Almost Yesterday: The Hill-Burton Act
It seems like Almost Yesterday that Congress passed the “Hospital Survey and Construction Act” which became Public Law 725. This act provided funds to hospitals, nursing homes, and chronic care facilities, which had declined during the Great Depression and World War II.
By 1945 and the end of World War II, many American hospitals were obsolete – and approximately 50% of the nation’s counties had no hospital facilities at all.
In early 1946 Senators Lister Hill, a Democrat from Alabama, and Harold Burton, a Republican from Ohio, introduced a nine-page bill that became the catalyst for the creation of a modern health care system – consisting of 10,800 construction projects that expanded the number of available hospital beds by more than half a million by 1960.
Senator Hill, the driving force behind the legislation, was the son of the first American physician to successfully suture a human heart in a living patient. Due to the determined efforts of these two Senators, the act became known as the “Hill-Burton Act.”
A goal of the unique program was to issue loans or grants to support the construction of modern medical facilities in every American county, with a standard of 4.5 hospital beds for each 1,000 people.
Significantly, the law introduced the concept of state and local cost-sharing, with any facility constructed, expanded, or renovated by federal funds required to meet their cost-share with free or reduced charges for persons unable to pay for their medical care.
Shortly after implementation, “Hill-Burton” funds were used to expand professional schools for doctors and nurses, and to combat infectious diseases such as polio, measles, and whooping cough.
Nearly every hospital in rural southeast Missouri was established or modernized with funds from “Hill-Burton.”