TMC honors 50-year employee at annual employee recognition event

BDP42971.jpgNancy Spiller left home at 17, just out of high school, armed with little more than her diploma and some experience working as a volunteer candy striper.

She landed her first job at Tucson Medical Center – and now, 50 years after she was hired into the business office that day, she’s still coming to work every morning to the same place.

“Fifty is a big year – it’s very special to me,” said Spiller, who has worked eight different jobs during her tenure, most recently serving as clerical support in pediatric therapies.

Spiller will be celebrated at TMC’s annual Service Pin ceremony, which honors employees at every five-year milestone of their careers.

There are 467 honorees this year, including 18 people with upwards of 40 years of service. Spiller is one of two employees with the longest running length of service.

Aside from the fact she needed a job, Spiller wanted to help people, which is why she served as a candy striper. When she was in the fourth grade, her mother died, which in retrospect, she said, might have fueled her interest in health care.

Spiller came to TMC two months after the arrival of Don Shropshire, a beloved and iconic leader who served 25 years as TMC’s CEO.

She remembers being so naïve that her colleagues teased her routinely. One afternoon, they told her Mr. Shropshire was holding on the phone for her. She chided them, saying she knew they were making up stories. After much back and forth, an exasperated Spiller went to the phone.

“Who was on the other end? Mr. Shropshire. He was going on a business trip out of town and I was the only person with the combination to get into the safe for business travel. I was never so embarrassed,” she recalled.

NancySpillerCelebrates50YearsTMC was a very different place then; small compared to today’s campus. A cart that wheeled from room to room served as the gift shop.  Vending machines, not a cafeteria, stocked food. Laboring mothers were just screened off from one another with privacy curtains. Calls came in on old operator switchboards.

Five of her closest friends came from TMC – one of whom she’s known since she started 50 years ago.

“We’ve been through marriages and divorces and births and sickness and death and baptisms – you name it,” she said. “We’ve been through it all.”

Spiller remembered the hospital rallying around her when she had her first child, Steven, who was born with a heart condition and required complex surgery. Mr. Shropshire sent a card. The staff raised money through a bake sale. “It wasn’t just coming to do work here – it was like a family rallying around to help,” she recalled. “If I had to do all of it on my own, I’m not sure I could have made it.”

Steven lived to the age of 24. His younger brother Matthew is now a newlywed.

Both were born at TMC.

Spiller initially meant to retire at her 45th milestone, but here she is, still, 5 years later.

In part, it’s because the work is rewarding. She mists up telling of one boy with autism who came in speaking very little, if at all, and who now tells her all about his day.

“I think it’s wonderful what TMC does in the community,” she said.

“I have gone home in tears because of these kids and what we’re able to do for them. If I can make a difference for just one person, that means a lot to me. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t think I still had that ability.”

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TMC pauses to reflect on seven decades of community service

Tucson Medical Center has been providing continuous service to Southern Arizona from the day it admitted its first patient – Nov. 9, 1944. In the 70 years that have passed since then, through good times and bad, TMC has never stopped delivering on its mission as a community nonprofit hospital.

TMC’s roots extend back to the 1920s, when the internationally known Desert Sanatorium began operating as a tuberculosis treatment center and health retreat. Some of the original buildings from the Desert San remain in service today, as a testament to the long history of health care delivered on this site. The desert landscaping and sun-drenched patios of today are part of the heritage established by the Desert Sanatorium.

Erickson HouseThe original vision for the Desert San came from Dr. Bernard Wyatt, who saw the health benefits of a dry, sunny climate. Through time, ownership of the institution transferred to financial backers Alfred and Anna Erickson of New York. (The Erickson home, pictured left, is still used for offices.)

Anna Erickson usually divided her time between New York City and Tucson, especially after her husband’s death. After struggling through the Great Depressing and the arrival of World War II, it was becoming apparent that the Desert San’s days were numbered.

Tablets summarizing TMC’s history are installed at Founder’s Park, a shady retreat near the Beverly Avenue entrance to the TMC campus. Here is the way the hospital’s origin is described in the TMC history plaque, prepared in part by TMC history buff and retiree Jerry Freund:

By 1943, the world was at war. Everything around Tucson and the Desert Sanatorium changed dramatically. Tucson found itself stripped of many of its resources – namely, housing and hospital beds. The Desert Sanatorium feared there would be no research money, no world-renowned physicians, and no paying guests. Anna Erickson foresaw troubling times ahead and decided to close the Desert Sanatorium for the summer of ’43 – and maybe forever.

Out of the chaos of the times came the strength of the Tucson community. Organizations such as St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the American Red Cross and the Pima County Medical Society rose to the occasion to see what could be done, and to take necessary action. Anna Erickson, seeing the community response, declared that if certain goals could be met, she would donate the Desert Sanatorium to the community. Committees were formed and goals established to form a new hospital – a new Community Hospital open to all physicians and all patients who needed care.

On Nov. 2, 1943, the articles of incorporation were filed, and after a successful community fund drive, Tucson Medical Center was officially established in January 1944. The first patient was admitted Nov. 9, 1944. The life of this hospital is tied to the life of the community, the founders, the benefactors, the physicians, the employees, and those dynamic individuals who had the courage to shape and reshape the vision we share today as Tucson Medical Center.

It was something of a Christmas miracle that TMC was created in late 1943. One man who helped make the dream come true was Roy P. Drachman, a well-connected realtor and visionary. His memoir (called “This Is Not A Book: Just Memories”) includes his first-hand recollection of how TMC came to be:

It was learned that Mrs. Erickson, owner of the Desert Sanatorium on Grant Road, under certain circumstances, might make a gift of the institution to the community. The group encouraged Rev. Ferguson to pursue the matter with Mrs. Erickson.

A short time later we found that she would make the gift providing the money would be raised by Tucsonans to convert the sanatorium into a community hospital to be operated by a board of directors made up of a broad-based membership representing all segments of the area. It was estimated that $250,000 was needed to make the conversion.

After many other meetings, to which more people were invited, the group officially formed itself as the first Board of Directors of the Tucson Medical Center. It was decided to go to the community and ask for contributions to the $250,000 fund. I was appointed chairman of the fund-raising committee. The campaign was conducted during December of 1943 and the early part of 1944. (Photo, right, TMC staff in 1948) 

One of the most generous contributors was the Rosensteil family who kicked off the drive with a substantial gift. The financial drive was successful in reaching its goal, and the Tucson Medical Center became a reality.

No one knew for sure whether TMC would survive when the new hospital opened. But Tucson has never had a day without TMC since Nov. 9, 1944, and there’s no end in sight.

 

Check out these blogs on TMC’s history:

1928 building getting total makeover as part of TMC’s campus upgrade.

‘Strange potency’ of Tucson’s desert sun and air drew health enthusiasts

What about the decree that kept TMC a single-story hospital?

To stay open in 1940s, TMC developed perks for employees

Thank the ‘Kactus Kid’ for TMC’s landscaping legacy

Volunteers have helped TMC grow since hospital’s earliest days

TMC’s first baby has nearly 70 years worth of recollections

Founders Park monuments add new tribute to TMC’s history

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461