KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One act of compassion 126 years ago led to a regional institution going strong today. The Berry sisters founded Children’s Mercy Hospital in 1897. Today a team of doctors, historians and female leaders keep the sisters’ empathy and values alive amongst all employees.
“You’re indoctrinated in [the history of Berry sisters] when you come to Children’s Mercy,” explained Dr. Mary Ann Queen, the hospital’s vice president of regional diagnostic centers, who’s spent her entire 30-year career at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Alice Berry Graham was a dentist. Her younger sister Katharine Berry Richardson was a surgeon. In 1897, they took in a girl who was sick and nursed her back to health on a single rented hospital bed.
“I think from that act of compassion, it really developed something in them where they found this is their mission,” explained Michelle Wimes, the hospital’s chief equity and inclusion officer.
It’s Wimes’ job to teach new employees about the history of the Berry sisters. During orientation sessions, Wimes recounts how the sisters quickly grew the hospital, going from one location to another. The main location on Hospital Hill in Kansas City, Missouri, opened in 1970.
Throughout their tenure, the Berry sisters did the uncommon. Wimes said in a time of segregation, the sisters took care of all children no matter their race or whether they could pay for treatments. The sisters also partnered with Wheatley-Provident Hospital to train African-American nurses and doctors. The sisters placed a large emphasis on the role of nurses in healthcare.
“That was revolutionary as well,” Wimes said. “At a time where men were the physicians and men were calling the shots; they said, ‘No, we also want nurses, we want to train those nurses to be equal members of the team, and guess what, we’re going to train African-American doctors and nurses.’ ”
Today, Wimes is sure to highlight how the 8,500 CMH employees embody the compassion, inclusion and care the hospital’s founders embodied.
“You can see yourself in them which is important especially for women physicians,” Queen added.
The Children’s Mercy Research Institute, which opened in 2021, was a dream of Katharine Berry Richardson. The younger Berry sister always placed an emphasis on research hoping to find cures for polio and other diseases of her time.