Tucson Medical Center is taking a second look at its future and hopefully adopting a more-nurturing attitude towards its past, with the guidance of a recently hired national planning group. Community input is vital in order to prevent our only community hospital from becoming just another corporate entity, as TMC begins to build satellite campuses and plan for big-city Tucson. (See "Medical Melodrama" in Currents.)
Few people know of the medical center's intricate connections to Tucson's history and how it embodies the true meaning of "community hospital." This knowledge is especially important given that future plans for the campus may forever sever this connection to the community, with the planned demolition of the horizontal campus in favor of a multi-story hospital and medical offices.
The medical center we know today was a gift to the community more than 60 years ago, in March 1944. The acreage and 14 buildings of the former Desert Sanatorium were donated for a community hospital by Anna Erickson after the community raised $250,000 to make this transition possible. The Desert Sanatorium, built for the treatment of tuberculosis, was conceived by Dr. Bernard L. Wyatt in response to the multitude of health seekers flocking to the Tucson area for a cure for the "white plague." The financial backing of Alfred and Anna Erickson made the vision a reality, beginning with the construction of the water tower in 1926--still the tallest structure at TMC today. By 1928, a campus was constructed in pueblo-revival style, designed by local architect and soon-to be-mayor Henry Jaasted. The buildings included a solarium, eight separate court buildings, a research facility and staff residences. Most of these buildings still exist and are in use. TMC is not an out-of-town corporate medical franchise, but a true Tucson original in scale and origin.
The 1983 autumn-winter edition of OnCenter, published by TMC, stated: "Unlike most hospitals, TMC is blessed with an aesthetic heritage, thanks once again to its predecessor, The Desert Sanatorium." The article recognizes that with the many additions to the hospital, the relationship between architecture and nature is of primary consideration.
In 1963, the hospital administration wanted to build two eight-story towers, but the concept fell out of favor, and the horizontal tradition with patios and nature close to patients continued. The patios were celebrated with much of the landscape planted in memory of or in thanks by former patients, with even the Desert Museum getting into the effort.
TMC is a community hospital in every sense of the word--at this point in time. The challenge for the planning group is to preserve the historic campus, including the water tower, while introducing a multi-story facility that maintains its relationship to nature. The historic court buildings were the inspiration for the patio tradition and the resulting landscape that shaped the development of TMC for the past 60 years. No other hospital in Tucson has this relationship to nature and a physical relationship to the Old Pueblo, thanks to the historical buildings.
So much of Tucson has become a corporate franchise. Without more community involvement and compromise by the powers at Tucson Medical Center, our only community hospital will be like any other franchise.