In the late nineteenth century, a wealthy businessman named Michael Reese left his fortune to his family in Chicago. They joined their inheritances together and gave the money to the United Hebrew Relief Association to build a hospital on the near South Side.
In 1881, the new facility opened at 29th and Groveland Park Avenues with two conditions. First, it was to be called Michael Reese Hospital. Second, it was to treat all patients regardless of religion, ethnicity or class.
The spirit of care at the hospital for the next 127 years is best expressed in words spoken by Herman F. Hahn, president of the hospital building committee in 1905. He described the charitable institution as a place where…
“all faiths stand on the same footing,
where the equal rights of all consciences are respected, and
where the essential oneness and intrinsic dignity of all human beings
Under this guiding principle, the hospital rose to prominence in Chicago as one of its top medical care centers. At its height, it was the largest hospital in the city with 2400 beds. Wealthier patients came for its excellence. Poor patients came with certainty of receiving quality care. Even as it struggled to keep its doors open in the early 21st century, it served as a safety-net hospital and provided high-quality care to every patient, unconditionally.
At the same time, the hospital achieved prominence far beyond Chicago. It attracted leading medical practitioners and researchers from around the world. It became internationally known for pioneering research and training. Many scientific findings and treatment breakthroughs originated at Reese and spread to hospitals world-wide.
Always growing, always pushing the forefront of medicine while maintaining excellent standards in care, the institution struggled with the changing economic realities of medicine in the late 1980’s. To adapt, the board decided to sell the hospital to a for-profit corporation while continuing nonprofit activities through the auspices of an internally organized operating foundation.
Michael Reese Research and Education Foundation
The Foundation began in 1991 as Humana took over the operations of the hospital. We accepted and administrated NIH funds for research projects. We continued to supplement educational expenses for our house staff. We found and managed funds for our community programs, including HIV Care and Women’s Health.
We also raised funds through the annual Michael Reese Crystal Ball. A major social event in Chicago since 1959, the Crystal Ball attracted generous donors who supported the Foundation’s work.
Then in 2009, after 127 years of providing excellent patient care, making significant research contributions, and acting as one of the top medical training centers in the country, Michael Reese Hospital closed. The City of Chicago purchased the land for the failed 2016 Olympics bid, and later, with the buildings in disrepair, demolished the hospital’s campus.
It is hard to comprehend that an institution which achieved so much and helped so many is now erased from the landscape.
Michael Reese Hospital’s unique and exemplary approach to health care is enduring in its rarity. The institution combined intellectual breadth and depth with community-based and patient-focused practice. The result was a place both accessible in the best sense of neighbor-friendly and accomplished in the highest circles of medical science and practice.
It was everything we hope – and ought – to find in a medical center.
The Foundation moved its offices and clinics to other locations in 2008. Today, we carry on as we did when the hospital was on the same block. We carry on with a small endowment and a few government grants, without a building of our own, and with a staff of 3 and a board of 9. We carry on because everything that made Michael Reese Hospital cutting edge 100 years ago is still cutting edge today.
And as the last functioning remnant of this great institution, we owe it to both our past and the future to keep pushing medical care forward – with the same dedication and encompassing approach – for all patients everywhere.