If the move from Fall Creek to the new St.Vincent on West 86th Street appeared to all the world like a military maneuver, it was no accident.
The move, which took place 40 years ago on the weekend of March 29-31, 1974, was code named Operation Carlos (after Hospital Administrator Sister Carlos McDonnell, D.C.), and it operated with military precision. Dr. Philip Eskew Jr. was on the Medical Staff at St.Vincent and a U.S. Army reservist with the 337th General Hospital Army Reserves. Dr. Eskew worked with Sister Carlos and his Army unit to prepare the hospital move as a military exercise. St.Vincent will remember the 40th anniversary of that historic move on March 29.
Dr. Eskew coordinated the move with Assistant Administrator Fred Snoy and representatives of North American Van Lines. When Dr. Eskew spoke to Sister Carlos on Saturday, March 30, a cold, wet snow was falling. He asked the Sisters to pray especially hard for good weather.
At dawn on Sunday, March 31, Army reservists, doctors, nurses, Daughters of Charity and associates began moving the 102 patients from the Fall Creek Hospital to the new hospital at 2001 W. 86th Street. They used a fleet of 10 Army ambulances, 10 private ambulances, and two Army buses. Dr. Eskew waved away the first ambulance carrying a patient at about 6:45 a.m.; 18 minutes later the ambulance arrived at 86th Street. The 10-mile move went like clockwork for the next three hours, and the last patient arrived at the new hospital at 10:15 a.m. Not one patient had changed his or her physical condition during the move.
The move included five babies and their mothers. The first baby born in the new hospital was a 6-pound, 8-ounce girl born to Mr. & Mrs. Leonard Daniels just more than 12 hours after St.Vincent opened its 86th Street doors.
Dr. Eskew and Chief of Staff Joseph Finneran, MD, had mixed emotions about the move. “It’s kind of sad,” Dr. Eskew told a reporter, adding that the Fall Creek Hospital held warm memories for all who had worked there. “A lot of us have put in a lot of time here. It is an antiquated structure, but it still has a good reputation. The people at St.Vincent had to go a little extra to make it nice. I hope we can continue that.”
Forty years after the move, the memories are still strong at Fall Creek. Now part of Ivy Tech Community College’s Illinois-Fall Creek Center, the Fall Creek Hospital’s façade stands proudly—its terrazzo floors and front steps welcoming students, faculty and staff. Inside, a display case recalls the building’s previous role as a place of caring.
Sister Carlos would be proud of both buildings.