The Auxiliary was founded in 1906 when a group of socially conscious women organized some assistance for the Bellevue Tuberculosis Clinic. They started a Day Camp in 1908 on the old ferryboat “Southfield”, anchored off the Bellevue Hospital grounds. This made it possible for patients who were not eligible for sanatorium care to spend their days in the open air. In 1911, a Settlement House at 206 East 30th Street provided a health and welfare center for girls and women afflicted with tuberculosis who could not otherwise be adequately cared for.
Simultaneously, a group of philanthropic-minded women formed the Convalescent Relief Committee to assist with “finding out the needs and supplying the appropriate relief to those among the patients of Bellevue Hospital who, by reasons of poverty, continued weakness, lack of home and family, or other causes stand in active need of a friend”. Their mission was to provide direct enhancement to every patient’s well-being, care and convalescence. Miss Mary Wadley, a graduate of the Bellevue School of Nursing, class of 1885, was hired to provide assistance to the needy as an organized supplementary department. This project was the first that the Auxiliary financed and supported.
By 1907 a third group, The Synagogue Committee formed. The first volunteer project of the newly formed Free Synagogue was under the direction of Rabbi Stephen Wise and his wife, Louise. Their mission was to translate for the Yiddish-speaking patients and provide for their social service needs.
The original founding groups were devoted and capable, and as the scope of their works evolved, the Social Service initiative grew with it. The range of Auxiliary services extended steadily until it covered nearly every part of the Hospital, both wards and clinics. A major contributor to their success was the overwhelming support provided by volunteers. The first Volunteer Service was organized in 1916. During the war years the Office of Civilian Defense referred volunteers to Bellevue in such large numbers that it was necessary to open a special office to supervise them.
By 1940 the Auxiliary had merged with both the Convalescent Relief Committee and the Synagogue Committee. In 1945 the Auxiliary was legally incorporated and thereafter known as the Social Service Auxiliary to Bellevue Hospital. By 1951 the Auxiliary assumed responsibility for the Rehabilitation program, which was under the guidance of Dr. Howard Rusk. By 1952, the needs of the Hospital led the Auxiliary to employ two full-time staff members, one in charge of recreational activities, the other in charge of volunteers. In keeping with these changes, the Auxiliary to Bellevue Hospital Center, Inc. name was adopted in 1956.
In 1941 three patient libraries were started and funded by the Auxiliary and operated by volunteers. They served the entire hospital and were located in the TB, general and psychiatric divisions. Other volunteers served on the Recreation Committee, which evolved into the Therapeutic Activities Department. Large numbers of men and women visited the Hospital in the evening to run activities on the wards. The Interfaith Chaplaincy Program also counts on volunteers to help them attend to the patients’ spiritual needs.
Over the past 112 years the Auxiliary has provided more than $55 million dollars in support and has piloted numerous new programs. As it was at the time of its founding, all members of the Auxiliary are volunteers; each assigned to interface with a discreet area within the Hospital, keeping a finger on its pulse.
The growth of the Auxiliary has paralleled the growth of the Hospital that it serves. The Auxiliary has weathered two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, two Gulf Wars, the aftereffects of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Sandy. However, even with the transformations of the past one hundred plus years, the idea of service continues as our unwavering goal.
Today’s Auxiliary is a vibrant, involved organization, carrying on in the tradition of the founding members by maintaining an active interest in the well being of all patients of Bellevue Hospital Center. We look forward to meeting the challenges of the next century, which include the needs of a dynamic and more complex Hospital while, “Keeping the Humanity in HealthcareSM“.