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Big Chuck

May 6, 2013

My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital

Ask any hospital administrators if they’ve ever heard of a closed hospital in New York state that has ever been re-opened. They will say, “Impossible.” In a half-century of records, you’d be lucky to find any.

But there is one.

The Hospital in Sidney closed “for lack of funding” many years ago. Sidney took a lot of smart-alecky jabs for that. “Gee, they can’t even keep a hospital there!” “What’s next? Are they going to close the school?” “Hey, no wonder it closed. Look at its name!” Well, for sure the hospital did have a quirky name: “The Hospital.” Nothing fancy. That was it.

But the closing of The Hospital was no funny matter for the residents of Sidney. A hospital is the beating heart of any small community. All of a sudden, fear was afoot in Sidney. Any small backyard accident could turn into a parent’s worse nightmare. Any uneventful pregnancy that all of a sudden became eventful brought anxious thoughts to moms-to-be of hurried drives through a snowstorm to Oneonta or Binghamton. A senior citizen, who’d relied on the trusting staff at The Hospital for decades, now faced the confusing and daunting predicament of changing family doctors at age 70 or 80.

It was not a good time for Sidney.

Enter Bruce Wilhelm. I knew Bruce for 40 years. My dad gave Bruce his first job as a teenager at our family grocery store. Bruce lived five houses down from us and went to school with six of my siblings. He always called himself “the ninth D’Imperio.” After college, Bruce began a long career in hospital administration. And this led him to Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown.

Mike Stein, vice-president of development at Bassett, recalled meeting Bruce.

“We started nearly the same time at the hospital,” Stein said. “Bruce was the first friend I made there. I was a guy from the city, and Bruce, well, he came from Sidney. We hit it off immediately and stayed friends for 30 years.”

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