“No charge for medical service” – The US Army and Lykens officials covered medical costs in town’s 1918 emergency hospital

Amid the horrors of the 1918 influenza pandemic, the US Army arrived in the Coal Region to help. Young medical students in the armed forces fanned out across the coal fields to provide assistance in the emergency hospitals established in towns and villages of all sizes.

In Lykens, in northern Dauphin County, an emergency influenza hospital had been opened in the Borough’s school building. It was cleaned and emptied and prepared for hospital work. Tents were erected in the school yard outside for use as an emergency field hospital. During the crisis, which lasted from early October until early November, nearly 300 patients were treated in the emergency hospital. The death toll in Lykens was counted at 26, which  was markedly better than other towns in the vicinity. 

Lykens School - 1990
The school in Lykens that became an emergency hospital in 1918 (Lykens Valley)

At the height of the crisis, the US Army’s Medical Corps sent young officers to assist overwhelmed doctors and nurses. These professionals spoke well about the conditions in the Lykens emergency hospital. They also wanted to ensure that the residents understood that there would be no charge for the services provided by the US Army during the emergency.

From the Harrisburg Telegraph, October 22, 1918:

No Charge for Medical Service

United States Army Officer in Charge of Relief Work Sends Out Warning

Lykens, Pa., Oct. 22 – The United States Army Medical Corps is doing splendid work at the Lykens Emergency Hospital and authorities say the town has the best-equipped hospital in the State.

On account of wrong impressions and the circulation of erroneous reports, Lieutenant Colonel Watson A. Lawrence of the United States Army Medical Corps, who is in charge of the work in this district, with headquarters in Pottsville, requests the publication of the following statement:

“From inquiries which have come to headquarters there is evidently misunderstanding in a few sections as to the position of the Army Medical Officers. That there may be no confusion in the mind of anyone the following is published for the information and guidance of all concerned:

The members of the Army Medical Corps came to this district to aid the community to meet a crisis and help fight an epidemic. Their services are voluntary and are rendered to the community in which they are stationed and not to any individual. No money should be paid to anyone, at any time, for any service rendered by a member of the Army Medical Corps.

That was not to say that there was no cost to the medical care administered during the 1918 influenza pandemic in Lykens. The charges came to $1,295, split between the boards of health in Wiconisco and Lykens. These institutions apparently paid all medical expenses for patients at the emergency hospital, and were later given a $1,000 appropriation from the Lykens borough council to recoup losses from the operations of the hospital.


Featured Image: A US Army emergency flu hospital in Colorado, 1918

Read more stories about the 1918 influenza pandemic here


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