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Geisinger History

For nearly a century, Geisinger has provided superior healthcare services to the families of this region. Geisinger's history is steeped in community service, and marked by a long-standing commitment to continuously improving healthcare quality and value. It all stared with one woman, Abigail Geisinger.

Born and raised in Danville, daughter of a wagon-maker, Abigail A. Geisinger was a down-to-earth woman of average education and life experiences. But some force engendered in her the indomitable spirit, the forthrightness, and the clarity of vision that led her, at the age of 85, to build a hospital that ultimately became Geisinger Health System. "Make my hospital right; make it the best," she demanded of Harold L. Foss, M.D., the young physician she chose for her first surgeon-in-chief.

Foss shared her vision and brought to it the professional expertise that would change the dream to reality. Trained at the Mayo Clinic he had become committed to the concept of group practice, where specialty-trained physicians worked together to benefit their patients. Mrs. Geisinger concurred. It was a bold step in the early 1900s which has made Geisinger Medical Center the largest rural health care facility in the United States.

Harold Leighton Foss, MD, formed and guided the Geisinger Hospital through its first 43 years and pioneered modern rural health care administration. Dr. Foss was born on St. Valentine's Day, 1883 in Malden, MA. He studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, in 1909, received his medical degree with honors, from Jefferson Medical College. Foss interned at Philadelphia General Hospital and, from 1910 to 1912, practiced medicine and surgery in a tiny Alaskan hospital at the edge of the Arctic Circle.

He first met Mrs. Abigail A. Geisinger in 1913 and helped her lay her plans for the George R. Geisinger Memorial Hospital and ultimately, for what would become Geisinger Health System. When the hospital opened in 1915, Foss was the first surgeon. In those early days, he later recalled, he "cared for typhoid patients, delivered the babies, performed all manner of surgical procedures - helped drive the ambulance, experimented with the electric light plant, fluoroscope stomachs and colons, met with the board, engaged new help, ordered supplies." Out of the operating room, as the hospital's superintendent and chief of staff, Dr. Foss became a prototype of the twentieth-century health care executive.

Throughout his years at Geisinger he maintained a two-fold commitment to good medicine, a commitment that meant putting the best medical equipment in the hand of the most skilled medical people. Before embarking on his long career in Danville, he had served a 20-month fellowship as chief assistant to Dr. William Mayo, and he never wavered from the start the Mayo brothers gave him in medicine and medical administration. To the end of his life, he kept photographs of Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie in his office as a reminder of the way he felt medicine should be practiced. As an acknowledgment of his own medical distinction, Dr. Foss received many honors, including the presidency of the American College of Surgeons.

During the Foss years, Geisinger's structure and staff grew dramatically from its original 70 beds, until his retirement in 1958 it had more than 300 beds and more than 500 employees and admitting over 11,000 patients a year.