For more than half the 100-year life of Akron General Medical Center, Nancy Irby was there to see the hospital change and grow.
When Irby, 75, of Clinton, joined the hospital’s lab after graduating from Norton High School in 1958, things were vastly different in the medical field from today.
Back then, Irby and other medical lab technicians placed blood samples under microscopes and manually counted the different types of cells, rather than relying on machines to quickly process complete blood counts.
Lab techs transferred the needed amount of samples through manual pipetting, or using their mouths to create a suction to draw up the fluids.
Instead of a lab coat, Irby wore a starched white dress and white hose, similar to the nurses’ attire of the day.
Today’s stringent regulations didn’t exist yet to stop workers from eating their lunch or applying lipstick in the lab or smoking in the cafeteria, Irby recalled. And test results were handwritten or called into doctors’ offices.
Irby was there through all the technological advances and quality improvements, learning and adapting throughout the decades.
“I just liked the environment,” she said. “I liked learning new things.”
Irby retired this month after spending 56 years working at the hospital, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its official founding on Thursday.
Before her retirement, Irby was believed to be the longest tenured staff member of Akron General Medical Center, which had just changed its name from Peoples Hospital to Akron General Hospital a few years before she was hired.
Irby came to Akron General just several years after a new 200-bed, $5 million expansion to the original 1915 building opened.
She was there to see the hospital construct its outpatient center and parking deck in the 1970s, its new emergency room in the 1980s, its first health and wellness center in Bath Township in the 1990s and its Heart and Vascular Center in the early 2000s.
The hospital now known as Akron General Medical Center was founded as The Peoples Hospital Co. on Feb. 20, 1914, by a group of area doctors who saw a need for more hospital beds in town.
At the time, City Hospital — now cross-town rival Summa Akron City Hospital — was Akron’s only hospital.
“It was started out of a patient need,” said Dr. Thomas “Tim” Stover, president and chief executive of Akron General Health System, who joined the health system in 1993. “That set the tone of the culture of Akron General.”
Tuberculosis as teen
During Irby’s junior year in high school, she was hospitalized for eight months with tuberculosis at Edwin Shaw, where she met Akron General’s supervisor of microbiology. (The supervisor worked part time at Edwin Shaw, then a county-owned hospital that decades later was purchased by Akron General.)
When she mentioned that she wanted to work as a lab tech, he encouraged her to spend her summer in the lab at Akron General. After she graduated the following year, she was hired by the hospital for a full-time job, drawing patients’ blood samples and processing tests.
She continued working at the hospital after marrying her husband of 53 years, Jerry, and returned for part-time stints weeks after the births of their two sons, now 50 and 52.
“The hospital has been very good to me,” she said. “There’s something to be said about longevity and working with people.”
Stover said the employees at Akron General have helped the hospital succeed over the decade, despite financial and other challenges faced by the industry.
“It’s people doing incredible things with limited resources,” he said. “We just make it work — and we always have.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ.