Mary Breckinridge Hospital

Much like the ARH system, Mary Breckinridge Hospital has a colorful history that has shaped medical care in Eastern Kentucky. Healthcare services in the mountains were sparse in the 1920s. The region was remote leaving the people of this area cut off from medical assistance. The state of healthcare in the mountains was transformed in 1925 when trained nurse mid-wife Mary Breckinridge, move by the death of her own two children, founded the Frontier Nursing Service in Leslie County, Ky. to provide healthcare for children in remote rural areas.

Frontier Nursing Service was the first group in the United States to employ nurses who are also qualified midwives. For years, Mary Breckinridge and her staff of trained nurse midwives could be found traveling through the Appalachian mountains on horseback to deliver babies and offer medical care to the families of eastern Kentucky. The Frontier Nursing Service grew rapidly during its first five years. With the help of two nurses, Breckinridge opened the group’s first clinic in Hyden in 1925. By December of that year Mrs. Breckinridge had raised a log house in Wendover, Ky, called the Big House, which became her home and the Frontier Nursing Service’s headquarters. The FNS charged inexpensive rates for their services. One dollar covered a family’s care needs for an entire year. Five dollars paid for childbirth. They accepted bartered payments in goods and services and no needy family was ever turned away.

The first 12-bed hospital in the area, the Hyden Hospital and Health Center opened its doors in 1928 and followed by nine outpost nursing centers in Leslie County and the Red Bird River section of Clay County, Kentucky.

A few years later a generous gift allowed the hospital to expand to an 18- bed hospital and eight bassinets. In 1949 the hospital grew again to house 25 beds and 12 bassinets.

The Hyden hospital has many astonishing feats to its reputation but most pale in comparison to September 1930. The first tonsillectomy clinic was held at the Hyden hospital. Dr. Kobart performed 151 operations in two days all but 19 were tonsillectomies. No matter the task at hand Mrs. Breckinridge was ready for the challenge and her vision for Frontier Nursing Service never dimmed. She was the driving force behind Frontier Nursing Service until her death in spring of 1965. It was decided shortly after her death that the memorial to her would be a new hospital. In October of 1970, a groundbreaking ceremony was held and in 1975, a brand new, state-of-the-art facility, the Mary Breckinridge Hospital was dedicated. The original Hyden Hospital became home to the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing.