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Abandoned: St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital

no-timeIn the final installment of the Gary series, we take a look at the skeleton of a healthcare organization founded over one hundred years ago.

Originally established in 1908, St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital would see multiple additions and renovations over the years while it expanded to accommodate the city’s growing number of residents. But when the fortunes of Gary turned and the citizens fled, the hospital became economically superfluous; the reduced population base could not financially support operations.

The debt-ridden facility endured a slow and painful contraction before finally closing in 1995. Several attempts were made to reuse the building–including the moving of the city’s police department into the newest wing–but half of the complex was never re-appropriated and left vacant.  Today, the remaining structures have deteriorated and are likely beyond repair.

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Graphic displays planned Mary Mercy Hospital, circa 1910

Fundraising ad shows planned design for St. Mary’s, circa 1910

Establishment

When Gary was founded in 1906, the steel company did not initially plan for adequate medical facilities. In 1908, the Sisters of St. Francis founded what would later become known as St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital. The medical center would begin life as four crudely-equipped private residences connected via walkways. Initially, it would have just 20 beds.

As the town grew, the need for larger facilities quickly became apparent. In 1910 the Sisters of St. Francis decided to expand the hospital, and soon construction began on a five-story rectangular brick building on the corner of West 6th Avenue and Tyler Street (above). However by 1912 the Franciscan sisters would run out of funds, leaving the building unfinished and in search of another suitor.

St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital, 1919 (Click thumbnails to enlarge)

st-marys-mercy-kitchen-1919 st-marys-mercy-office-1924 st-marys-mercy-ward-1919

L-to-R: kitchen, office (1924), patient ward. Below: operating room

st-marys-mercy-operation-1919

In 1913 regional cleric Bishop Alerding called in the order of Ancilli Domini (Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ) to finish construction of the hospital. They completed the fundraising for the Bishop and by December of 1914 the new St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital was finally opened. A first-class building when opened, the facility was rated class A by the American Hospital Association.

St. Mary’s would continue to grow with numerous additions made over the years. In 1918 the Gary Land Company donated a parcel of land next door to allow the hospital to expand. The additional wing would add 150 beds and allow the building to also house the Gary Works Hospital, which had previously been located at the plant.

St. Mary’s Mercy postcards

St-Marys-Mercy-Hospital-1923 St-Marys-Mercy-postcard

Left: 1923 pre-expansion. Right: 1930s, post-expansion

In 1927 yet another extension to the hospital was completed, further growing the capacity; the hospital would eventually accommodate 300 beds at its peak after the multiple additions and updates. The hospital had multiple departments (surgery, obstetrics, x-ray, and physiotherapy) but would specialize in obstetrics and pediatric cases. Mary Mercy also ran a school of nursing in the building.

For decades Mary Mercy Hospital would be a premiere healthcare facility in Gary, and it boasted a resume which included celebrity connections. The hospital was the birthplace of Michael, Janet, and the rest of the Jackson siblings. In 1978, the facility attempted to save California Angels player Lymon Bostock’s life when he was shot and killed in downtown Gary.

mary-mercy-exterior-1

Northwest Family Hospital, aka St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital, circa 2013
(central concrete façade part of later renovation on original structure)

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Contraction

icy-hallLike everything else in Gary, Mary Mercy’s fortunes would rise and fall with steel. The decline arguably began in the 1960s; the hospital began contracting when the population growth trends of Gary reversed. By 1968 the St. Mary Mercy Hospital Nursing School was shut down.

A reorganization in 1974 saw the hospital renamed to St. Mary’s Medical Center after an update. It was during this time the new west wing was added which today houses the Gary Police Department.

However it would be a downward slope for the rest of the aging structure. By 1993 the hospital was in financial dire straits; it needed to find a buyer or the facility would be forced to close, leaving 450 people unemployed.

Ancilla Systems and the Lakeshore Health System had unsuccessfully been operating St. Mary’s for years. In May of 1993, the now 162-bed hospital was sold to Summit Medical Holdings, Ltd, an Atlanta-based hospital corporation.

Summit’s operations were nationwide, spanning numerous for-profit hospitals in Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, California, and Illinois. By December the acquisition had been completed and Summit wasted no time attempting to update & streamline the facility. Part of the plan involved a new name; it was now known as the Northwest Family Hospital, and for the first time it was now completely medicaid and medicare-eligible.

sink bath fallen

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Last Chance

Despite Summit’s attempt to make the hospital profitable, the macro-economic hardships effecting Gary were too powerful to overcome. Restructures would continue into 1994, and each one involved another round of layoffs. On March 10th of 1995, Summit Medical gave employees the federally-mandated 60-day Worker Retraining Notification Act notice of its intentions to close the hospital.

Days before the hospital was scheduled to close, Summit rescinded the order while hope of a sale to a group of investors gained traction in the eleventh hour. The Northwest Family and Gary Mercy Foundations, non-profits spearheaded by doctors and community leaders including City Judge (now mayor) Karen Freeman-Wilson, worked with Summit in at attempt to rescue the struggling facility.

mary-mercy-exterior-2

Mary Mercy Hospital, 2013

Eager to exit their collapsing investment, Summit agreed to sell the hospital to the groups for one dollar.

Dr. Chiedu Nchekwube, a member of the purchasing group, told the press

“[Summit] said, somebody, just take this off of our hands – whoever that somebody is. This is a guesstimation, but I really don’t think they are looking to get anything out of it. I think they are looking for someone to simply take over their liability. Actually, when we had our first meeting, they even gave us a dollar to buy it. They handed it to Dr. [William] Washington and said, ‘Take it and pay us when we’re ready.'”

firehoseDespite valiant attempts by the Gary foundations to keep the hospital operating, they entered in the process too late and were ineligible to purchase the building; Federal regulations at the time disallowed private practices from purchasing hospitals.

Dr. Nchekwube and his associates scrambled to form the proper entity to qualify for purchase, but time was running out as the layoffs would continue.

Financing would ultimately be the problem for the foundations; they had the dollar for purchase but not the capital to fund full operations and payroll. It was estimated $2-$3 million was needed just to keep the hospital operating for the next 45 to 90 days.

Undeterred, the groups negotiated with other agencies to determine how the building might be used for alternative health care services.

Our goal is to get the building out of bankruptcy at the cheapest amount possible and divide it out into health-related uses, the Health Start administrative office would be an example,” said Gary Mercy Foundation member Freeman-Wilson.

By August of 1995 it was clear the deal was not going to get done and Summit was forced to re-issue the Federally-mandated 60-day notice to Northwest Family’s employees. In another effort to appease creditors, the management company sold most of the remaining fixtures, furniture, and equipment over the next several months.

In the middle of October 1995, Summit was forced to close the emergency room and lay off over 100 workers.

no-smoking st mary mostly intact windows radiant

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Closure & Garage Sale

stairwayBy November of 1995 Northwest Family Hospital was drowning in debt. Summit owed nearly $1.2 million in property taxes, real estate taxes, and other penalties. The beleaguered hospital management company sought forgiveness of the debts from the Lake County Commissioners. Officials from Summit reported the hospital lost more than $3 million in 1994, the year for which they owed the $1,181,106.50 in taxes and penalties.

Finally, on November 24th during Thanksgiving of 1995, the obsolete and spartan hospital was shut down for good after nearly 90 years of continuous operation. It was a disaster for the remaining 150 medical workers who risked staying at the hospital despite the numerous warning signs of closure.

According to Gary Mercy Foundation member Dr. Chiedu Nchekwube, “Nobody really wanted it to close, but the marketplace changed and we had to change with it.”

In November of the following year, Dayton Ohio-based National Content Liquidators, Inc. was hired to conduct a massive garage sale at the shuttered complex. Bargain hunters prowled the abandoned buildings for deals on the remaining medical and office equipment which was being sold at pennies on the dollar.

A sign on the wall of the information desk told shoppers everything was fair game except “fire extinguishers, carts, bed parts and samples.” Shoppers bought everything that was left, from chairs to file cabinets and staplers. One shopper even left with a toilet seat.

Remaining medical equipment was liquidated as well. In what was once the emergency room, shelves and carts were filled with devices and equipment, including a dozen or more defibrillators, surgical instruments, and microscopes. An arthroscopic surgery system, which at the time sold new for about $19,000, was priced at the Northwest Family Hospital sale for $3,800.

The sale lasted until everything was sold. “Our intention here is not to leave anything behind,” said a spokesman from National Content Liquidators said. Proceeds from the sale were used to offset some of the debts held by the bankruptcy estate.

st mary mostly intact windows st mary wall o brick

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New Tenant

Several attempts to re-appropriate Mercy Hospital would happen over the years. The most successful was the proposal from mayor Scott King which would come in October of 1998. His plan called for the closed hospital to be converted into a public service facility; the police department would move into the newer west wing of Mercy Hospital and part of the building would be converted into a jail.

Despite community backlash, the idea made fiscal sense. The police department was in need of a new home; construction of a new facility would cost an estimated $25 million dollars while converting the abandoned hospital was estimated to cost $14 million. The proposal would eventually be approved and the conversion began.

By 2001 plans were underway to enact King’s earlier proposal and the Police Department began moving into the building. By 2003 the move of the police department to Mercy had been completed, and to this day it remains Gary’s police headquarters (map).

Gary police department

The police department was using less than 50% of the complex, however, and citizens of Gary wanted to find a use for the remaining unused square footage. In January of 2004 Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez submitted a proposal to convert a portion of the old St. Mary Mercy Hospital into a comprehensive substance abuse rehabilitation center for adults and juveniles.

The idea was well-received, but it would take millions of dollars to rehabilitate the now dilapidated structure and an economic feasibility study was never completed. After the failed Dominguez proposal, the future for Mary Mercy looked bleak. The real estate collapse in 2008 all but sealed the fate of the old edifice.

Aerial photo shows 1974 addition currently occupied by police department (courtesy bing)

Aerial photo shows newer, 1970s addition currently occupied by police department
(courtesy bing)

Today, the unused portion of the building is likely beyond repair after nearly 20 years of exposure to salvaging thieves, vandals, and of course mother nature. Initially there were community fears of demolition, but those have subsided as the building appears safe for now.

As long as crime and economic woes plague Gary, the threat of redevelopment is low and landmarks such as St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital appear to be safe from demolition.

st mary stone yellow-stool sterile-scrub

this-way

end-of-world-party st mary cross compressor

vintage pictures courtesy Mercy Foundation & Calumet Regional Archives; modern pictures courtesy the Idiot Photographer

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Sometimes Interesting has teamed up with the Idiot Photographer to bring the reader a rare and unique insight to the history of Gary, Indiana. Over the course of this month we will feature various structures around town and tell their history.

This post concludes the Gary, Indiana series. We hope you’ve enjoyed the view into Gary’s history we’ve presented this month. Thanks for following along; feel free to comment and let us know which were your favorites.

Now back to our regular scheduled programming. Next week: Italy!

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  1. Stephen
    June 30, 2013 at 15:21

    Fascinating, beautiful, and sad, like all these articles. Thank you for posting them.

    Why does she call herself an “idiot”? She’s clearly anything but!

    • July 1, 2013 at 05:10

      In the course of exploring these buildings I’ve done some pretty idiotic things, it is a bit of a wonder the worse injury I’ve sustained so far is a twisted ankle from putting a foot through the floor of Ambassador Arms Apartments. Though the massive bruise that limited my range of motion on my left arm was pretty bad, I can’t blame myself for that one. A pigeon knocked loose a pipe from the ceiling of a disused power plant and hit me with it. I’m just glad his aim wasn’t better since he missed my head.
      Also, when I started I wasn’t a very good photographer, I had no clue what I was doing so, well, I was an idiot with a camera.

      • July 1, 2013 at 21:24

        I didn’t know the story behind the name, but I didn’t care because it was awesome no matter the story. And of course it includes a pigeon. Hah! Love it. :-)

  2. June 30, 2013 at 19:18

    Thankyou to yourself and your photographer friend for this series! Admittedly I enjoy seeing a broader, more global scope in your posts – but it was nice to get posts from you more regularly than usual. And it was quite a fascinating profile of the city with some wonderful photos.

  3. July 1, 2013 at 05:26

    Excellent job again, this was an exciting building to explore since we were right next to the police station and being discovered was a very real risk. Well, that and the occasionally scary floors, there are a few rooms on the upper floors that should not be entered as the floors are starting to give way.
    I wondered why there was pretty much no equipment left behind, now I know! Though it seems that there was no aftermarket for a pair of radiographic film developers, since that was pretty much the only equipment left in the building (marked at $250 each).

    Aldering had a hand in this one too eh? I wonder how many other historic buildings he worked with. And the Jackson clan was born there! So much history in this city, and it is mostly forgotten. Thank you reviving it and sharing it with everyone.

    • July 1, 2013 at 21:31

      And thanks to you for all the legwork with capturing the images! :) Yes, I noticed Bishop Alerding’s name came up often in the early years of Gary. He had an influence on the town, that’s for sure. This was a fun project, and I learned a lot of interesting history. I have to thank you for the ideas on these locations, IP!

      • July 2, 2013 at 03:33

        Well, that is about a quarter of the locations still standing in Gary! :)

  4. fish
    July 1, 2013 at 10:35

    Keep up the good work!

  5. tabularasa88
    July 1, 2013 at 10:54

    I can add that the police station is accessible from the hospital, though the passage is rather byzantine. One of the oddest experiences I’ve had in Gary was in the twilight area of that building that is no longer hospital and not yet the police station, just a huge utility room that got just enough power to dimly light a couple flourescent light bulbs. I don’t get creeped out easily anymore, but I didn’t stay there long. Anyway, thanks for a great series and I’m looking forward to what you’ve got next!

    • July 1, 2013 at 21:26

      Thanks TR, appreciate your help in this endeavor as well. Did you guys get shots of that purgatory utility room by any chance? You’ve piqued my interest!

      • tabularasa88
        July 2, 2013 at 04:32

        I got a couple, but nothing great. Maybe I’ll see if I can dig something up.

  6. July 2, 2013 at 12:27

    Really enjoyed this series on Gary. Fascinating what depopulation can do to a place as you don’t often see that process (certainly not here in the UK anyway!).
    Keep up the great work!

    • July 3, 2013 at 15:42

      Thanks Nick, I imagine given the UK’s smaller amount of land it’s probably not as common an issue. I know of the abandoned Tyneham, but outside of that I don’t think there’s much. If you do come across one in the UK let me know! Thanks for reading. :)

  7. July 11, 2013 at 21:37

    Thank you (both of you) for this series… Insert a standing ovation here :-) I will miss this series as it is right up our alley but I do look forward to the future! I find that my heart beats a little faster whenever I enter one of these decaying buildings. Another great post and haunting images!

  8. E
    August 6, 2013 at 04:02

    I remember looking at one very similar to this in the Niagra Falls area, I think it was also a St Mary’s. It was for sale like $240K to buy a whole hospital, wow.

  9. George Elischer
    August 15, 2013 at 18:50

    This is the hospital where my two sister and I were born, and three of my children were also born here.

    • August 26, 2013 at 19:22

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing, George. Always a pleasure to hear first-hand accounts!

  10. Jason M
    August 20, 2013 at 12:08

    Excellent article. This is one of the most unnerving places to explore in Gary. Part of the old building still has electricity and dying fire alarms randomly go off in certain places. A few years ago before the roof started to give in, some rooms were fully lit and were so clean that it looked like a doctor would walk in any second. Now many of the floors are covered in moss and ferns. The OR is especially creepy with the super bright lights still shining and fake blood covering the walls. The place has become home to feral cats these days.

    • August 26, 2013 at 19:19

      Wow, thanks for the additional information Jason. That’s more detail than I was able to get my hands on!

  11. savuti94
    October 26, 2013 at 13:31

    Thanks for the article. Fascinating. I worked at St. Mary Medical Center from 1983-1987 upon graduating college. I worked on 2 South (orthopedics) – part of the old wing at first. Then in the CCU (cardiac intensive care) – a small addition off the north wing along Tyler Street (pictured above in the “Northwest Family Hospital” photo). I think the bath tub picture may have been taken on 2 South. Met lots of great people while I worked there. Crazy experience for a sheltered white boy from the country.

    • October 28, 2013 at 18:47

      Thanks for stopping by, always great to hear the stories from alumni of the article subjects. :)

  12. savuti94
    October 26, 2013 at 13:33

    Also, I think the addition where the police department is now located was built during the 80s. As I recall, the hospital was adding on a new ER and ICU when I left.

  13. Rohan
    October 29, 2013 at 23:22

    I thought Australia’s healthcare system had a lot to be desired…

  14. November 21, 2013 at 10:28

    currenlty trying to find former Dr’s who worked there: Dr Fidel & Dr. Carbon…..if you know of them please let me know… thanks so muchn
    Deirdre

    • savuti94
      November 21, 2013 at 11:48

      Deidre,
      When did these docs work at SMMC? Those names do not ring a bell from the early-mid 80s. Could Dr. Fidel be Dr. Patel? The only doc I can thing of from that time period remotely close to Dr. Carbon would have been Dr. Kamen. That is the best I can do for you.

    • Kevin J. Hunter
      June 15, 2014 at 03:23

      Dr Sandra Gadson, Goyle Garlapati and Singh. Ausbach, Dr. Nowlin, Legasspy(stood on a stool to operate lol). Ken Montgomery was HN for the ICU at the time. The British Cardio/Nephrologist?? Married Laura Conyers. Lisa Soderstom,RN, I remember you Jim from CCU, The IMCU was right down the hall from the ICU, Susan, Pat was the Nocs supervisor for us. I finished out my year contract and went west. I finished out my career and BIA/ Indian Health Services Chinle, AZ. Live in Vegas retired and on O2 for COPD, think I would have learned:-((. Patel was the ER Dr. iirc Kathy RN ER. Tanya Shorter RT. This breaks my heart a little, 1995 Not the only community hospital I have seen close . Good folks, Sue Kadish RN, the two Donna s one staff and one registry. I will be going off line for a few months as my brother who has cancer and me with COPD will be getting a place closer to stores and my VA clinic. I hope I helped some in jogging the memory. Some days I forgot how much fun Gary and St Mary’s was. Kevin

      • June 15, 2014 at 09:10

        Kevin…..Whoa. I remember you. Did you graduate from IUN, too? For some reason I am thinking that is in my head. Man, Dr. Kamen. Loved that guy. Yep, and his Bivona Trach. When we moved to San Diego, the pulmonary docs were I impressed that I knew him. Then a few more docs to stir you memory….Dr. Dave, Dr. Nchekwube, Dr. BF Grant, Dr. AS Williams, Dr. Oni, Dr. Washington. A few CCU staff – Rory, Francine, Myrna, Faith, Debbie, Comer, Lydia and a couple more I can see faces – but not recall the names! From ICU, you, Ken, Pat O’Neal, and a nurse named Gwen – I think she hated me! LOL Do you remember a nurse named Jim Fleck from the IV Team. He was going to medical school. I saw him a few years back in AZ. He is an anesthesiologist in Scottsdale. Did you know Etta from 2 South. I wish that woman knew how much influence she had on me as a nurse! I left there in 1987. Things were starting to go downhill. I remember we didn’t get JCAHO accreditation.

        Sorry to hear about the health issues. Take care.

        • Kevin J. Hunter
          July 11, 2014 at 00:06

          Of course Jim I am too mean and too Irish Catholic to go quietly into that good night , lol

      • June 15, 2014 at 09:13

        Oh, and a Korean doctor. Dr. Cho maybe? I was once assisting him to put in a triple lumen once. He had never put one in to my knowledge. He actually got out the instructions and started to read them! We wlaked him into letting someone else do it!

  15. sandals
    December 3, 2013 at 17:12

    You might be the worst writer

  16. April 26, 2014 at 18:12

    This is the hospital I received my Nursing degree from!! It was a wonderful community of caring people. I really miss the grotto because it was so beautiful! and a good quiet place to go for reflection!! I really miss all the good Gary had to offer back then and I hope they resurrect the city. Dr. Fadel was family practice and Dr. Carbone was my pediatrician. I knew them well and I also worked with Dr. Kamen.

    • April 26, 2014 at 19:38

      I meant to attach my below comment to your post.

    • April 27, 2014 at 20:00

      Thanks for stopping by Tess, glad to hear you of your positive memories! :)

    • Kevin J. Hunter
      June 15, 2014 at 02:39

      Hi I worked in the ICU 1984 to 1986. This was my very first job as a new grad. Yes Dr. Jack Kamen and the infamous Kamen-Wilkes ETT. Back in the day the ICU used to be the neonatal ward. The same unit I was also born into

      • June 18, 2014 at 08:47

        Thanks for stopping by Kevin and sharing your personal memories and stories. Neat that you were also born there, hope this walk down memory lane was more happy than sad. :)

        • Kevin J. Hunter
          June 18, 2014 at 11:56

          No more shocked than sad, and those warm fuzzies are still there. Too bad the ACA took such a long time and the Medicaid reimbursement would have slowed down the fall. I come from the old days when there was blue collar aristocracy was around and from 5th to 34th Streets was a vibrant area Goldblatt’s Woolworths(best Hoagies anywhere). I have had an urge to come home but health concerns keep on my COPD leash, No thank you for having this site and the state of affairs. More shocked than sad.

  17. April 26, 2014 at 19:37

    Tess – I think I remember you. We’re you a patient care manager on the 3 West, maybe 4 West? I worked on 2 South under Pat Vargas and then CCU under Rory Alfonso during ’83-’87. Small world. I’ll send you a note in Facebook. My comments above are under savuti94.

  18. July 8, 2014 at 08:28

    i graduated with my nursing diploma in 1967. Dr. Kamen once took us on a field trip to watch open-heart surgery in Chicago! He also did some of our respiratory lecture
    I am sad to see that all is gone. It still lives in my memories, though. if anyone from the class of ’67 sees this, please contact me!

  19. Craig
    July 9, 2014 at 21:45

    I was born there in 1946, boy kind of a shame to see it. I also had my tonsils removed there in 1952.

  20. Everardo Gonzalez
    August 12, 2014 at 14:48

    I was born in this Hospital in 1965. It’s sad to see it like this. Also the house that we used to live in is gone. I hope that they can rescue this City. So many memories.

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