A Vision to Bring Modern Medicine to Southern Delaware: The Story of Beebe Healthcare
At the beginning of the 20th century, two brothers, Dr. James Beebe and Dr. Richard C. Beebe, shared a vision of bringing modern medicine to southern Delaware.
Both were born in Lewes to local merchant Richard Beebe and his wife Temperance Jane Magee Beebe. James was born in 1881 and Richard in 1890. Both had earned a medical degree in Philadelphia at Thomas Jefferson Medical College. Both could have found success and wealth in a large metropolitan area.
The Vision Prevails
Dr. James Beebe returned to his hometown to take over the medical practice of the late Dr. David Hall, and his younger brother Dr. Richard Beebe joined him after he returned from serving in France during World War I. Together, in 1916, the two brothers founded the first hospital in Sussex County, which combined their doctors’ offices with an addition housing two patient rooms and an operating room.
The Beebe brothers’ passion to provide medical care and their vision of a hospital spread to those around them. By 1921, through philanthropic support from Benjamin F. and Helen M. Shaw of Wilmington, Delaware, an expanded 35-bed hospital opened on Savannah Road in Lewes. The hospital then included proper operating and delivery rooms and an equipped X-ray department. The brothers’ energy and commitment kept the hospital continually expanding as it served residents and visitors to southern Delaware. By 1921, the brothers also had established a nurse training school, which later became the Beebe School of Nursing, and then in 2011, the Margaret H. Rollins School of Nursing at Beebe Healthcare.
Physicians from Philadelphia and Wilmington came regularly to provide specialized medical care to local patients. By 1934, another fundraising campaign was initiated by Mrs. Henry B. Thompson of Greenville, Delaware. The campaign led to another expansion of the hospital. An auxiliary of mostly women from Lewes and Rehoboth Beach formed in 1936 to support the young hospital.
An independent community-owned hospital
In 1935, Beebe Hospital incorporated as Beebe Hospital of Sussex County, a not-for-profit, community owned hospital that served everyone who needed medical care, whether they could afford it or not. Efforts to raise funds continued in earnest. Beebe provided medical care for people from around the Mid-Atlantic, from states including Texas, Oregon, Ohio and Kansas, from the metropolitan areas of New York and Philadelphia, and even from the West Indies, Canada and Scandinavia. It provided medical care to residents, business owners and farmers, to teachers and artists, to summer tourists, to sailors, merchant mariners and to the wounded in World War II.
Beebe continued to expand at its location in Lewes as demands for medical services grew and as people continued to give it philanthropic support. It drew physicians and medical specialists from around the country. In 1995, Beebe opened a dedicated outpatient cancer center thanks to a generous donation by Robert W. Tunnell, Sr., and his wife Eolyne Tunnell, and added outpatient services in Rehoboth Beach, in Millville, Millsboro and in other areas. Continuing to grow, Beebe changed its name to Beebe Medical Center, in 1988, and continued to add more services throughout the years, including joint replacement surgeries and open heart surgeries. Then in 2013, as Beebe continued to add more outpatient services and locations, its name became Beebe Healthcare to reflect not only what Beebe had become in terms of a larger footprint but to also reflect our vision for the future to help create a healthier Sussex County.
Beebe’s story is one of rugged individualism, of optimism, hope, vision, community spirit and collaboration, and love of mankind. Beebe has survived and thrived over 100 years, overcoming challenges, finding solutions, adopting new medical technologies, implementing advances in evidence-based medicine, and continually improving itself. Its team has grown to more than 2,000 employees, several hundred physicians, volunteers and board members who have worked tirelessly and generously to support its endeavors. All the while, Beebe has maintained its independence as a community-owned organization, welcoming those who are sick and in need of medical care, comfort and compassion.