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MGH

Published On November 20, 2020

MILESTONE

200 Years of Preparation

Since its founding in 1811, MGH has both faced pandemics and learned from them.

1833 Isolation Wards

One of the greatest global outbreaks of cholera starts in 1831, and by 1833 it has spread to Quebec, Nova Scotia and New York. MGH doctors propose special wards to isolate patients with this and other contagious diseases. By 1849, construction begins on a standalone building—“The Brick.” 

1851 Vaccination of the Vulnerable

Boston sees an outbreak of smallpox. A vaccine has been available for more than 50 years, but despite compulsory vaccination in Massachusetts, many haven’t received it. The trustees of the hospital vote that year that whenever a case occurs in the hospital, all patients should receive a fresh vaccination. 

1918 A Disease Census

Accurate numbers of Spanish flu victims are critical for planning, especially on the war front in Europe. At Base Hospital No. 6, a hospital run by MGH in France, the staff epidemiologist takes a survey of troops in the area and produces daily reports on the presence of disease. This innovation gives commanders critical information that helps blunt outbreaks.

1961 The Respiratory Intensive Care Unit

During the polio outbreak of 1952 to 1955, MGH takes the unprecedented step of devoting an entire floor—the ninth floor of the White Building—to the disease. One of its hallmarks is the weakening of chest muscles, and many patients require an iron lung to breathe. Soon after, MGH creates the first unit dedicated to respiratory intensive care in the United States.

2015 Prepared for the Worst 

The 2014 Ebola outbreak sees more than 11,000 deaths in Africa and a few cases make it to the United States. This highly infectious, deadly pathogen calls for a national response. MGH is designated one of only 10 regional emerging and special pathogens treatment centers in the United States, which entails a trained staff and a network of transmission protections.