Dr. Michael Shadid established the first cooperatively owned and operated hospital in the United States on this date in 1931. Shadid had been born in a mountain village in Lebanon, and knew firsthand how hard it was for the poor to get good health care. He was one of 12 kids, and only three of them survived infancy. The only medical care that the village received was the occasional visit from a Beirut doctor. Shadid was inspired to get medical training himself. He went to New York when he was 16, working as a peddler to save money for his education. Ten years later, after earning his medical degree at Washington University in Saint Louis, Shadid settled in Elk City, Oklahoma.
As medical technology advanced, the cost of medical care rose, and few people felt the hardship more than Oklahoma farmers. “There must exist some unknown germ, some filterable virus unknown to man, that bites certain persons in this world and turns them into reformers,” Shadid later wrote. “I’m willing to admit that I must have been bitten early and hard.” Using as his model the established Oklahoma tradition of farm cooperatives, Shadid envisioned a cooperative hospital that would be supported by the farmers’ annual membership fees. Doctors would be paid a salary out of those fees, and in return they would provide basic preventive care that poor farmers were not usually able to afford. But other local doctors were worried about losing their business. They wrote in to the newspapers accusing Shadid of fraud, and calling him a foreigner who was trying to tell Americans how to manage their health care system, even though by now he’d been in the country for 30 years. He almost lost his medical license for the unethical solicitation of patients. Doctors were reluctant to work for the Community Hospital if it meant defying the medical establishment. But the farmers who relied on the hospital rallied behind Shadid. “We think more of the few dollars invested in the Community Hospital than any investment we have ever made,” said one farmer. “I think this bunch fighting [Shadid] should be sat down so hard it would jar their ancestors for four generations.”