November 18, 2014 5:28 pm
Updated: November 18, 2014 7:41 pm

Report offers glimpse of Halifax hospital life 100 years ago

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HALIFAX – They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that was the case when a friend of Capital Health medical oncologist Bruce Colwell found an old hospital report at a yard sale.

The report Colwell’s friend discovered and later gave to him was the 48th annual report of the Victoria General Hospital, which dates back 100 years.

Colwell says he marvelled at the information contained in its yellowed pages.

“One of the most fascinating things I thought was the cost,” he said.

In 1913-1914, the average cost of a hospital bed was $1.75 per day, which accounting for inflation would be a little more than $36 today. The cost of running a bed has actually increased to about $540 since then, according to Capital Health.


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“Obviously there’s been inflationary costs, compensation changes and costs of medical supplies, and equipment has significantly changed, as well as the type of treatments and care you provide,” said Victoria Sullivan, director of the V.G. site.

The report also states that 1,893 patients were admitted to the hospital in 1913-1914. A hundred years later, 9,189 patients were admitted.

The busiest day at the hospital a century ago saw staff caring for 175 patients, which the health authority says is now the daily minimum. The V.G. now houses a maximum of 275 patients per day.

Still, Sullivan says costs and patient numbers are hard to accurately compare given all the changes in health care since the time the report was authored.

“We’re not talking about the same level of activity,” she said. “I think all of the care that was medical care at that time was hospital-based, or inpatient care.”

Colwell agrees that the changes have been significant.

“We are streamlining things. We’re getting more efficient, but still just the volumes are totally different and the type of medicine we practice is totally different,” he said.

The report also lists food purchases, and Colwell says the hospital menu in 1913 was far from bland.

“They’ve got lobster in the hospital, they’ve got salmon in the hospital, but they also ate canned tongue,” he said.

Colwell says he’s reached out to the Nova Scotia Historical Society to see if they’re interested in the report, but he has not heard back yet.

The numbers provided by Capital Health are for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Visualizing the data

The cost per day for each patient bed has gone up by a factor of 15, according to Capital Health:

Click here to view data »

The hospital admitted almost five times as many patients in 2013-14 as in 1913-14:

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In 1913-14, the highest number of patients in the hospital at a time was 175. In 2013-14, 175 was the daily minimum number of patients, and the maximum was 275:

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