with a mission to provide basic medical care to the people of Lewes and surrounding communities.
The original hospital on Savannah Road was a simple space, a far cry from today’s modern facilities. It was a combination of their existing doctor’s office, plus an addition of two patient rooms and an operating room.
As Lewes and other resort beach towns are near the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, many travelers and sailors ended up needing treatment at the hospital in its earliest days. And from the very start, the Beebe brothers offered healthcare to all. No one was turned away for any reason. That meant the hospital often was seeking donations, because a lot of patients didn’t have any money.
Their first major donor was Benjamin F. Shaw, who donated $50,000 to the hospital, which is approximately $2 million in today’s dollars. His donation allowed the hospital to expand to 35 beds.
Next, the hospital added an x-ray department, delivery rooms and its own nursing school. The Beebe School of Nursing eventually would become the Margaret H. Rollins School of Nursing in 2011.
According to historians, Beebe Hospital in 1935 incorporated as a not-for-profit, community-owned hospital. The ever-growing facility provided medical care for countless patients from not just the Mid-Atlantic but all across the country.
The hospital played an especially vital role during World War II, when it treated sailors who were injured during German submarine attacks on American ships.
By midcentury, medicine had become a family affair for the Beebes. Founding brother James Beebe had a son, James Jr., who became the first board-certified surgeon in Sussex County, and in 1950 developed the first cancer-tumor registry in Delaware. He passed away in 2012, at age 93. His son, Dr. Kirk Beebe, is also a physician, practicing family medicine as part of Beebe Healthcare’s medical staff.
In the 1990s, when many hospitals were merging, going out of business, or both, the all-volunteer board of directors insisted that Beebe Medical Center remain independent and stay a community hospital.
As Lewes and Sussex County grew, so, too, did the hospital and its philanthropic support. The hospital officially changed its name to Beebe Medical Center in 1988, reflecting its broader range of new services at the hospital, including complicated surgeries and procedures uncommon to a community hospital at the beach.
Today, it is known simply as Beebe Healthcare. No longer just a hospital, the network of care includes a cancer center, outpatient locations and walk-in care. It employs more than 2,000 people, including hundreds of physicians and many volunteers. The main hospital remains a center for emergency medicine and surgery.
The Beebe brothers’ original vision for a healthier Sussex County lives on to this day, as hospital officials have announced plans for a massive expansion over the next few years. Part of that expansion includes a two-phase, $200 million project that will include a five-story addition, to allow the Medical Center to have more than 200 private rooms.
“This centennial is truly a milestone for Beebe Healthcare, for Lewes, for the Beebe family and all those who have worked and supported the organization, and for the communities that we serve,” said Jeffrey M. Fried, FACHE, President and CEO of Beebe Healthcare. “Dr. James Beebe and Dr. Richard Beebe began this hospital with a mission of bringing modern medicine to this area. Theirs was the first hospital in the southern part of Delaware, which was a rural area isolated from large cities. Over the decades, supported by many in our community and throughout Delaware, Beebe has grown and thrived, and today continues to focus on bringing the highest quality care to residents and visitors. We are proud of our founders, of our team members, of our volunteers and supporters, and look forward to the years ahead.”
Construction is expected to begin in 2019. Older sections of the Medical Center will be demolished, to allow for new and expanded operating rooms, heart-procedure areas and 200 more parking spaces, according to hospital representatives.
The project seeks to anticipate the region’s growing population. State-provided statistics project that Delaware may have the fifth-highest net migration rate in the U.S. among retirees in the near future; in-state, Sussex County has the largest percentage of that key 55-74 demographic.
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