LKH Wolfsberg – From the hospital “Erzherzogin Marie Valerie” to the regional hospital

In the last quarter of 19. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average life expectancy of the people of Lavanttal, as in the rest of Austria, was about 45 years. Today, 125 years later, we can already look forward to an average of about 80.4 years of life – women to a little more, men to a little less.

Although, and precisely because, since the last quarter of the 19th century the human body has been. Although life expectancy has hardly become more resilient since the beginning of the twentieth century, the remarkably continuous increase in life expectancy since then can be explained by a number of other factors: u. a. through better nutrition, hygiene, vaccines and medicines, improved surgical techniques and the possibilities of modern transplantation medicine, through better diagnostic possibilities and a strong decline in infant mortality.

From this point of view, the relatively high life expectancy of today is primarily a merit of medicine, which just at the end of the 19. Century and in the 20. I had made enormous progress in the twentieth century. Coupled with increasingly modern techniques, it does everything possible, day after day, to keep us in reasonably good health and to lead us on the smoothest possible paths of life until old age. In no other institution of the valley this endeavor finds clear expression for so long as in the national hospital Wolfsberg, which was created 1879 as hospital "archduchess Marie Valerie", 1881 in enterprise went and in the meantime on over 130 years of a changeful development looks back.

Years of effort

The foundation of the hospital in Wolfsberg falls in the last quarter of the 19. The period dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, a time marked by iron and steel, inventiveness and a belief in progress. In 1879, the year the foundation stone was laid, Charles Darwin, the founder of the modern theory of evolution, was still alive and in Ulm Albert Einstein saw the light of day. The American Thomas Alva Edison developed the light bulb with a screw base, and the German physician and microbiologist Robert Koch researched the pathogens of such dreaded diseases as pulmonary tuberculosis.

The rapid economic and industrial upsurge of that time also made itself felt in the Lavant Valley at that time. The mining industry, the iron industry that flourished until the economic crisis year of 1873, but also the white lead factory that opened in Wolfsberg in 1792, the shoe factories and the tanneries meant that medical care for the (working) population became an increasingly important concern. Finally, it was a matter of maintaining the labor force of people and attracting those who were in rather poor health in the first place to the labor market through restoration and recovery.

In Wolfsberg there was already for some time the "Spital in der Herrengasse", which was used by the Bleiweibfabrik as a small factory hospital. It was located in a street-facing annex at the so-called "Kraschowitz House" and was used for medical care and the care of sick company employees. The hospital consisted only of a sickroom with a few beds and was abandoned in 1881 – after the commissioning of the hospital "Archduchess Marie Valerie.

The ever-increasing need for medical care and the requirements of the "modern" world of work had representatives of business and politics from the sixties of the 19. This has prompted the late nineteenth century to advocate for the construction of a larger and better-equipped hospital in Wolfsberg. One of the driving forces was Paul von Herbert, who was not only a member of the Carinthian parliament, but also co-owner of the Bleiweibfabrik and a wealthy landowner. When he applied for the establishment of a public hospital for the municipalities of the district in the state parliament in 1871, the application did not achieve the necessary approval. Nevertheless, it was decided in the state parliament to grant an interest-free loan in the amount of 3.000 guilders to be made available, the construction of the hospital should be realized on their own initiative in the district.

In 1873, mining industrialist Count Hugo Henckel Freiherr von Donnersmarck also stepped in and donated 3.000 guilders for the construction of the hospital. This made it possible to convince other "investors" of the usefulness of financial participation in the project. It is probably due to the influence of patrons such as Henckel von Donnersmarck and Herbert that shortly thereafter in Klagenfurt the "Principles for the Construction and Management of Public Hospitals in Carinthia" were formulated and adopted on 22. August 1875 from the k.u.k.-Government decided. Here the tasks and duties of public hospitals were written down, and at the same time it was determined how their administration and economic management should be carried out.

The construction of the hospital

Construction of Wolfsberg hospital began on 24. April 1879 to become a reality. It was the day of the silver wedding of the imperial couple Franz Joseph I. and Elisabeth of Austria, which was celebrated everywhere in the monarchy and provided the appropriate setting in Wolfsberg for the laying of the foundation stone of the hospital.

Some time before, the monarch had been asked to name the hospital after a member of the imperial family. His Majesty had agreed to the fulfillment of this desire and had given permission to baptize the house in the name of his youngest daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie, who celebrated her eleventh birthday two days before the laying of the foundation stone.

After the laying of the foundation stone, the hospital building planned by architect Karl Piesel was built by the company of St. Andraer master builder Andreas Tschernitschek executed. Financing was provided by donations, by a non-interest bearing loan from the state of Carinthia and the Sparkasse Wolfsberg, and funds from direct taxes from most of the municipalities in the district. Only the municipalities of Ettendorf, Lavamund and Unterdrauburg (Dravograd), which is now part of Slovenia, continued to show little interest in building the hospital in Wolfsberg because, it was argued, the hospitals in Windischgraz (now the Slovenian town of Slovenj Gradec) and in Klagenfurt were closer to them.

The building site for the hospital had been selected with great care. In the southeast of the city, in the district of Gries, there were suitable plots of land that were still undeveloped. Hospitals back then were usually built on the outskirts of cities, and the location had to be such that the prevailing winds did not carry the domestic and industrial smoke to the hospital.

The subsoil should be as dry as possible and the water table as low as possible. Of particular importance was also whether fresh and clean water was available in large quantities at the chosen location. In addition, appropriate provisions have been made for connection to the water supply network and sanitation. The fact that the nature surrounding the hospital could be used for parks and gardens was also one of the basic requirements for the choice of location and planning.

For a far-reaching isolation of the sick from the outside world – a measure that was considered absolutely necessary for the recovery process – provided high walls and fences. "Visiting the sick is permitted to anyone in all unclosed departments during the hours from 12 noon to 3 p.m.," the house rules will later read.

1881 opens

The "Archduchess Marie Valerie" hospital, which was built between 1879 and 1881, could be opened on 13. November 1881 by the mayor of Wolfsberg, Wolfgang Pirker, to be handed over for its intended purpose. When it opened, the hospital had room for 50 patients, who were referred to then and for a long time to come as "foster patients". There were 181 patients in the opening year.

The management of the hospital was put in the hands of the experienced and respected district physician Medizinalrat Dr. Ludwig man laid. Mann was 43 and the first and for a long time also the only primarius of the house, which at that time consisted of only one department – the surgical one. He made his mark in the difficult early years by managing the hospital in a particularly prudent manner.

The care of the sick was provided by members of the spiritual order of the Sisters of Mercy of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Vincent de Paul sent to Wolfsberg from the Province of the Order in Graz, Austria. Sister Klara Grasmugg is documented as the first matron in the hospital, who dedicated herself to the establishment and organization of nursing care from November 1881 onwards. She led the religious sisters who came with her to Wolfsberg as well as the secular nursing and waiting staff.

The hospital becomes a state hospital

From 1920 onwards, the communities of Lavanttal no longer saw themselves in a position to take on additional financial burdens for "their" hospital. After difficult negotiations and some back and forth, the state of Carinthia finally had no choice but to take over the hospital, so urgently needed by the population, into its care.

This far-reaching decision was made under the Hospital Act of 15. July 1922, which provided for hospitals that were loss-making and therefore not economically viable on their own to either be closed or, if they were indispensable for the medical care of the region, to be placed under the management of the state, a district or a municipality. This is how the general hospital "Archduchess Marie Valerie" became the "Wolfsberg State Hospital" in 1922.

The following year, the hospital board received the new bylaws and a new set of house rules from the state committee. Both, however, were essentially based on the older statutes from the hospital's founding period, but in addition also ensured stricter control by the appropriate authorities of the country. Above all, the financial management of the house was now placed under the direct control and supervision of the provincial committee and its officials.

Bell system and X-ray machine

Although the financial resources continued to flow anything but lavishly into the health care of the district of Wolfsberg, it was finally possible to make provisions for the future again on the basis of the new circumstances. The hospital's management and the county's officials set out to purchase surrounding land in order to have sufficient space for the hospital's expansion in the future.

In addition to the ongoing but modest income from the treatment of the sick and grants from the country, they continued to rely on occasional donations from private donors. Popular support for the hospital was demonstrated particularly impressively in 1925. The hospital management had been pushing for some time to purchase a bell system for the house. To raise the necessary funds, it was decided to hold a collection in the district.

About this collection campaign, Unterkarntner Nachrichten reported that workers in the factories also volunteered to work overtime to contribute to the purchase of the bell system. Because the result of the collection finally exceeded even the most optimistic expectations and also some larger sponsors from the economy participated, the hospital could acquire beside the bell system also an X-ray apparatus, an anesthesia oxygen device and an artificial altitude sun. The small X-ray department thus created meant an enormous modernization boost for the district hospital.

In 1926, construction began on a new pavilion at the hospital site to house the surgical department. The building was occupied and officially opened just two years later, in October 1928. In 1930, the hospital had a total of 2.152 patients treated. The number of hospital beds had increased to 156 beds by 1929.

Further development of the building

The exceptionally difficult economic situation in the 1930s and the period during and immediately after the Second World War did not allow for further investment. Everywhere you looked in the hospital, there was an urgent need for repairs. Although the number of regular hospital beds had almost doubled by 1950 (300 beds), patients had to be turned away more and more often.

However, because this condition was basically unacceptable for a public hospital, people everywhere in the district demanded with ever-increasing vigor the further expansion of the hospital. In 1953, the state of Carinthia acquired additional land in the immediate vicinity so that the hospital could be expanded to the south in the future. In 1959, when construction actually began on a new surgical department in the south area, Gemmersdorfer Strasse and Griesbach had to be relocated. The new surgery unit, which opened in 1963, included general surgery, an obstetrics ward, a pediatric ward and anesthesiology, as well as a dedicated trauma unit.

The LKH Wolfsberg today

Today, LKH Wolfsberg is the third largest hospital in Carinthia and it is impossible to imagine regional health care without it. The hospital, which annually receives about 16.000 inpatients and about 41.000 patients are treated on an outpatient basis, has made a name for itself above all as a "house of encounter, humanity and security" in addition to its diverse range of medical, nursing and therapeutic services.