Bellevue Hospital

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Founded on March 31, 1736, Bellevue Hospital is the eldest public hospital of the United States.
Located on New York City's East Side (462 1st Avenue), the hospital occupies a singular place in the public imagination as a warren of mangled crime victims, lunatics, and derelicts.1

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History

Bellevue Hospital started as an almshouse with six beds for the city’s poor, that needed a place for quarantine due to the outbreaks of diphtheria, cholera, and yellow fever.
For this uses, an old empty mansion of the Murray Family was selected for New York’s first hospital.
The mansion commanded spectacular vistas over the East River and the farms of Brooklyn and was so named Bellevue.2
Bellevue soon became a refuge for the undesirables of the time, mostly the immigrants living in the torrid slums of lower Manhattan and, in most cases, it was often their last port of call.
It was overrun with abandoned infants, the insane, alcoholics, victims of epidemics, the homeless, and patients ranging from the suicidal to the homicidal.
It used to be very overcrowded, patient would sleep up to three in a bed, or more often on the floor and conditions were abysmal.
Bellevue was also a pioneering hospital.
It housed the cities first morgue, and it was the first hospital in America to run a maternity ward.3
A veteran of the Civil War, surgeon Colonel Edward Barry Dalton saw the need to get the wounded to medical aid as quickly as possible and so he managed to create a horse drawn wagon with removable slatted beds in the back, and in so doing invented the first ambulance (The Bellevue ambulance).4
It was also the first hospital to use hypodermic syringes, have a pediatric ward, and also the first to contain a specialized unit for outpatients.

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From the outside of the hospital you can see part of the old facade

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getting in, you can see the rest of the original facade, recently restored

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The sorrounding buildings

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Bellevue Today

In 1912,it was designed a new campus for the hospital, which mirrored the increasingly better standard of medical care.
Today, Bellevue runs a state of the art, first rate medical service.
In a gleaming new building, that still retains some of the original renovations made in 1912, it has built a reputation as one of America’s most progressive and renowned hospitals.
In the mid 1980s, it was one of the first hospitals to create an AIDS clinic. True to its origins as a refuge for the unwanted, Bellevue was in the news in recent months for taking in Craig Spencer, a recovered New York ebola patient.5

By the way, The old Bellevue psychiatric hospital closed in 1984.6
Today it’s partially used as a shelter for the homeless, but the imposing building lies mostly empty and abandoned.
At night a few lights can still be seen behind ragged curtains, where the staff still care for the cities poors, just as they did nearly 300 years ago.

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  • Main Text by Camilla Conti moc.liamg|8991.itnoc.allimac#| and Alessandra Casillo moc.duolci|59isac.ela#| (December 2017)
  • Photos by Luca Borghi ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#| (June 2017)

Bibliography

  • David Oshinsky, Bellevue. Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital, Doubleday New York 2016, p.418

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