Appalachian Basin

To Build a (Much Needed) Hospital

When Dr. Ray Bennett returned home to Montrose, Pennsylvania after the Korean War he knew the rural community needed a health clinic.  So his parents mortgaged the farm, literally, and in between patients Doc Bennett jumped on a bulldozer and helped build the Montrose General Hospital, which twelve years ago evolved into the non-profit Endless Mountains Health Systems.  At that time the writing was on the wall, not to mention the asbestos was on the pipes, indicating that before long a new facility would be needed. A few years ago, transplants from Boston visited the hospital because of a weekend warrior accident, and would remark that “the scary part started when we got to the hospital.”  Today, as one resident doctor describes it, the hospital has become “one big HIPPA violation.”  State inspection authorities graciously extended the timetable for the hospital to make repairs and renovations, or better yet, build a new facility.

Raising funding for a new hospital in one of Pennsylvania’s poorest counties is no small feat.  Stalwart citizens rose to the task. Local businesses and individuals made contributions, while behind the scenes various grants and government loans were being sought.  Eventually land was purchased for a new facility, however, over time momentum lagged despite diligent efforts by a core group of concerned people.

All the while, something that had been hinted at for centuries started to surface; natural gas.  For years farm boys had been known to light on fire the bubbles rising in a local creek, but that was quaint lore.  Seemingly overnight, out-of-staters were coming around with land lease offers and drilling rigs.  It seemed the ghost of Colonel Drake was returning to Pennsylvania.  A rumor circulated that a local family had provided $200,000 to the hospital building project! A “Coming Soon” sign appeared on the land for the new hospital and some preparation took place, but then things stayed that way for a couple years.  The new rumor circulating became “do you think it will ever happen?”

Old Montrose Hospital (part of Endless Mountain Health Care System)

One of the companies coming to the area was Cabot Oil and Gas and they seemed to be working solely in Susquehanna County rather than spreading out in a broader geographical area like some of the other gas companies.  Their employees moved to the area and joined in participating in local events, they even started taking part in various Boards of organizations and volunteering their time for community projects.  After a time, monetary donations started appearing for charities throughout the area.  It appeared that Cabot was indeed moving to Susquehanna County and would become an active member of the community, rather than a faceless entity from elsewhere only seeing a bottom-line benefit for stockholders.

Eventually administrators from the Endless Mountains Health Systems and upper management from Cabot’s offices in Houston would discreetly gather in the Board Room of The Community Foundation of the Endless Mountains to discuss possible financial support to breathe new life into the hospital building project.  Perhaps $100,000 or so could be raised and more momentum could be regained.

When words gets to Susquehanna County that Cabot will contribute an outright gift of $1,000,000 and then match an additional $1,000,000 raised by the general community people sit up and take notice.  A four month deadline was set to reach this goal with The Community Foundation of The Endless Mountains acting as the repository for the donations.  A few years prior to this The Community Foundation had been recognized as one of the fastest growing community foundations in the United States, but this project was in a whole different league.

People came out of the woodwork!  Mom and Pop donations of $10.00 and $20.00 arrived.  The family rumored to have provided substantial help in the past contributed $100,000; revenue realized from the Cabot well on their farm.  Corporations contributed on behalf of their employees.  Memorial donations arrived in honor of loved ones passed on.  Honorary donations arrived to recognize current doctors and nurses.  Most heartwarming of all were the large number of donations made in memory of Doc Bennett and the other staff members from the early days of Montrose General Hospital.  The icing on the cake arrived when the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, witnessing Cabot’s leadership and community participation, contributed $1,000,000!

New hospital made possible by community and Cabot Oil and Gas

When the dust settled the community raised more than $1,200,000!  Upon hearing this news Cabot’s upper management made the swift decision to honor the community’s participation and increased the matching grant by an additional $200,000.  Miraculously, among Cabot, the overall community, and The Weinberg Foundation, $4,400,000 had been raised for the new hospital in only four months!  This would be an amazing feat in any metropolitan area; it’s unthinkable in rural America.

The hospital is being built at this moment, even if Doc Bennett isn’t manning the bulldozer.  The beams are rising.  A project that has been planned for more than a decade will be completed and opening day is scheduled for the height of foliage season in October 2013.   The newest rumor is that local natural gas may even provide heat for the facility, and it does get chilly around here in the winter.  Would the fund raising project have continued without Cabot’s incentive and inspiration?  Probably, but for how many more years?  Would the hospital be opening in a year?  No way.


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