October 27, 2008

Health Costs in Baltimore — 1936

It is 1936. You are living in Tokyo and, unexpectedly, you become pregnant. You want to go to the United States to have your baby. What do you do? You ask your husband, a reporter for the Tokyo Advertiser, to write to an old friend and ask him how to make arrangements to have the birth in Baltimore and how much it would cost.

So the woman’s husband, James R. Young, wrote to the newly appointed secretary of The Johns Hopkins University, P. Stewart Macaulay, asking for advice.

Opening his letter, which is in the Hamburger Archives of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Young said, “Here is an assignment to be tossed into your lap which no doubt is quite different from those to which you are now accustomed, what with a dignified position with a university.”

Continuing, he asked, “Can you determine for me the approximate cost which a good doctor in Baltimore, attached to Johns Hopkins, would make in handling this case? I have in mind Dr. Harvey B. Stone. What would hospital rates be, and nursing charges?”

He also asked about the availability of furnished apartments in the city.

Macaulay, a respected reporter for the Baltimore Sun before returning to his alma mater as university secretary (later to become provost), responded promptly, suggesting that Dr. John M. Bergland “is, without doubt, the Number One obstetrician of Baltimore.” His “normal rate is $150 with added charges for complications. Hospitalization runs about $7.50 a day for a private room. Cubicles or two-patient rooms can be obtained at lower rates, roughly $4.50 a day.”

These rates, Macaulay said, applied in general to four Baltimore hospitals — Johns Hopkins, Church Home, Women’s and Union Memorial. Dr. Bergland was on the staffs of all four.

Dr. Bergland told Macaulay that in normal cases private nurses would not be needed, but if they were, their usual charges were about $6 to $7 a day for an eight-hour shift.

So, all totaled, Macaulay told his former colleague, costs should run about $150 for the doctor, $125 for the hospital and $25 for nursing.

As for living accommodations, Macaulay reported that “excellent furnished apartments of one room and a kitchenette” could be had for $50 to $60 a month. Many of the larger apartment houses, he said, “have a dining room in which meals can be had for around $2 a day.”

Macaulay also volunteered that he knew a “very fine old lady” who had rooms to rent in her Guilford home. She was, he said, “the mother of a doctor friend of mine — Lawson Wilkins — who may come into the picture after your youngster has arrived, as he is the city’s leading pediatrician.”

The correspondence seems to stop there. Did Mrs. Young come to Baltimore? Did Dr. Bergland deliver her baby at Johns Hopkins? Did she live with Mrs. Wilkins in Guilford after the baby’s birth? Did Dr. Wilkins care for her baby?

Someone, somewhere knows.