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Lafene Health Center

Lafene Student Health Center History

by Dr. Benjamin W. Lafene, M.D.
Physical facilities:

There is so much of interest, and so many things of importance, etc., that transpired over the years that it is difficult to arrive at a proper beginning narrative account of it all. It is interesting to note that no health facility of any kind for students existed prior to 1913. In 1911 the faculty voted a consensus that there should be some kind of health facility and care established for students. It was not until 1912 that a health fee of $0.50 per student per term would be charged. Accordingly in 1913 the first physician, a Dr. Roscoe Nichols was employed, at what was then considered a handsome salary of $2,000.00 to $2,500.00 per 11 months, obviously with no fringe benefits. Health Service offices were located in rooms on the second floor of Anderson Hall.

In 1916 Dr. Nichols left and Dr. Charles Siever was employed as a full time physician, with a Dr. Groody, one of the Manhattan physicians, employed as part time assistant physician. In 1914, the first woman physician, Dr. Marie Green, was employed only very briefly as assistant physician to Dr. Nichols. Also in 1914 the first nurse was added to the staff. In 1916 the student health fee was raised to $1.00 per semester, thus enabling Dr. Siever to begin adding improvements to the facility. Before he left in 1935 the fee had been increased to $3.00 per semester.

In 1920 some kind of a hospital became necessary. Accordingly an old two-story stone building, built in 1866 by a Preston family on a 40-acre tract of land, which they later sold to the College for $7,000.00. This house was located very nearby the northeast corner of what is now the University Physical Plant. It then became home of President Anderson, later occupied by President Fairchild, still later by two different Agronomy professors, and subsequently by the College Custodian, finally to be given to the students as an isolation hospital, thus to be dubbed by them as the "Pest House". Later it was enlarged with stones and material from an old barn which stood just east of it and which was torn down. The old house could accommodate about a dozen student patients. One room was used as a Laboratory and Emergency Room for the hospital.

After W.W.I a two story wooden surplus military barracks building was acquired, moved into position parallel with the old engineering foundry. The upstairs, consisting of one large open ward, then became available to Student Health to hospitalize overflow epidemic cases in times of epidemics. It had to be used a number of times even as late as the late 1940's before the W.W.II surplus wooden one-story military barracks were moved in. It posed quite a problem to prepare food in the small kitchen of the old stone hospital building, then carry it hot to the patient upstairs in the old W.W.I building.

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After W.W.II and the sudden influx of numerous W.W.II veterans, more hospital facilities were needed. Enough surplus military one-story barracks buildings were moved into position just south of the old stone building, connected to it by an all weather ramp, thus providing a total of 80 standing beds, and you can be sure they were needed, being filled to capacity and extra beds had to be set up in the dining room and kitchen of the old stone building (the kitchen had been moved to the center of the new facility which was arranged in a Y shape). Right after W.W.II there were quite severe winter epidemics of influenza, etc. In those days (early 1950's) there was only one dormitory on the campus for single students. Too many single students lived in private homes, basement apartments, etc., where they could not be cared for, thus necessitating hospitalization.

At that time the entire staff was removed from Anderson Hall, and thus the south wing became the offices and Outpatient Clinic. A fine new x-ray machine, a microfilm x-ray for tuberculosis screening of all new students, a larger diagnostic laboratory, and improved physical therapy equipment was installed in the clinic. The west wing housed the women students, plus a large, very serviceable Emergency Room at the west end. The latter got heavy usage.

However, the construction of the temporary building was so flimsy the students detested it, particularly after a better veterinary hospital building was constructed for the animals. The internal walls were one thickness of plasterboard. A few students found sport in ramming their fists through them. Here and there wide cracks were left at corners, etc., allowing snow and cold to blow in. Poor floors were covered with cheap asphalt floor tile which soon began to break up long before the new building could be moved into; plumbing was cheap wartime material, etc., etc. The building was very cold in the winter time, plumbing beneath the floor freezing and breaking readily, often necessitating water to be left running from faucets to prevent the pipes from breaking. The temporary building was the source of frequent remarks by parents of sons and daughters hospitalized there. When they came to see them for the first time they would look around skeptically, in disbelief at the physical nature of the building and then ask: "Shouldn't we take our daughter (or son) to a hospital?" This was quite disconcerting, particularly when our staff was doing their level best, and actually providing excellent care. As an example of the flimsy nature of the building, on one occasion I stood at the bedside of a bedfast patient when a high spring wind came along and caused the roof and walls to shift and creak, causing the poor patient to cringe in fear that the building was about to collapse on him. I do not think it would have, or could have without tornadic winds, but I could not blame him for being terrified. The corridors were so narrow that a wheeled litter or ambulance cart could not be maneuvered into a room without lifting one end around to permit it to enter a room. And yet a world of work was done in that building. During the disastrous flood of 1951, many invalids who were flooded out of their homes in the area of town east of the park. Even old St. Mary Hospital reached full capacity, was threatened with flooding and could not take any more patients.

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Right after W.W.II, each year in their annual meeting with University officials, High School Superintendents and Principals voiced a growing discontent, and strongly urged better physical health facilities at K-State for their students. When President Milton Eisenhower left in 1949 he voluntarily advised me that we would have a new hospital within a couple years, the Student Health was second on priority building plans. He had no sooner left until the Academic Deans saw to it that our priority was replaced by theirs. Result---very shortly Student Health priority was down to seventh place. We were discouraged over the situation, but student clamor for better health facilities became louder and more insistent, headed chiefly by one David Suss, a veterinary student from an eastern state. Taking full advantage of this, with the sympathy and interest of the Dean of Students, the aid of Mrs. Orville Burtis, who was then President of Womens State Home Demonstration clubs, brought pressure to bear on their State Senators and Representatives to obtain the necessary legislative funding to construct a new hospital. This worked!!!!! To backtrack briefly, when our priority again came up to the top and we were assured of funding one way or another, the Chairman of the Campus planning Committee, a prominent faculty man came to the Director of Student Health and tried to persuade him to accept the old veterinary hospital, remodeled to be a student hospital. HORRORS!!! Insult!!! Put human beings in a building that had been quartering farm animals with all kinds of diseases for so many years! They could only cover up the filth in it! Anything but far from a brilliant idea! Promptly VETOED! Unconditional refusal!

Then began a hassle for location of a new hospital. The Campus Planning Committee came up with a brilliant (????) suggestion to locate it just east of the present milling department. It would have had to straddle the creek that runs across that area. Heavy rains would have had flood water running through the hospital. Location VETOED! The next suggestion was to locate it just east of the present McCain Auditorium. That location was abandoned when it was discovered that extension of utilities to that area was so costly that construction there was prohibitive because of the limited funds available. It was then that President McCain stepped into the problem and decided, to his everlasting good judgment and credit that it would be located right where it is today. In order to construct it here, however, the temporary building had to be separated in sections and moved to one side at a cost of $20,000.00 of precious Student Health Reserve funds which we had hoped to put into better completion of the new building.

The next hurdle to be negotiated was the architectural plans. The State farmed the planning out to a firm in Salina, with conferences at intervals with a firm in Topeka. This arrangement required many trips for planning with the architects in both cities. The young architect tried to force a very costly, very impractical hospital plan upon the University. The President finally told him to plan it our way or withdraw from the project. He withdrew, and his father had to complete the plans. Eventually the plans were completed. We were fortunate to get a Contractor without having the estimates upped because of increased material-labor costs. It so happened that the contracts were let for bids at a time when contractors were hungry for work. Construction began in 1958, completed in 1959. We occupied the new building in November 1959. Unfortunately funds were insufficient to finish the basement area at that time. Then all the old buildings were torn down. HAPPY DAY when we moved into the new building. The students were happy with the new facility, with no more clamor from High School officials.

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Student health directors:

Dr. Siever was Director from 1916 to 1935. Dr. M. W. Husband came on as Director September, 1935, but took leave of absence in 1944 to enter military service. In his absence Dr. R. R. Snook became acting Director and finally Director when Dr. Husband failed to return as planned at the end of the war. Dr. Snook decided in 1948 that he wanted to try private general practice for which he had prepared. He left that fall, recommending that I be appointed Director. I had joined the staff in September 1946. This was a real honor and advancement for me as there were two other full time physicians on the staff.

My problems immediately accumulated fast. Chief of these was the everlasting, discouraging, almost hopeless search for new physicians. They were unhappy with the salaries permitted by a pinch-penny State Personnel Director in Topeka who felt he had a hard and fast mandate from the State operated schools, and hold them down he did. Any Department Head the state over had the same problem if they had classified personnel. Staff physicians were classified employees. Thus buying new physicians was virtually impossible. To halfway staff the place with physicians all too frequently we were forced to accept misfits, drug addicts, and/or alcoholics, and even physicians with psychiatric disorders. Year after year this was so discouraging, the State Personnel Director so unyielding that I finally became completely disenchanted with it and told him to operate the facility from Topeka. I resigned as Director in 1961 but remained on as a staff physician until 1971 when I retired. Dr. Hilbert Jubelt, a local Pediatrician was interesting in taking the Director position July 1, 1961. Although my dictum to the State Personnel Director greatly softened his tyrannical control and made it somewhat easier for Dr. Jubelt, he too, experienced continuing difficulty in finding physicians who would work for the salaries permitted. He remained 10 years, relinquished it to the present Director, and returned to private practice. I realize great joy, and take much pride in the improvements that Dr. Jubelt, and Dr. Sinclair have made in the internal appearance and facilities of the Student Health building, and in their upgrading of the services to students. Students, by nature, gripe a lot about anything they can find to gripe about, but the proof of the worth of the facility and its staff is in the acceptance and heavy usage they make of it.

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Serious problems:

Poliomyelitis endemic of 1950's
Gastrointestinal epidemics in Veteran Married Student Housing
Recurring Acute Gastroenteritis Problem in Van Zile Hall
Advent of Isotope Research on Campus
Veterans in Intramural Sports

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Humorous incidents:

Student — Jaw Locked Open
French Woman Exchange Student with Severe Measles
Horse Brought to Door of Emergency Room one Night
Mid Winter Poison Ivy Case
Summer Poison Ivy Case
Mud Driveway to Old Hospital and Emergency Room
Failing Ice-Making Machine in Old Stone Hospital
The Case of the Fractured Tail Bone

How does one adequately express appreciation for the tremendous honor bestowed upon me by President McCain in naming the facility for me? The thought of such a possibility never once entered my mind when I was striving so hard to get for the students what they deserved in health facilities. It came as a distinct surprise to me. I must confess I still puzzle at this great and good fortune that came to me, and find it strange indeed to hear my name in connection with the building. I am exceedingly grateful to President McCain and the Board of Regents of the State of Kansas for so honoring me.

B. W. Lafene, MD

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