• Hospitality: Why Hospitals Measure Capacity in Beds


    McPherson EENT Hospital opened in Durham, NC in 1926. My tonsils were removed there in 1936. Hotel guests recently have begun entering its Main Street door. This is appropriate as the very first hospitals provided beds for travelers. Indeed the Latin cubiculum hospitalis means “guest room”.

    In medieval cities, cathedral hospitals provided shelter for travelers as well as for the sick, the poor, the orphaned and the homeless. Pesthouse, almshouse, and traveler’s inn functions were not well differentiated. These hospitals were operated and staffed by clergy. Then, and for centuries afterwar,d patients were warehoused together in rooms or wards that might contain as many as 40 beds. The size of a hospital is still indicated not by the patient room count but by total beds. We say: “It is a 500-bed hospital.”

    McPherson Marriott Door
    McPherson Marriott Door

    A lay religious order, the Hospitaller Knights of St. John, established hospitals to shelter pilgrims and crusaders traveling to and from Jerusalem. They militarized their sheltering and protecting functions into a Roman Catholic army and navy.

    Stateless at first and later losing their footholds in Jerusalem, Cyprus and Rhodes, the Hospitallers retreated to Malta. They ruled and defended it for 250 years. But in 1798 they made the mistake of being inhospitable. When Napoleon requested water for his ships on their way to Africa, the Grand Master said: “No.”

    During six days before sailing south from these islands Napoleon displaced the Grand Master, freed 2,000 Turkish slaves, established a French government … and watered all of his ships.

    By the 19th century, no traveler wanted a bed in any hospital. Indeed, even in the inns, the routine practice of two or more travelers sharing one bed was phasing out. Hospitals were transitioning from religious enterprises to public and private ones.

    In 1805, a London Dispensary for Curing Diseases of the Eye and Ear was established at Moorfields. In 1832, James Wills Jr. donated funds for a hospital for the indigent, blind and lame that opened in 1834 in Philadelphia. In Baltimore, Johns Hopkins in 1889 funded a university hospital and medical school. Its eye hospital, the Wilmer Institute, opened its doors in 1928, two years after those of McPherson Hospital.

    McPherson Marriott
    McPherson Marriott Hotel, Durham, NC

    Few eye facilities can now be called hospitals as they lack beds. A hotel now occupies the site of the first Wills in Logan Square, Philadelphia. Their second hospital now functions as an apartment building.

    In Durham, McPherson has eliminated its beds and dropped the name “hospital.” The addition of an outpatient surgery center then made the building obsolete.

    But as with that older Wills building, McPherson again has beds, more than 143 of them, because an original section has been incorporated as one entry of a Marriott hotel. So, like those ancient hospitals, what remains now shelters travelers. I understand that the travelers there only share beds and rooms by mutual consent, that breakfast is included and that the hospitality is outstanding.