Maine Medical Center has a rich history that traces its beginnings to the mid-nineteenth century. Great changes were taking place at the time: the spirit of rebirth after the Great Fire of 1866 destroyed much of Portland; an influx of workers on Maine’s railroads and in our shipyards, textile mills, and lumber yards; the end of the Civil War; and the start of medical breakthroughs.
From all of this arose an urgent need to establish the state’s first general hospital to serve all of Maine’s residents. After five years of planning, fundraising, and construction, Maine General Hospital opened and continues today as Maine Medical Center with the same mission of: caring for our communities; educating tomorrow’s caregivers; and researching new ways to provide care.
Take a look at our first 150 years, and get ready for The NEXT 150.
1866 The same year as the great fire of Portland, members of the Maine Medical Association – many of them returning home from civil wartime hospitals – sparked the discussion of the state’s first general hospital to serve all 700,000 residents of Maine.
1868 “An Act of Incorporation for a State General Hospital” unanimously passes state legislature and is signed by Governor Joshua Chamberlain.
1870 Although the Act to Incorporate did not provide funding, officers are elected, the City deeds Bramhall land, and fundraising and design begins for what is now Maine Medical Center.
1871 The laying of the cornerstone and construction begins on Maine General Hospital, the state’s first general hospital. Architect Francis Fassett envisioned a hospital that would be built to last and that would grow as fast as need and finances allowed.
1874 The east pavilion opens to fanfare, and the first patients are admitted. In the first year – when there were less than 200 hospitals across the country – more than 2/3 of patients are from outside of Maine, some as far north and east as Canada.
1876 The central building opens with spaces for offices, private patient rooms, and housing for some staff members. This central building and the east pavilion are still standing today.
1877 The Women’s Board was established (originally named the Ladies Visiting and Advisory Board). Believed to be the oldest auxiliary group in the country, they continue to oversee the hospital’s Boutique, Gift Shop, Pavilion Grill and coffee kiosks whose proceeds benefit memorial funds, capital campaigns, and scholarships.
1885 A new surgical amphitheater opens. Water tanks sterilize all instruments and surgical dressings, and the postoperative infection rate and mortality rate fall to six percent.
1885 The Maine General Hospital Training School for Nurses (later renamed the Maine General Hospital School of Nursing) began offering a two-year program.
1889 Drastic measures were necessary to prevent the spread of diphtheria during that epidemic. A small isolation cottage was constructed behind the hospital where patients stayed until they could be safely discharged.
1892 The hospital’s west pavilion is completed to alleviate overcrowding. This doubles patient capacity, however 30% of beds remain empty due to a nursing shortage.
1895 Applicants to the nursing school increases to 191. Courses at the time included applying cups and leeches, making bandages, preparing food, the art of ventilation, how to control hemorrhage, how to treat burns, and other practical medical knowledge.
1898 Only three years after the discovery of the X-ray, the fledgling Maine General Hospital acquired one to provide the best care to patients here in Maine.
An original X-ray tube used at Maine General Hospital, created by Bowdoin professors Hutchins and Robinson.
1900 The hospital assumed responsibility for providing clinical instruction to Bowdoin’s Medical School of Maine students. This collaboration ensured students had a high level of practical experience and guaranteed that graduating doctors would be well-acquainted with Maine General.
1901 Surgeries consistently outnumber medical cases. A snapshot of 993 surgical cases that year included 67 appendectomies, 34 hernia repairs, 25 operations for cancer, and an additional 24 breast cancer procedures.
1903 A new surgical pavilion opens to accommodate new procedures and modern standards. This added an ambulance entrance, emergency operating room, and a laboratory too.
1905 Growth of clinical services was slow but steady. Genitourinary Surgery Department was added, followed by upgrading of orthopedic capabilities with a major purchase of new X-ray equipment by 1909.
One of the wards in the 1900s at Maine General Hospital.
1917 The hospital set aside one ward and three private rooms for World War I soldiers.
1918 Staffing shortages at Maine General Hospital became more severe when doctors, nurses, and other employees left to serve our country. The shortage of surgeons forced the hospital to cease performing operations on Sundays except for emergency cases.
1918 Flu patients during the influenza pandemic were not admitted to the regular wards, but instead to a makeshift isolation ward. A total of 121 patients were treated including 20 nurses.
1920s Maine General Hospital’s 19th century patients enjoyed few physical comforts and little privacy. Heavy iron beds were lined up in two facing rows, 20 to a ward. The trend towards specialization continued, affording Maine General the intellectual prestige and modernity associated with new clinical fields.
Babies sleeping soundly in the nursery 1925.
1922 Hospital hires its first full-time pathologist.
1923 Maine General establishes a Social Services Department during a time of social reform sweeping the country. In addition to social work in the wards, time was spent at the City of Portland India Street Clinic which opened the year prior and was operated by Maine General. This filled a critical need for working families who sought outpatient care.
1925 A maternity service with a delivery room, a labor room, and a nursery was established. Gynecological services were added three years later to meet patient volume in light of plans to add a new pavilion.
1928 Through World War I, staffing shortages, post-war recession, and years of physical stagnation, the mid-1920s spark a decade of much-needed renovations. Virtually nothing is untouched, and design starts for a new seven-story “private pavilion.” Designed by architects Coolidge Shepley Bulfinch and Abbott, this major addition/renovation increases the hospital’s capacity from 190 to 223 beds.
The “iron lung” otherwise known as the Drinker respirator.
1931 Despite the stock market crash, the 4 upper floors of the pavilion were finished to include a new obstetrics unit, seven new operating rooms, private patient rooms, and a 42-bed children’s ward. Recovery rooms (a modern marvel), adjustable beds, safer X-ray rooms, and an “iron lung” for the treatment of polio are the latest patient care improvements.
1940 World War II brought about an influx of new medical knowledge resulting in specialties. Maine General physicians – pioneers in their fields – introduced some of these new specialties to the teaching hospital’s education program.
1941 World War II caused personnel shortages which slowed operations, and emergency room patients endured long waits. The Women’s Visiting Board (formerly Ladies Visiting and Advisory Board) was instrumental in establishing volunteer service.
1942 The 67th General Hospital – an Army Medical Reserve Corps unit made up of 49 doctors and 90 nurses – was officially authorized by the War Department. They shipped out and in the span of three years treated tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
1947 The hospital is approved to offer residency training. Surgery was followed by approved programs in anesthesiology, pediatrics, general practice, and internal medicine. By 1949 neurosurgery and pathology residency programs were approved. Maine is still at a disadvantage to attract well-qualified candidates because there has not been an in-state medical since the 1920s.
1951 The charter creating Maine Medical Center was filed with the secretary of state to serve as managerial oversight for the merging of Maine General Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and the Maine Eye and Ear Infirmary.
1951 First cardiac catheterization lab opened.
1956 Construction of a new Maine Medical Center is complete — thanks to generous donations from businesses, patients, staff and community – becoming the largest medical facility north of Boston, with a total of 420 hospital beds. Thousands of people gather for the ceremony, and Governor Edmund S. Muskie describes the hospital as “an expression of faith in, and by the community.”
1956 Maine Medical Center has its first full-time researcher.
1958 The hospital’s and the state’s first Special Care Unit (SCU) opens with a nine-bed ward and two isolation rooms.
1959 Thanks to an early commitment to cardiac research, MMC was one of the first hospitals in the entire nation to perform open heart surgery.
An early rendering of the Richards Wing by architects Smith, Smith, Haines, Lundberg & Waehler.
1960 MMC appoints its first Director of Medical Education and boasts a top-tier post-graduate program.
1961 Maine Medical Center’s Department of Anesthesiology is created.
1963 The Maine Medical Center School of Practical Nursing opens to help solve a nursing shortage.
1969 The 11-story Richards Wing opens, housing a new 12-bed cardiac intensive care unit, a 21-bed special care unit for seriously ill patients, and an expanded Emergency Department.
1970 Kidney dialysis introduced in Maine, right here at Maine Medical Center.
1971 First kidney transplant takes place in Maine at MMC, and the patient lived for nearly three more decades.
1971 Nurse-led community health classes begin, such as diabetes care that attracted more than 2,000 people.
1972 A nurse-midwife program launches, and more than 90 babies are delivered by the certified nurse-midwifes the first year.
1974 MMC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) opens and quickly becomes a statewide resource.
1974 Southern Maine Radiation Therapy Institute (SMRTI) opens as a result of 17 southern Maine hospitals sharing in the cost and use of SMRTI’s state-of-the-art health services.
1976 Maine Medical Center gets its first computerized axial tomography (CT) scanner.
1980 MMC becomes the principal affiliate of the University of Vermont College of Medicine – with third-year clerks training in all the major MMC clinical departments.
Construction progress on the L.L. Bean building.
1985 Lack of space was the pressing problem motivating a new five-story, 200,000 square feet L.L.Bean Building adjacent to the Richards Wing – adding a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, operating suites, and specialty departments. Simultaneously the two-story Charles A. Dana Health Education Center was built.
1986 The School of Practical Nursing added an associate degree in nursing.
1987 First hospital in the U.S. to implement document imaging.
1991 Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) is established to support the bench research conducted at Maine Medical Center for decades.
1994 Brighton Medical Center joins the MMC family.
1995 MMC announces plans for a new children’s hospital to be named after First Lady Barbara Bush.
1997 The MaineHealth system was created to coordinate capability, minimize redundancy, and maximize efficient use of healthcare resources throughout the state. That same year the former K-Mart store in Scarborough transforms into the home for Maine Center for Cancer Medicine, the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, NorDx Laboratories, MMC’s Breast Care Center, Outpatient IV Therapy, and the Hemophilia Clinic.
1998 Maine Sunday Telegram reports that a “quantum leap forward in the hospital’s ability to provide state-of-the-art healing to children and adult cancer patients” with the opening of both The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and the Marshall L. and Susan Gibson Cancer Pavilion.
2001 A state-of-the-art laboratory facility for Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) is completed. Today MMCRI spans the spectrum of biomedical research, with basic research programs in cardiovascular biology and stem cell biology, a growing clinical and translational research program, outcomes research and evaluation, and psychiatric research.
2002 After Y2K, 9/11 and other uncertainties, the US enacts the Hospital Preparedness Program. Drills — that are coordinated with police, fire, ambulance and other public health responders — prepare staff for everything from natural disasters to bioterrorism.
2003 The first robotic-assisted surgery in Maine takes place, thanks to community donations to fund the technology, and to the surgeons who championed this innovation.
2006 After years of planning, MMC achieves Magnet status for nursing excellence, the highest achievement in nursing standards in the US.
2007 MMC’s first helipad opens leading the way for us to achieve Level 1 Trauma Center status — at the time one of only 100 hospitals nationwide.
2007 One of the largest freestanding ambulatory surgery centers in the country opens on our Scarborough campus, with ability to accommodate 10,000 outpatient surgeries yearly.
2008 The East Tower — made possible by the Building on Excellence fundraising campaign — opens and is home to The Family Birth Center, nearly doubling the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and the Emergency Department, which also doubled in size.
2008 MMC’s long history as a teaching hospital continues with Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) signing an agreement to collaborate in delivering a unique Maine Track medical school program. It was founded to: address the shortage of doctors in Maine; offer Maine’s brightest students the financial means to pursue a career in medicine; and develop an innovative curriculum focused on community-based education.
2010 Opening of The Hannaford Center for Safety, Innovation and Simulation – the only high fidelity training center of its kind in Maine.
2010 MMC’s Neuroscience Institute is the first in Maine to receive distinction as the Primary Stroke Center from the Joint Commission and earns the Gold Award from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
2011 Let’s Go! the obesity prevention initiative for children and adults focusing on healthy eating and active living is established in 2006. After a successful five-year pilot program, Let’s Go! began expanding statewide and transitioned to a program of The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.
Maine Track class of 2013
2013 The first class of Maine Track medical students graduates. There are now more than 300 Maine Track graduates.
2015 MMC opens a new surgical unit in the Bean Building. The $40 million expansion includes state-of-the-art operating rooms and patient-centered spaces for surgery prep and recovery.
2017 MMC received its third consecutive Magnet designation, putting MMC in the top 2% of hospitals when it comes to attracting and retaining high-quality nurses.
2018 Maine Medical Center and Tufts University School of Medicine renew 10-year Maine Track partnership.
2020 U.S. News & World Report names MMC ‘Best Regional Hospital’ for the eighth straight year.
2020 The Coulombe Family Tower and the Sisters Heliport open.
2020 MMC prepares for COVID-19 pandemic.
2020 MMC earns The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Comprehensive Stroke Certification for the second consecutive time.
2021 MaineHealth opens clinics in January and February to begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations to Maine residents.
2021 Maine Medical Center announces the largest capital campaign target in its history: The NEXT 150 | The Campaign for Maine Medical Center will forge a healthier future for the next 150 years.