When Henry Ford took control of the stalled Detroit General Hospital project in 1914, he was left with an incomplete building on the hospital campus. It was an empty shell with no windows, battered by Michigan’s harsh weather.
Regardless, Ford was determined to complete the building and assigned the task to his personal secretary Ernest G. Liebold, who became the hospital’s first chief administrator.
With no previous hospital experience, Leibold set out to bring in new architects and quickly finish the facility, and to plan the future.
The original hospital building was very small; it was only designed to house 90 beds.
Liebold was concerned the hospital would fail to meet the great health care needs of the city – or be able to operate in the black – with so few beds, especially since the on-campus power plant, service building and kitchen were capable of serving a hospital of 500.
Prior to completion of the first patient care building, patients were admitted to an open ward in the basement of the current “M” unit, which was to become the private-room building of Henry Ford Hospital.
As you may recall from a prior Doc in the D blog post on this topic, most patients admitted to the basement ward were afflicted with a variety of substance abuse issues, many with serious consequences of narcotics. The first such patient was admitted on July 13, 1915.
On Oct. 1, 1915 the hospital beds in the private-room building of Henry Ford Hospital was completed. The first patient admitted had a diagnosis of erysipelas of the upper extremity, essentially a bacterial infection of the soft tissues.
Not long after, however, Liebold began planning the hospital’s expansion. He decided to design the new building – the iconic I-H-A-B-F configuration of the main Henry Ford Hospital facility we know today – from the inside out.
The first step was creating his vision for the “best hospital room.” And his process might sound familiar. We used a very similar concept when designing the rooms for the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital facility.
A mock room was built in the campus’ service building. Liebold and his team would walk around the “patient room,” regularly rearranging and moving walls, the location of the bathroom, ventilation and plumbing.
Next was designing the hospital wards/units, which included ventilation to help eliminate odors and an improved electronic call system.
Henry Ford envisioned the expansion as a “hotel for sick people”
In 1917, the cornerstone for the new Henry Ford Hospital facility was placed in an official ceremony by architect Albert Wood and other dignitaries.
World War I, however, put an abrupt halt to construction. When the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, many of the hospital staff and physicians, including surgeon-in-chief Dr. Roy McClure and Dr. F. Janney Smith, enlisted to joined the war effort.
By late 1918, Henry Ford turned the hospital facility over to the U.S. Army as Army Hospital No. 36.
The hospital would care for more than 2,000 over the next year before it was returned to civilian use in November 1919.
Construction resumed in 1920 and was completed in 1921. At four stories tall with 50,000 square feet, the expansion proved worth the wait.
Liebold’s work on the inpatient rooms greatly enhanced the patient’s stay, including some technological and medical advancements which I’ll detail in upcoming blog posts.
To learn more about the above-mentioned individuals and our history at Henry Ford, be sure to visit the new 100 Year Anniversary website. The site contains an incredible collection of photos and videos, and a wealth of information.
Stay tuned to Doc in the D as we celebrate our 100th anniversary with more blog posts throughout the year chronicling our history.
- Conrad R. Lam Archives online, the official archival repository of Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Health System: www.henryford.com/archives.
- Rodengen, J. (2014). Henry Ford Health System: A 100 Year Legacy. Fort Lauderdale, FL. Write Stuff Enterprises, LLC.