Carney Hospital has been a Dorchester landmark for so long, it is hard to believe that it has not been located on Dorchester Avenue forever. In fact, Carney made its home in Dorchester 50 years ago as of December first.
Carney was originally located in South Boston where it was established in 1863 with a gift of $75,000 from entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Carney. The hospital was the first Catholic hospital in New England and some of the first patients were Civil War soldiers. The original site in South Boston was in an elegant, gothic style building, but Carney had outgrown its setting. In 1953, the hospital moved to its current location in Dorchester to accommodate more patients.
Dr. Francis Colpoys was a medical student and intern Carney Hospital, and went on to serve the hospital until 1988. In recalling the move, he said, "It was quite amazing how smooth the transition was. In the time leading up to the move, doctors were advised to curtail the number of elective admissions." Still, he said, "There were still quite a number of critically ill patients that required transfer. Some had IVs and other lines and needed medications. There were all those challenges and no untoward complications developed," recalled Colpoys.
The move began at five in the morning with 13 ambulances transporting 37 patients. By the afternoon, the new hospital was up and running and the patients were settled in. To this day, Colpoys is still impressed at how easily the transition was made. He credits the wonderful nurses and administrative staff with the smooth transfer. In talking about the staff and nurses, Colpoys says, "You talk about a family, it certainly was."
Peg Canty of Dorchester is one of the nurses who assisted in the move. Canty began her training as a nurse in 1951 and retired from Carney in 1990. She remembers Colpoys and described him as a "lovely, lovely man." Her memory of the move is quite vivid and humorous. A classmate's brother had a truck with an open back and wooden slats. "We were moving the biology department. We had a tall skeleton, dangling. We also had plaster body models used in anatomy class and we had them standing. We drove by St. Margaret's as children were being dismissed for lunch and they were hooting and hollering," Peg recalled.
Peg, her classmate, and her classmate's brother proceeded to park the truck still full of the supplies in front of her houses while they had lunch. While eating lunch "we opened a note that we were supposed to deliver and discovered we had been given the next day off and we were quite pleased," Peg remembered. Once at the hospital, they began transporting things in the elevator whereupon the elevator got stuck. They had to sit tight for a little while because somebody had to come in from downtown to get the elevator running again.
Aside from the glitch with the elevator, everything else went quite smoothly. The new facility was quite modern. Equipped with 312 beds, 10 air conditioned operating rooms and a nursing school, the Catherine Laboure School of Nursing, it was quite a change from the previous location. The new facility was "Much improved from a physical view point. It was a modern institution with many more private rooms. The operating suites were more modern and the outpatient clinic was attached," said Colpoys.
Peg Canty sent a write-up from the paper about the new setting when she was applying for a nursing position in Ireland. The nurses in Ireland were quite impressed and, Canty said, "I'm sure that's why I got the job." Although the new facility was quite contemporary and nice, Canty remembered the old building in South Boston fondly. "It was old but it had character to it, it had history. It was like an English muffin, it had lots of nooks and crannies," said Canty.
Since the move in 1953, the hospital has expanded even further. In 1956, House officers' residences were constructed with a gift of $500,000 from the archbishop's fund. The year 1960 saw the addition of a research wing built with money from the medical staff, the Ford Foundation, and hospital friends. Other additions included a new medical staff building, emergency department and psychiatry unit.
Today, Carney Hospital, which became Caritas Carney in 1997, has a staff comprised of 20 percent Dorchester residents, with Dorchester residents accounting for 16,770 visits to Caritas Carney in roughly the last year, according to hospital officials.