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Beginnings of Mills Hospital in San Mateo
March 10, 2014, 05:00 AM By Darold Fredricks

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum
The old Mills Hospital.

Elizabeth Mills Reid was the daughter of Darius Ogden Mills, 49er pioneer that became the millionaire banker that started the Bank of California. Elizabeth developed a sense of public duty that was to revolutionize the health care system of San Mateo County.

She married Whitlaw Reid, newspaper man and ambassador to Paris. While living in New York, she became interested in the Red Cross’ work. Her interest resulted in establishing many nurse training facilities and hospitals, including the Mills Memorial Hospital in San Mateo.

The area around San Mateo Creek attracted a community that was to establish the city of San Mateo. It had fertile soil and a supply of fresh water so they developed the land for crops for Mission Dolores and, in the in the 1790s, the church built a hospice to the north of the San Mateo Creek. After the granary was abandoned in the mid-1800s, Nicholas De Peyster squatted on the property until he was kicked off by owner Mr. Howard. DePeyster moved across El Camino Real, purchased land south of the creek and built the road- house, the San Mateo House, at the corner of Second Avenue and El Camino Real. Later, the son-in-law of Ansel Easton, Edward Taylor, purchased the land and lived there. North of Taylor’s home, in 1864, the George Howard family donated land (two acres) north of the creek for a church, the Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church. The church was completed in 1866 and this first stone church in California became the place to worship for many of the area’s rich and influential, such as D.O. Mills, the Howards, Tilton, Dows, Goodhue and Taylor families, etc.

The Mills family had been very active in the funding and erection of the church and the family continued to use the church as a place of worship whenever they returned to the West Coast during their winter vacations.Daughter Elizabeth Mills Reid now lived on the East Coast with her husband Whitelaw Reid, who had been an American diplomat to Great Britain as well as editor of the New York Tribune. She was very proud and interested in her "hometown” roots. She had been active in many charities and, while living in New York, organized the New York Chapter of the American Red Cross. Philanthropist Elisabeth Mills Reid and other individuals, Dr. W.C. Chidester and St. Matthew’s church Rev. Neptune Blood William Gallwey, pledged funds and help to build and operate on the church’s property an emergency medical facility. A parish nurse was to be housed in the facility also. In 1907, the building was dedicated by the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese, the Rev. William Ford Nichols. A temporary dispensary plus a room for patients, staffed by three nurses, opened in 1907. An enlarged facility with six beds opened in 1908. The head nurse and surgical nurse rotated 12-hour shifts at the facility which was named Church of St. Matthew Red Cross Guild. It had no affiliation to the Red Cross though. The name was later changed to Church of St. Matthew Mills Memorial Hospital. The population of San Mateo County was approximately 12,000 and this increased to over 24,000 by 1910. There were only 16 doctors in the county in 1907 and they organized the San Mateo County Medical Society that met periodically at the hospital.

By the end of 1908, the facilities at the hospital proved to be inadequate and, in 1909, a new facility with a capacity of 24 patients was built after the Taylor house was purchased at the corner of Second and El Camino Real (parking facility now). In 1910, 300 patients were admitted to the hospital. Again plans for enlarged facilities were formed in 1911 that culminated in the three-story “West Wing” being built in time for an outbreak of flu. The San Mateo Creek had to be rerouted and covered over. For compensation, the nurses were paid $3 for a 22 hour shift at the hospital.

The population of San Mateo was approximately 6,000 in 1920 and the hospital had improved its facilities. An X-ray machine was acquired in the 1920s, the staff had increased and the emergency room was expanded. At this time, a nurse was paid $25 per week and she was expected to clean the patients’ room, scrub the floor as well as serve refreshments to a patient’s visitors. In 1928, the East Wing was built. The hospital now had capacity for 124 beds and a 28-bed maternity section. Still, the hospital was struggling to keep itself solvent. In the mid-1920s, hospital receipts were only $96,837 while operating expenses were $107,413. The typical bill for a stay at the hospital, including pharmacy and operating room, was $7.50 a day. Registered nurses were paid $5 a day with 12- hour shifts in homes for $7.

On April 29, 1931, Mrs. Reid died while visiting in France. Her dedicated goal of providing health care for the citizens of San Mateo County as well as the needy had succeeded. The facility of Mills Memorial Hospital changed over the years but this ultimate goal of providing health care to the multitudes is still a legacy of the Mills family in San Mateo County.

In 1950, the West Wing was constructed. The total number of beds now was 151 and the population of the community was increasing. In 1947, Robert J. Koshland became the director of the Peninsula Hospital District. His task was to open a new hospital in San Mateo County. Before he left in 1963, he had opened the newest hospital in the county, Peninsula Hospital, on a site of the Mills estate in Burlingame. This addition greatly enhanced the amount of health care that could be offered to the community that supported the two hospitals.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.



Tags: hospital, mateo, mills, church, county, facility,

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