A Tribute to a Mighty Oak

From the Collection of Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library—Bethesda Hospital and the Deaconess Home in the early 1900s.

The oak tree is commonly associated with symbols of strength and endurance. In reflecting on the past 100 years of our mighty Oak Building, some may say its naming was quite fitting, given the extensive history of that site.

After 20 years of owning the 6-acre site and careful consideration of its ever-increasing operating costs, Cincinnati Children’s leadership made the difficult decision to permanently close the doors of what once served as a monolithic hospital in our region. The Oak Building was vacated in July 2022, and all buildings south of Oak Street will eventually be demolished in the coming years, including the Oak Professional Building, a nearby utility building, and the previously decommissioned June Street Garage.

More than 100 Years of Serving the Cincinnati Community

Oak Campus was once the site of Bethesda Hospital (originally called the Reamy Hospital), which first opened in 1898 at the corner of Reading Road and Oak Street. Bethesda Hospital was founded by the Methodist-affiliated Deaconess Association and had only 20 beds when it was purchased at that time from Thaddeus A. Reamy, MD, a prominent gynecological surgeon. The purchase also included an adjacent dormitory building, which Bethesda used as a residence for its deaconesses who staffed the adjacent hospital.

The campus continued to evolve over time, with the addition of a maternity hospital in 1913 and the Marjorie Louise Strecker Hospital for Children in 1920, which had a 30-bed capacity.

In the 1920s, demand for medical services in Cincinnati routinely filled Bethesda Hospital, and more capacity was needed. As early as 1922, fundraising began to build a brand-new hospital, and just one year later, Bethesda raised nearly 80 percent of the money in pledges.

Four years later, Bethesda opened a new medical and surgical hospital next to its Reading Road hospital on Oak Street with 159 beds at a cost of $1.1 million. When Cincinnati Children’s took ownership nearly a century later, it was renamed the Oak Building.

A short time after its opening, Bethesda consolidated all of its medical services to its Oak Street and Reading Road hospitals, as a result of institutional changes and the global economic crisis that developed after the collapse of the U.S. stock market.

Following World War II, the campus gained a nurses’ dormitory and classroom building in 1952 (named Draher Residence Hall), as well as a cancer treatment center and inpatient hospice care in the 1980s.

Over the years, Bethesda Oak Hospital transformed from providing only acute care services to offering a complete range of medical services to serve all levels of healthcare problems.

And, as you can see from the memories our employees shared, it served as one of the region’s busiest maternity hospitals for decades, and by the mid-1990s, the hospital delivered more than 5,000 babies each year. Some newspapers even termed these newborns the "Bethesda Babies."

Around that same time, in 1995, Bethesda and Good Samaritan Hospitals joined forces and created a parent company called TriHealth, which is now one of Cincinnati's largest hospital systems.

Also, throughout the 1990s, Bethesda/TriHealth saw a significant decline in patient volume at their Oak Street Hospital, resulting in substantial operating losses. This led to the hospital’s eventual closure in February of 2000. TriHealth consolidated the services offered at Bethesda Oak to other nearby hospitals and locations, while some offices in the complex remained open.

Compare a view of the intersection of Reading Rd. and Oak St. from the early 1900s (photo courtesy of TriHealth) and today.

Cincinnati Children’s takes ownership

In 2002, Cincinnati Children’s bought the surrounding 15-acre site, which at the time included 14 buildings, a skywalk and two parking garages totaling more than 1.1 million square feet.

The sale encompassed the former Bethesda Oak Hospital (known to us as the Oak Building); the 2800 Winslow Ave. annex (aka the Winslow Building); the 900-car Winslow Ave. Garage; Kindercare; the Medical Education & Research Center (MERC); the Academy Building (formerly the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge); the Corporate Services Building; Draher Hall (the former residence for Bethesda’s nurses in training); the Deaconess Building (the former dormitory for Bethesda’s deaconesses); the June Street parking garage; and a parking lot on May Street.

There were three primary reasons that motivated Cincinnati Children’s to purchase the Oak Street property: to find more research space, expand parking capacity, and empty out our former Location H building on main campus (our hospital building built in 1926) and relocate those services elsewhere. By relocating certain teams to Oak, Cincinnati Children’s was also able to retrofit certain floors of Location R into wet labs, which were greatly needed due to the accelerated growth of our research programs at the time of purchase.

The site was also an ideal one-mile proximity from our main campus. When TriHealth first listed the site for sale, Cincinnati Children’s had already been leasing parking spaces in the Winslow Garage and portions of the Bethesda Oak property to conduct clinical studies.

“We were mainly interested in acquiring the Winslow Garage, 2800 Winslow Building, MERC, and an adjacent surface parking lot,” said Michael Browning, vice president, Facility Planning, Design, Construction, and Real Estate. “As a condition of the transaction, Cincinnati Children’s also took ownership of the Oak Campus buildings.”

At the time of its purchase, Cincinnati Children’s former vice president of Marketing and Communications, Phyllis Goodman, was quoted in the "Cincinnati Post" as saying, “This is a very significant transaction. It tracks the goal established in our strategic plan to become the leader in improving children’s health. As we’ve pursued that goal, we’ve attracted patients and clinicians from around the world. With that growth, our need for space has grown.”

Even after Cincinnati Children’s acquired the site, TriHealth subleased several floors of the Oak Building, which housed some patient support services and administrative offices for the hospital system. The building had served as its longtime corporate headquarters until 2018, when the company officially moved to its new Walnut Hills headquarters in the Baldwin 200 building.

About half of the 15-acre Oak-Winslow Campus was turned into office space and used for business functions and other non-clinical activities. Within the Oak buildings, many Cincinnati Children’s groups rotated in and out over the years.

Sang Hoon Li, Liv Duty and Brenda Williams train in the Center for Simulation and Research.

Stephanie Ibemere, RN, (right) consults with Amy Hilgeman, RN, in the Gamble Program about a clinical trial.

The former patient care footprint for TriHealth’s Bethesda Oak Hospital served as an ideal setting for conducting clinical trials through the Vaccine Research Center (Gamble Program), as well as training providers, nurses and students in the Center for Simulation and Research. The Cincinnati Center for Clinical Research was also one of the first groups to relocate from Main Campus to 619 Oak and conducted clinical trials for several years at this location.

“The Oak Campus has provided us with the resources to conduct hundreds of clinical trials over the years and was instrumental in Cincinnati Children’s building a reputation as a world leader in the evaluation of vaccines,” said Robert Frenck, MD, director of the Vaccine Research Center. “However, we are excited about the move, as it will allow us to align with numerous research activities currently conducted at the medical center’s Burnet Campus.”

Several research laboratories and facilities also worked out of the building, including the Laboratory for Specialized Clinical Studies (LSCS), Microbiology, Pharmacology, the Discover Together BioBank, and the former Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) Lab.

Groups that used the building as office space included Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute, Construction Services, Facilities Management, Information Services, Innovation Ventures, the Office for Clinical and Translational Research (OCTR), the Office of Research Compliance & Regulatory Affairs (ORCRA), the Anderson Center’s Solutions for Patient Safety (SPS) learning network, and Uptown Consortium, Inc.

For a period of time, Cincinnati Children’s hosted New Employee Orientation at Oak, and the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation and Child Life and Integrative Care used a portion of the building as storage.

Food Services also oversaw the building’s cafeteria, which was famously known for its wraps. “Employees used to ride the shuttle from base to eat at the Oak Café on wrap day,” Michael recalled.

During the pandemic, Cincinnati Children’s offered COVID-19 drive-thru testing for patients and employees in the Oak Professional Building’s drop-off area. Also, many of the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials for adults and children were conducted in the Oak Building.

Soon to Be Gone, but Never Forgotten

Since taking ownership, Cincinnati Children’s unfortunately inherited a few challenges from the Oak complex, and it soon began to show its age. “The buildings were the ‘gift that kept on giving’ whenever we’d encounter another unforeseen condition that needed to be addressed,” Michael noted. The majority of the structures on the 6-acre site became too costly to maintain, and renovating them was not a viable option as the space no longer fit the needs of the organization.

Over the past 20 years, the Oak Building and Oak Professional Building served out the mission of Cincinnati Children’s, and even beyond that, were instrumental for millions of Cincinnatians seeking medical care when it was formerly TriHealth’s Bethesda Oak Hospital.

Although these buildings will soon be gone, they will never be forgotten. Their legacy will live on in the memories of those who walked through their doors.

For that, we say “adieu” to the mighty Oak Building, and we welcome the future development in support of our continued mission to serve the children of Cincinnati and beyond.

Our Staff Remembers

I have many memories of the Oak Street buildings. I first went there in 1974 as a resident to pick up a newborn being transferred to our NICU. That was before we had a formal transport team! I was a patient there (Bethesda Base, as it was called). My internist’s office was there until Cincinnati Children’s took over the campus. When it became Cincinnati Children’s property, I went to physical therapy there after my rotator cuff repair. I certified and recertified for PALS several times there and participated in other simulation programs. Many memories served the community well, but time moves on.

Mike Farrell, MD, Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, former long-time Chief-of-Staff at Cincinnati Children’s

I have a long history with the Oak Building and Oak Professional Building. In March 1990, my baby sister was born prematurely and stayed in the NICU for about 30 days when it was Bethesda Oak. I remember my brother and me going to see her after school every day with my parents and looking through the window as they held her. Who knew that in September of 1998, I would be there to have my son?! Thankfully, he didn’t have to stay in the NICU.

Fast forward to 2013: the decision was made for the Solutions for Patient Safety (SPS) learning network team to move from the rest of the Anderson Center in Location S to the Oak Professional Building (or Winslow as it was called back then). Memories flooded back as we initially walked the halls of the Oak Building/Bethesda Oak to the cafeteria. We stopped to take the elevator downstairs, and it turned out, that’s where the old NICU was, with the infamous windows and all! It was sort of crazy how all those memories came back to me!

Crazy how an old building can house so many memories and experiences! To think that it started with the birth of my sister, then the birth of my son, and finally ended up with me spending some time there as part of my 15-year career here at Cincinnati Children’s. Full circle indeed!

Laurie Stevens, James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence

I was born at the old Bethesda Oak Hospital almost 60 years ago. However, my memory of the building is of a wall-sized painted mural near the main elevator. You see, my mother was sick with heart disease most of my childhood. Back then, they did not have the same lifesaving technologies available that they do today. Therefore, she was hospitalized at Bethesda Oak many times. I was not allowed to visit her during my dad’s visits because I was not 14, and I did not like to stay in the waiting room, so I waited for my dad, sitting on the floor by the mural. He knew where I would be, and I knew I would not miss him when he came off the elevator. It felt like a safe space.

My mom passed away there in 1981, but the story continues. I thought my heart would burst when I was on-site at the Oak Campus as an employee of Cincinnati Children’s probably 15 years ago, and I saw that the mural was still there across from the elevator. I just smiled and re-lived that same safe feeling. I have always been proud to be a nurse, and at that moment, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. Likewise, I was proud that Cincinnati Children’s was using this hallowed building for education and research to fulfill the vision to be the leader in improving child health.

I later learned that the mural was of Jesus Christ healing the sick at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. That makes perfect sense now. Thanks for allowing us to share our memories of Oak Campus.

Terri Price, MSN, RN-BC, Information Services

Bethesda Oak Hospital, as it was called then, was the beginning of my professional career as an RN. Many clinical hours were spent at the hospital as a student nurse. We did our pediatric rotation at Cincinnati Children’s on 3 West in the old hospital, and that is where I was first employed. Thirty-eight years later, I am still working at Cincinnati Children’s. I can’t thank the Bethesda School of Nursing and Bethesda Oak Hospital enough for providing me with an excellent education and training.

I have to add that my first two children were born at Bethesda Oak Hospital. I was in a room with four other mothers. You didn’t get any sleep because each mother had their baby brought to them for feedings at different times. There was no ‘rooming in.’ For all your bathroom needs, you had to walk down the hall to the ‘patient community bathroom.’ It was not something a new mother looks forward to.

Cindi Bedinghaus, RN MSN NE-BC, Perioperative Administration

I was hired to work at the Vaccine Research Center last October, and when I told my parents where I was working, they told me that one of my sisters was born in the building when it was still a hospital in 1995. A little surreal, knowing that my sister could have been born in the same room I was working in, but an interesting tidbit nonetheless!

Braden Perry, Division of Infectious Diseases

I remember when Bethesda Oak was called 'Bethesda Base.' In January of 1974, right after I turned 4 years old, I had a tonsillectomy at Bethesda Base (my mother was an RN and worked there). I remember her being told that I was going to be the last child to have a surgical procedure at Bethesda as all minors would now be treated at Cincinnati Children's—even the children of Bethesda employees.

— Jenni Schneder, Access Services, Outpatient Anderson and Eastgate

Most recently, I worked at the Oak Building on the first floor. I had my two oldest children at Bethesda Oak. I have always wanted to go back and look at photos to see if I could tell which room that was, since my office sits in one of the labor and delivery rooms. My oldest, Marissa, who is now 26, also works at Cincinnati Children’s.

— Amber Cochran, Center for Simulation & Research

I worked at Bethesda Oak Hospital from 1987-1996 in the NICU and OB Float Pool. It was there I learned that I really did not care for working in Labor and Delivery, but I loved all the other areas. I was mentored by some amazing NICU nurses, and it was my favorite area to work! Since it was a level II NICU, we didn’t have a neonatologist present all the time, so I was able to really refine my assessment skills, gained confidence as a young nurse and learned so much from the experienced nurses in the unit. While I was there, they opened a new NICU that was state-of-the-art at the time. The last time I recertified my CPR, the class took place in that NICU space due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements. It brought back so many wonderful memories of my time there!

— Lisa Leesman, RN, MSN, NPD-BC, Liver Transplant

I was born at Bethesda Oak in 1989! I loved that I got to participate in several clinical vaccine studies there years later as a part of Cincinnati Children’s.

Gabby Kersey, Division of Audiology

My first child was born at Bethesda Oak Hospital in 1989, and I went to their OB/GYN clinic. I used to work in the Emergency Room and Outpatient Department. I also used to walk there from the Lincoln Building on Fridays to eat lunch and just reminisce. It holds a special place in my heart. The building will truly be missed.

Sher Beckham, Access Services and Family Relations, Centralized Pre-Authorization

My children were born at Bethesda Oak Hospital in 1991 and 1995. When I came back to work at the Vaccine Research Center in 2020, it was fun to learn that I was actually working on the floor that I recovered during post-delivery. While I can’t find the rooms I actually stayed in because the room numbers were changed, it was fun to remember my precious memories. Farewell, Oak building!

— Laurel Ashworth, Division of Infectious Diseases

From my mom, Kathy Lawhorn, a former Cincinnati Children’s employee: “I was trying to polish my toenails in my bed. Somehow, I knocked the bottle of polish off my table/tray and had to ask a nurse to clean up my mess on the floor. I felt so bad! If I looked out my window, I could see you and your dad walking into the hospital. I yelled out my window to you, and you said, ‘Mom, I have a new baby brother!’ I replied, ‘I know!’ Good story and memory.”

I vividly remember this interaction with my mom and looking up at her and talking to her. Must have been the excitement of getting a new baby brother!

Allison Lawhorn-Hoskins, Division of Pharmacy

I have very fond memories of the Oak building. My youngest son was born there in 1992. What an awesome experience.

— Melinda Hill, Heart Institute

My son was born at Bethesda Oak on May 2, 1995. It was a very scary time for me as he was my first child and came into this world 8 weeks early. He spent 3 weeks in the NICU with a wonderful primary nurse named “Teddy.” He had some brain abnormalities at birth that could have been very serious. I am happy to say he is a healthy 27-year-old, working as a software engineer. He recently got married on July 29, 2022. The Cincinnati Children’s CPR classes have been held in the old NICU the last few years, and I would always have so many memories flood back during the class.

— Nancy Back, RN, MPH, Division of Infectious Diseases

My son, Corey, was born at Bethesda Oak Hospital in 1992. The staff nurse actually delivered him as my OB/GYN was still putting his gown and gloves on! She was in training to be a nurse midwife and provided excellent care to all of us—me, my newborn, and my husband.

Jennie Lecompte-Phelps, Children with Medical Handicaps Service Coordinator

I was born there 32 years ago when it was Bethesda Oak Hospital. Going back there to do simulations knowing I was born there was interesting, since it doesn’t look like it would have ever been a functioning hospital!

— Ellen Ecker, MSN, RN, CPN, Infection Control Program

Aww, so sad to hear this as this building was where my youngest brother was born (now 35 years old). I still remember going to visit my mom after she had him. Surely time has brought about change.

— Jewel Sisk, Drug and Poison Information Center

I remember it as Bethesda Oak Hospital, which was where I was born. Brought back my childhood memories.

— Mike Stone, Anderson Outpatient, Supply Chain

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