Beacon of Hope: Growth Years
Getting Underway
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Founding Years 1944-1953
Growth Years 1953-1969
Years of Change and Renewal 1969-1993
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Under the administration of the first operating director of the Clinical Center, Dr. John A. Trautman, patient admissions followed at a steady pace. By January 15, 1954, there were 115 occupied beds on seven nursing units.48 The original patient cohorts were largely ambulatory and not acutely sick, reflecting Sebrell’s desire that most “will leave the Clinical Center in better physical shape than when they entered.”49 Of 23 admissions to Patient Care Unit 12E in the first four weeks of activation, nine were cancer patients transferred from the endocrinology branch clinic at George Washington University Hospital, which NCI had set up under Dr. Roy Hertz in 1949. Six other admissions were involved in arthritis or diabetes studies conducted by the fledgling National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Disorders (NIAMD), and seven others, all ambulatory, were Heart Institute patients participating in arteriosclerosis investigations. 50 Of these, one case of thrombotic occlusion surgically removed was presented as a “complete cure” at the first Combined Clinical Staff Conference on January 20, 1954.51

Medical policies in the fledgling hospital were set by the Medical Board, composed of institute clinical directors and chairs of the operating medical departments, who met to advise the Clinical Center director. Projecting the Clinical Center as “the ‘ideal hospital’ of the future,” the Board established broad responsibility for patient welfare. Study patients were to be considered members of the research team, entitled to “full understanding of the investigation contemplated” and to free care for the duration of the research. Investigators were enjoined from imposing citizenship or residence requirements. The Board also disallowed “any restriction based on race, creed, or color.”52

The political obstacles to Clinical Center growth were overcome at the close of Eisenhower’s first term, largely as a result of the Salk polio vaccine controversy and reemergent congressional pressure for biomedical research spending. NIH had limited its involvement to long-term, live virus studies until January 1953, when the private National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis announced a killed-virus cure and requested federal oversight for vaccination trials. Assistant Director Shannon and leading NIH virologists attempted to bring order to the precipitate rush to mass inoculation in 1954, but when faulty vaccine licensed by the NIH Laboratory of Biologics Control caused 209 new polio cases in April 1955, the administration convened a special, NIH-led committee to ensure the vaccine’s safety and to complete the program.53

Secretary Hobby took responsibility for the faulty vaccine and resigned. Her successor, Marion P. Folsom, disavowed the policy of retrenchment and resolved to step up the search for disease cures.54 Director Sebrell, uncomfortable with new and more expansive national responsibilities,55 retired in August 1955. NIH leadership passed to Dr. Shannon, who vigorously exploited opportunities for expanded research, administration, and funding.56 Working closely with Senator Lister H. Hill, who chaired both the Appropriations Health Subcommittee and the full Labor and Public Welfare Committee, Shannon persuaded Congress to double the NIH budget in the spring of 1956. A new era of expansion was thereby inaugurated.57

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