WILKES-BARRE — There used to be a different way to treat patients in the Wyoming Valley.
The Wyoming Valley Hospital was founded in 1911, when it was called the Wyoming Valley Homeopathic Hospital. It was a name it would carry for nearly 40 years.
WebMD’s website states that homeopathic is a philosophy of medicine founded in the late 1700s in Germany. The philosophy views symptoms of illnesses as the body’s response to get healthy again.
“A homeopathic health practitioner (homeopath) uses pills or liquid mixtures (solutions) containing only a little of an active ingredient (usually a plant or mineral) for treatment of disease,” the website states. “These are known as highly diluted or ‘potentiated’ substances. There is some evidence to show that homeopathic medicines may have helpful effects.”
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine outlines homeopathic medicine. Citing a 2007 National Health Interview Survey, it stated an estimated 3.9 million adults and 910,000 children used homeopathy in the previous year.
John Hepp, a history professor at Wilkes University, said homeopathic physicians treated the entire body as opposed to just what was causing a patient pain or discomfort. If someone had a knee injury, for example, homeopathic doctors would talk about overall health to ensure the knee was the actual problem, he said.
Given the contrast to regular medical practice, Hepp said homeopathic medicine was not viewed in a positive light in the medical community in the early 19th century. The American Medical Association, however, began to enable homeopaths to join its organization in 1903, a sign of the changing times.
“By 1903, homeopaths were beginning to accept more mainstream medical practices,” Hepp said.
Records at the Luzerne County Historical Society indicate the hospital was initially at 119 Dana St. Formerly the old Burgunder home, the building had to be remodeled into a hospital for a total of 30 patients.
The Wyoming Valley Hospital never had more than 108-bed capacity.
Contrast that with the Wilkes-Barre General, which could hold up to 450 beds. Wilkes-Barre Mercy Hospital could hold 250 beds, while Nesbitt Memorial Hospital in Kingston had 230.
The Dec. 2, 1919, edition of The Wilkes-Barre Record described the building as having a basement and three stories. The building featured offices, vaults, an X-ray room, a laboratory and a dark room for plate development.
The late Dr. David Kistler wrote a brief history on the founding of NPW Medical Center — now known as Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. NPW stood for Nanticoke, Pittston and Wyoming Valley Hospitals, three smaller facilities that originally planned to merge. The facility is now the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center located in Plains Township.
In his book, Kistler provided a brief history of the Wyoming Valley Homeopathic Hospital. He stated that homeopathic physicians did not have hospital privileges, so their patients had to be admitted to the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital when it was necessary.
“This was not a major problem until the doctors realized many of their patients did not return to them for care following discharge from the hospital, but were cared for by Wilkes-Barre General physicians,” Kistler said. “Naturally, this caused a major economic hardship for the homeopathic physicians, and five of them … started their own hospital on Dana Street in Wilkes-Barre.”
Hepp said the location of the Wyoming Valley Homeopathic Hospital made it ideal for working-class families needing medical care. Hepp also noted that his research indicated a lot of babies were born in the hospital in the 1930s and 1940s.
“It served a very valuable need for the neighborhood,” Hepp said.
The hospital dropped its “homeopathic” title in 1949, becoming the Wyoming Valley Hospital.