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This Week in History
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This fall marks the 50th anniversary of a movement born of tragedy that led to one of Palm Beach County’s premier medical centers.
In September 1962, 351 Boca Raton-area residents formed the Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League. Their goal: to raise money to build a hospital.
Their namesakes: two dead children.
Debbie and Rand were Debra Ann Drummond, 9, and her brother James Randall Drummond, 3.
The youngsters were victims of one of Palm Beach County’s most disturbing crimes: Their 11-year-old neighbor confessed to disguising poison as milk and sneaking it into their refrigerator.
It was 1962 and Boca Raton had only about 10,000 residents.
The nearest hospital was Bethesda Memorial, 15 miles away in Boynton Beach.
The children’s parents — their father was developer Robert Drummond — said having a hospital closer probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but the deaths spotlighted the need for one in Boca Raton.
Critics said a hospital there was unnecessary and would never happen.
But the town rallied — a history of the hospital says one of every three city residents donated — and within five years, Boca Raton Community Hospital had opened its doors.
Fiercely possessive residents call it “the miracle on Meadows Road.”
In the ensuing half century, the league’s efforts have helped contribute more than $30 million to the hospital and nearly eight million hours of combined service.
Its ranks have swelled to nearly 1,200, making it one of the nation’s largest hospital-based volunteer organizations.
Robert Drummond died at 58 in 1989, in the hospital his family’s tragedy inspired.
Gloria Drummond remained active with the hospital until her death in December 2011.
In 1996, many of the same people who’d supported the hospital over the years rose in protest when managers considered selling it for $187 million to a consortium of not-for-profit hospitals.
Residents said that might be a good thing, but feared the hospital would lose its role as a community treasure. In the end, the deal was called off.
This photo ran in the Palm Beach Post on the July 18, 1968, with the caption: “Boca Raton Community Hospital celebrated its first birthday Wednesday with the traditional cake, handshaking formalities and the untraditional lighting of the candle a la finger. The finger belongs to Richard Murray, personnel and development director. Doing the lighting honors is Mrs. Gloria Drummond, first president of the Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League. The birthday gathering was held in the hospital visitor’s lounge.” (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Tags: Boca Raton, hospitals
In the early 1900s tuberculosis was among the top two leading causes of death in the United States (the other was pneumonia and influenza, classified as a single category). The death rate from TB was about the same as the current rate for cancer or heart disease, the two current leading causes of death in the U.S. Tuberculosis remained in the top 10 until the 1950s, when antibiotic treatment was developed.
The name tuberculosis comes from tuber, the botanical term for a rounded growth of a stem such as a potato, which is what lesions caused by the disease resemble.
1885 – The first tuberculosis sanitarium in the nation is established at Lake Saranac, N.Y. By the 1950s, there were more than 800, with more than 70,000 beds. By the mid-1970s, the number of beds had dropped to fewer than 10,000.
1915 – The Florida death rate from tuberculosis is 153.7 per 100,000 residents.
1935 – House Bill 854 authorizes the Florida Tuberculosis Board to establish and oversee state-run TB hospitals.
1938 – The Central Florida Tuberculosis Hospital, the first of four state hospitals, opens in Orlando.
1946 – The Florida death rate from tuberculosis is 29.5 per 100,000.
1950 – The Southeast Florida State Sanatorium opens in Lantana. The hospital was renamed in 1969 for Adrian Glenn — known as A.G. — Holley, a Panhandle hardware store owner and a longtime member of the state’s tuberculosis board. When the 500-bed hospital opened the town of Lantana had 773 residents, and there were more than 600 tuberculosis hospitals in the U.S.
1951 – Aug. 30, Investigation into “unrest” at the Lantana hospital when patients complain about bad food and conditions that made them feel more like prisoners than patients.
1952 – The Southwest Tuberculosis Hospital in Tampa and W.T. Edwards Tuberculosis Hospital in Tallahassee open. Later that year the Florida Bureau of Tuberculosis Control announces a nearly 50 percent drop in TB deaths since 1920, and predicts that someday tuberculosis will be a relatively minor public health problem. Bureau director C.M. Sharp attributes the progress to more treatment facilities, educational projects and “increased standards of living among Florida residents.”
1955 – Florida tuberculosis death rate is 7.8 per 100,000.
1956 – Sarasota Herald-Tribune profiles W.T. Edwards, “the father of Florida’s tuberculosis hospitals” and chair of the state board from its inception in 1935 until 1957.
1957 – Controversy over length of hospitalization of TB patients results in firing of Southwest Florida Tuberculosis Hospital medical director Frank Cline Jr. and resignation of longtime state tuberculosis board chairman W.T. Edwards.
1959 – Bill to abolish state tuberculosis board fails.
1964 – Florida tuberculosis death rate is 3.7 per 100,000.
1969 – A sweeping governmental reorganization plan consolidates hundreds of state boards into several new departments, including the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, which takes over the role of the tuberculosis board.
1974 – Tampa tuberculosis hospital closes, leaving A.G. Holley as the only TB hospital in Florida.
1982- Florida health officials consider closing Holley because of budget shortfalls, but decide to keep it open because they have no alternative plan for dealing with TB patients.
Mid-1980s – Tuberculosis rates increase again, mainly because of financing cuts to prevention and treatment programs and the emergence of HIV/AIDS. People infected with HIV have a much higher risk of developing active TB. The number of TB cases in Florida peaked in 1994.
1985 – “Admitted killer” Willie Johnson walked out of an unguarded door at A.G. Holley Hospital. Johnson had been found innocent by reason of insanity in a 1978 shooting death and was a resident of a Miami halfway house program temporarily housed at the hospital.
1987 – A.G. Holley patient Woodrow Hayes files a federal lawsuit saying he was being held at the hospital against his will. Hayes was released shortly after he filed the suit, which was settled in 1988 and spurred the legislature to update the law on involuntary commitment for tuberculosis patients.
1976 – Beds and staff at A.G. Holley reduced to serve a maximum of 150 patients.
1991 – A plan to close the Lantana tuberculosis hospital fails. The final bill trims a mere $1,000 from the hospital’s budget and requires HRS to present a report to the Legislature by February on alternatives to closing the hospital.
2008 – The legislature directs the Department of Health to find a new way to treat tuberculosis patients while outsourcing their management to a private vendor. When no qualified vendors came forward, the legislature in 2010 orders the Department of Health to develop a plan to find community hospitals willing to care for patients. That approach never was implemented.
2012 – The state closes the A.G. Holley Hospital.
Compiled by Palm Beach Post staff researcher Michelle Quigley
The Southeast Florida State Sanatorium was dedicated on July 16, 1950. The Lantana tuberculosis hospital was renamed in 1969 for Adrian Glenn — known as A.G. — Holley, a Panhandle hardware store owner and a longtime member of the state’s tuberculosis board.
Caption on this 1969 Palm Beach Post-Times photo: Mr. and Mrs. A. Glenn Holley view his portrait at the A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana.
More about A.G. Holley from a February 9, 1992, Palm Beach Post story about the hospital:
Born in an era when a gentleman frequently went through life as a set of initials instead of a name, Adrian Glenn Holley was always A.G. or Mr. Holley to all but good friends. To them, he was Glenn. Few people ever knew what was behind the A.
So how does a hardware salesman from Florida’s Panhandle get a tuberculosis hospital in South Florida named for him?
Holley, who died Jan. 14 of this year at age 91, was appointed to the state’s tuberculosis board in 1953 and became its chairman in 1958 when the first president, W.T. Edwards, resigned. Holley remained chairman until 1969 when the TB board was dissolved because TB was no longer a public-health threat and all but two of the state’s TB hospitals had closed. Five years later, the Tampa TB hospital named for Edwards, was phased out.
The five-man TB board reported directly to the governor and ran the state’s huge TB hospitals. You didn’t have to know anything about TB to be appointed to the TB board, but it was crucial that you know politics. Holley had been mayor of Marianna, but his clout came through substantial political connections. For instance, he owned a big farm with a former lieutenant governor.
The House of Representatives, against the votes of the Palm Beach County delegation, renamed the Southeast Florida State Tuberculosis Hospital as A.G. Holley State Hospital in May 1969. Palm Beach County representatives were miffed because no one knew A.G. Holley in Palm Beach County and the Panhandle representative who introduced the bill never consulted the delegates from Palm Beach County. Back then, real political power in Florida was still firmly based in the Panhandle.
In renaming the hospital, the Legislature also created a lingering image problem for the facility. The label ‘state hospital’ is affixed to Florida’s hospital for the mentally ill. Many people think A.G. Holley is full of mental patients.
Holley’s wife, Mary, a Canadian nurse he had met in Alabama, owned a hardware store in Marianna. They had a summer home in Little Switzerland, N.C., and continued to spend the rest of their time in Marianna, outside of Tallahassee. Mary Holley died two years ago. The couple had no children.
The Florida legislature voted to close the A.G. Holley State Hospital in March 2012. The last patients and employees were gone by July 2. Read more about the closing of the hospital here.
Tags: hospitals, place names, This Week in History
We’re finishing our 11th year of Post Time. Since Jan. 19, 2000, it has generated 623 columns, a webpage and two books, Palm Beach Past and Wicked Palm Beach.
We couldn’t have done it without your questions about the history of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Please keep ’em coming! The end of the year also means transition. On Dec. 10, we marked the passing of Gloria Drummond, who used tragedy to make history. Here’s a May 6, 2001, column:
Question: What was the murder that helped lead to the creation of Boca Raton Community Hospital?
Answer: The hospital was founded by the Debbie-Rand Foundation, which has raised more than $16 million over the years.
Debbie and Rand were Debra Ann Drummond, 9, and her brother James Randall Drummond, 3. The youngsters were victims of one of Palm Beach County’s most disturbing crimes: Their 11-yearold neighbor confessed to disguising poison as milk and sneaking it into their refrigerator.
It was 1962 and Boca Raton had only about 10,000 residents. The nearest hospital was Bethesda Memorial in Boynton Beach.
The children’s parents — their father was developer Robert Drummond — said having a hospital closer probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but the deaths spotlighted the need for one in Boca Raton. One of every three city residents gave money to open Boca Raton Community Hospital, called “The Miracle on Meadows Road.”
Robert Drummond died at 58 in 1989, in the hospital his family’s tragedy inspired. Gloria Drummond remained active with the hospital.
In 1996, many of the same people who’d supported the hospital over the years rose in protest when managers considered selling for $187 million to a consortium of not-for-profit hospitals. Residents said that might be a good thing, but feared the hospital would lose its role as a community treasure. In the end, the deal was called off.
A painting of the Drummond children hangs in the hospital’s lobby. The children are (from left) Debbie, Bobby, Randy and Robin Drummond. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Tags: Boca Raton, hospitals
On Oct. 4, 1982, Delray Community Hospital (renamed Delray Medical Center in 1996) admitted its first patients. The hospital opened with 160 beds and has since expanded to become a 493-bed acute care hospital on a 42-acre medical center campus.
Delray Community Hospital was under construction when this photo was taken in July 1982. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Tags: Delray Beach, hospitals, This Week in History