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Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center (HSRC), run by Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, was the first combined general hospital for both U.S. Army and Navy patients in the nation. This joint services hospital was created ahead of the Navy Hospital Corp and over twenty years before the founding of the now-infamous Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The facility in Arkansas was quite an economic and social plum for rural Arkansas in the eyes of America.
In the early 1800s, people believed that bathing in mineral waters had therapeutic value, which brought many people to the town of Hot Springs (Garland County). The groundwork for the hospital was proposed at an 1882 dinner party on the second floor of the Palace Bathhouse in Hot Springs. The party was given by Dr. A. S. Garnett, a former Confederate army surgeon, honoring U.S. Senator John A. Logan, a former Yankee general who had served with distinction on General Ulysses S. Grant’s staff. The impressed senator said the city was “an ideal location for an institution of this character” and promised to introduce legislation for an appropriation upon his return to Washington DC. By the end of June, $100,000 was approved for the building of a thirty-bed, joint military hospital, the first such effort in U.S. history. President Chester A. Arthur signed the bill in 1882. The Army-Navy Hospital opened to patients in January 1887 under the direct jurisdiction of the secretary of war. It was not until 1957 that the control of the facility was transferred to the U.S. Army.
The present fireproof brick and steel facility was built in the early 1930s, replacing the 1880s version made of red brick, slate, and wood. The seven-story structure was built at a cost of approximately $1.5 million dollars, paid for by the U.S. government.
The hospital was recognized as the Army’s leading center for dealing with arthritis, and during World War II, the facility became the largest center for treating adults afflicted with infantile paralysis in the country because of the therapeutic baths provided for patients. Between 1887 and World War II, the hospital treated more than 100,000 patients.
After World War II, military men and women were streaming back from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. Many who suffered severe wounds or the loss of limbs were sent to Hot Springs to take advantage of the hydro-therapy treatments. The influx of injured soldiers taxed the Hot Springs facilities. To have more beds and space for added staff, the federal government bought the Eastman Hotel across and down the street from the main hospital. A connecting ramp linked the two buildings, and the number of beds available for patients tripled almost overnight. This gave the hospital badly needed space for recreational and reconditioning projects, in addition to providing space for overnight family visitors.
Along with soldiers being treated for war injuries, servicemen from battle zones were sent to the Hot Springs facility for rest, relaxation, and rehabilitation. The Arlington and the Majestic hotels housed the overflow soldiers who could not be accommodated on the hospital base.
The hospital’s military era ended officially on April 1, 1960, when the facility was turned over to the state of Arkansas to become a rehabilitation hospital. Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center is a state-run, full-scale rehabilitation facility run by Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, one of nine of its kind in the nation and the only one west of the Mississippi River. HSRC serves people with life-long disabilities as well as those who have acquired disabilities. At HSRC, students (now so designated to distance them from the stigma of being called “patients”) obtain needed rehabilitation services and are taught independent living skills necessary in today’s society.
Since 1960, when Hot Springs became a state rehabilitation facility, approximately 25,000 Arkansans with disabilities have been treated there. Most students learn a trade and are ready to become productive members of the workforce in six to nine months. The staff of 250 include instructors in twenty-nine various vocational disciplines. Each student has a course of study that is laid out to meet his or her specific needs. Other support programs are available, when needed, to teach individual living skills and help students prepare for living on their own. Today, the medical wing has twenty-four active beds. Although it is licensed for roughly three times that many, the demand has been more for vocational training rather than medical services. This shift in demand has resulted in the state of Arkansas announcing in November 2011 a plan to close the medical wing of the center.
While other federal government hospitals were larger and treated more patients, no hospital boasted a longer career than HSRC. The facility remains a source of pride for the community due to its longevity and majestic presence on Hot Springs’s skyline. At its peak in the late 1940s into the early 1950s, the hospital (as a federal facility) was one of the top five employers in Garland County. As of 2005, it remained in the top twenty.
For additional information:Cron, Frederick W. “Hot Springs’ Military Hospital: The Army and Navy Opened One Hundred Years Ago.” The Record 28 (1987): 83–91.
Frederick W. Cron Collection. Garland County Historical Society Archives, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center Hospital. http://ace.arkansas.gov/arRehabServices/programs/ACTI/Pages/HSRCH.aspx (accessed November 15, 2011).
Carl Enna Jr.Arkansas Rehabilitation Services
Last Updated 12/8/2011
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