The Hospital del Mar has been a Barcelona landmark for the past century. The modern hospital is located in the exact same place where, in the 16th century, stood the ‘House of Health’, an ominous-looking building on the waterfront where citizens were quarantined against infectious diseases that continually plagued the busy port city.
This year marks the Hospital del Mar’s 100th birthday, and the city has been celebrating the centenary with a variety of institutional, scientific and cultural events since last November.
Dr. Olga Pane is the manager of the hospital and the Parc de Salut MAR group (PSMAR) of Barcelona, which also oversees the Hospital de l’Esperança and a number of other local health facilities. She describes the ‘life of the hospital’ as having had three distinct stages: the first was before Franco’s dictatorship, when it was exclusively a municipal hospital dedicated to fighting outbreaks of infectious diseases. The Barcelona City Council was forced to build the quarantine centre in 1905, after yellow fever and cholera epidemics ravaged the population. In 1929, basic hospital facilities were constructed on the same site in preparation for the Universal Exhibition.
During the Spanish Civil War, the hospital temporarily relocated to the Gran Hotel La Florida on Tibidabo, in order to minimise the possibility of being bombed by Franco’s forces. After the war, it returned to its original location in Barceloneta, and continued to deal with city-wide plagues of smallpox, typhus, polio, and less serious afflictions such as lice.
The second ‘life’, or phase, began during Franco’s rule. The hospital’s expertise in infectious disease control expanded exponentially due to the massive epidemics brought on by unsanitary post-war living conditions. In the Seventies, it became one of the most technologically advanced health centres in Spain, as it was the first hospital to install a hyperbaric chamber in its intensive care unit. Progressive installation of new services and structural additions would continue throughout the Seventies and Eighties.
The women’s ward of Hospital del Mar in 1914.
The third phase is the relatively recent transition from just a care-giving facility to the incorporation of the teaching centre, in addition to the increasing challenge of fighting what Pane calles ‘social problems’, such as addiction, illnesses related to substance abuse, and mental health issues. In 1973, the facility signed a collaboration agreement with the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and modernisation followed in order to fulfill its role as a university health centre. Significant remodelling took place in 1986, when it was announced that the International Olympic Committee had decided to make Barcelona the site of the 1992 Olympic Games, and the hospital its primary healthcare centre during the Games.
In 2008 the hospital embarked upon its newest series of structural and institutional reforms, which are still being implemented. The plan is to nearly double the available workspace and dramatically increase in- and out-patient services and comfort.
Dr. Pane says that the hospital’s most important goals have not changed in the past 30 years: to continually respond to the needs of the population of Barcelona, and to maintain its high standard of working conditions. Despite financial cutbacks and layoffs due to the economic crisis, workers’ representatives and the directors of the public health system were recently able to reach a collective agreement with regards to fair wages and benefits, which Pane says has made PSMAR a benchmark for good labour practices in Europe.
“Fortunately, the worst of our financial troubles are over, but we are always looking for ways to consolidate our position as an efficient and responsible entity,” she said.
More information on events celebrating the centenary is available on the Hospital del Mar’s website and social networks. Local historian Daniel Venteo has recently published a book celebrating the Hospital’s history, Barcelona y el Hospital del Mar (2015).
- CONTACT: Tel. 93 248 3000. Passeig Marítim 25-29, 08003
- WEBSITE: www.parcdesalutmar.cat/centenari
- FACEBOOK: centenarihospitaldelmar
- INSTAGRAM: 100hospitaldelmar
- TWITTER: hospitaldelmar