OLEAN, NY – St. Francis Hospital in Olean was “like family,” recalled former St. Francis Hospital employee Carol Capito.
“It didn’t matter if you worked there, where you worked there, if you were a volunteer or you were a patient,” said Capito, one of the organizers of Saturday’s reunion of personnel and patients once affiliated with the hospital on West State Street in Olean. “It was a very close-knit group of people.”
Established by the Sisters of St. Francis in 1938, the hospital’s original purpose was to serve the Catholic community of Olean. As time went on, the hospital became a staple of the larger Olean population.
Capito said that every employee at the hospital had an invested interest in doing things well. Each employee had a daily goal of helping in any way possible.
She added that the nurses working at St. Francis had a rare sense of patience that is difficult to find in hospitals today.
“Some nurses who worked at St. Francis wouldn’t last long because they weren’t the St. Francis type of nurse,” Capito said.
And regardless of position, she said, all employees shared a unique bond and enjoyed a sense of appreciation. For instance, Capito worked in registration and billing, yet she was treated with the same respect as the nurses and doctors.
“Everyone there felt like they were actually contributing toward helping people, even if you didn’t do direct patient care,” Capito added.
July 2, 1991, was a dark day at St. Francis Hospital. Employees were told that St. Francis Hospital would merge with Olean General Hospital, marking the end of 52 years of service.
“It was devastating,” Capito remembered. “It was a very silent day. The rest of the day was just silent. Nobody knew what to say. You felt like they pulled the rug right out from under you. It was like they were closing off a part of your life. They were kind of selling a part of you.”
The merger did allow Olean General Hospital to provide more efficient healthcare at one single hospital in the Olean area, Capito said.
And she added that because of changes in the health care environment and the diminishing religious community in Olean, it was neither feasible nor financially sound to keep St. Francis Hospital running.
“Even though everyone understood in their minds why it had to happen, I think in our hearts we just couldn’t believe that it would happen,” she said.
Following the closing of St. Francis Hospital, Capito worked at Olean General for 20 years and said that although she enjoyed working there, the atmosphere was not the same as it had been at St. Francis.
“You went through a lot of personal things with the people that were there that you worked with,” Capito said. “That happens at the Olean General too, but you don’t know everybody. At St. Francis, you knew everybody. You knew their face; you talked to them, and you knew what was happening. It was just different.”
The Saturday reunion will be at Good Times of Olean from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. The $10 fee will cover finger food, pasta, cake and more. Approximately 150 former patients, volunteers and employees are expected to come for an afternoon of laughter, tears and memory sharing. Capito said that she expects others who have not registered to stop by throughout the afternoon. They will be welcome.
“People have called and said ‘I was born there,’ ” Capito said. “It’s for everyone to get together. Reminiscing, talking about the old days and what we’re doing now, like any reunion.”
The money remaining after the cost of refreshments will be donated to the memorial garden at Olean General – in which the statue of St. Francis of Assisi was placed after St. Francis Hospital closed.
“It was hard, but it’s 25 years later,” Capito said. “It was more than a job. Everyone made you feel like yes, you were important. It was just a close-knit group of people.”