Vol. XXVIII No. 4 — April 1950

The Hospital Service Problem

This Short Talk Bulletin is a condensation of the second part of the report, rendered to The Masonic Service Association at its annual meeting February 23, 1950, by the Executive Commission.

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.

So said St. Luke, and truly the Masonic Hospital Visitor learns its truth. While he is able to give only because Masons have given, that he may spend for the comfort of the hospitalized veteran, to the man in the bed the Hospital Visitor is his Masonic benefactor. Hospital Visitors feel much has been given to patients “in good measure!” Many have had offers of other work at much higher pay, with regular and short hours, five days a week, but not one has left those they serve in the hospitals for such an offer. While the visitor gives much, to him is given in a measure “pressed down and running over.”

That measure is your measure; you who have given; you who may give. You do not see the man in the bed; the man with a stump, or half a face, or a non-healing wound, or lungs so far gone he can hardly breathe. You do not see the lad with the clouded mind, trying, in some dim way, to pull himself out of his distorted fancies and get beyond the locked door into the land, the town, the home, where his loved ones wait.

But you know multiplied thousands of him are there and that Masonry does her gentle bit to ease his pain; makes him know he is not forgotten of his brethren; teaches him that “to help, aid and assist” is not an empty phrase.

What Masonry is doing in government hospitals no other group attempts. Many volunteer workers stage parties, auto rides, musicales, shows — valuable and unselfish work, but not Masonry’s work.

Masonry’s work is the right hand of fellowship to those who need not only a strong right hand, but a friend who will go on foot and out of his way to do for the wounded and the ill what his own flesh and blood would do if it could.

Because Masonic Hospital Visitors are hospital trained, and know how to cooperate, doctors and hospital authorities encourage them to work all day, every day.

Statistics are usually dry-as-dust; these are figures of fellowship. During 1949 our sons and brethren in government hospitals were served in one way or another in 1,532,229 contacts. Of these, 49,516 were new patient contacts and services, and 186,969 were with Masons from every state in the Union and eight locations outside of the United States.

The Masonic Service Association’s membership in the important Veterans Administration Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee is a proud attainment. In addition to giving the Association a voice in planning welfare activities at a national level, it enables the M.S.A. to certify locally chosen representatives for active participation on hospital committees.

At a recent meeting of the national committee, The Masonic Service Association representative was chosen to participate in a panel discussion on “Isolated VA Hospitals: Opportunities for Volunteer Assistance.” His remarks will be printed in a VA Bulletin for hospital distribution.

M.S.A. gifts, including books, razors, tooth brushes, combs, pencils, chewing gum, candy, matches, stationery, knives, mirrors, sewing kits, scrapbooks, etc., have been of comfort to patients in an amount hundreds of times their small cost. The electric razor campaign brought thousands as gifts for distribution to the blind, the one-armed, the palsied, those who cannot be trusted with sharp tools, etc. Electric razors which cannot be repaired are of use to the Rehabilitation Service of the Government. Electric razors help train the polio-stricken to use their hands again.

Morale in the field force of Hospital Visitors is an essential; standards must be set and followed. Inspectors learn at first hand from hospital authorities if M.S.A. men are valuable to them as well as to patients. In establishing a new hospital station, a survey must be made to find the need, to decide if it can be economically satisfied, and to lay the foundation for cooperation between doctors, hospital managers, Special Service officers and our Hospital Visitors.

In the field force, many are called and few are chosen. A successful Hospital Visitor must possess a special combination of patience, willingness to work and a ready human sympathy, the greater because it may not too often be shown to patients. All M.S.A. Hospital Visitors have proved to the satisfaction of authorities in hospitals in which they serve, their fitness for this often soul-shaking work.

In 116 Hospitals, M.S.A. service has won unstinted praise from the Veterans Administration, from hospital authorities and from patients, both Mason and non-Mason. Thousands of letters of commendation have been received; many have been published in the Supplement to The Short Talk Bulletin.

A few brethren believe that when their grand lodges pay their small dues to the Association, such payments finance this hospital program. But these, the regular funds of the Association (which include only dues and amounts received for documents), are spent wholly for the educational, statistical, publication and services work of the Association. The welfare fund has come from gifts, donations, appropriations and/or assessments made by grand lodges for this purpose.

For four years, Hospital work has been only partially financed by voluntary contributions from grand lodges, other Masonic bodies and individuals. The greater part of the expense has been paid from war funds previously contributed from the same sources for the benefit of servicemen and women.

As the war has receded in time, yearly contributions to Hospital work have become less. As the Hospital work has expanded, more and more of the funds on hand have been disbursed.

Occasionally some brother inquires, “Why does not each grand lodge conduct its own Hospital Visitation Service?”

This is not possible except for a very few grand lodges. Hospital Visitors’ weekly reports of work done, expenditures made, must be supervised. Visitors must be trained to be acceptable. They must serve according to a certain standard. They give many comforts to patients which, bought at wholesale by M.S.A. Headquarters, are economical; they could be bought at retail only at a prohibitive expense. Headquarters carries insurance on men, cars, supplies, and group insurance for personnel. Such insurance paid for individually would be prohibitive in expense. An esprit de corps exists among Hospital Visitors which, while an intangible, is an essential. This would go out of existence if each state ran its own Hospital Visitation service.

The Veterans Administration has enthusiastically cooperated with the Association because it could deal with one Headquarters, and could depend upon it for obedience to all its requirements. It has issued directives to hospital authorities to cooperate with this Association. Without a central association on which to depend to carry out its necessary orders and desires, the VA would necessarily put Masonic Hospital Visitation on a par with unpaid voluntary services which are permitted to visit only for two hours a day, which would make any all-day, every-day Masonic service impossible.

Grand lodges and constituent lodges doing any kind of hospital work, regardless of their participation in M.S.A. labors, have profited from the Association’s membership in the Veterans Administration Voluntary Services National Advisory Committee. The M.S.A. representative on this committee has had an important and often-heeded voice in formulating welfare policies which govern all VA hospitals, whether served by the M.S.A. or not. Such membership on the Veterans Association Committee, representing all participating Masons in a national organization, would not exist for any one grand lodge which alone assumed the work in its own jurisdiction.

The Masonic Service Association, acting for a majority of the grand lodges in the United States, has established and conducted a means for “help, aid and assistance” of the ill and wounded, which no grand lodge alone could manage.

But no grand lodge should be asked or expected to conduct Hospital Visitation work alone, even if it were possible successfully to do so.

Any grand lodge, of course, is proud that the Veterans Administration, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, chooses a location within the borders of its state to erect a hospital to care for the wounded, the ill, the hopeless, the mentaly impaired, and the crippled defenders of our country. But no grand lodge can believe that this hospital is only for men and brethren from within the borders of its own state. The population of any government hospital comes from many states; therefore “many states” should contribute to the service that benefits the men and Masons from all states.

From the beginning of work for the Armed Forces (1941) The Masonic Service Association has proceeded on the foundation that the problem was a national, not a local problem. Money contributed by any was applied to the benefit of all. Masonic Center service work and Masonic Hospital Visitation work has been a cooperative enterprise in which a common team worked toward a common goal.

Thus, the continuation, or restriction, or abandonment of the Hospital Visitation program is a common problem to be solved in common by those who benefit in common and who have contributed in common.

No human being in this country wants another war. But he is but an ostrich with his head in the sand, refusing to see the unrest in the world, who does not know that another war is possible.

If another war should come, Masonry unquestionably would again take care of her soldiers and sailors. There would again be Masonic Service Centers; there would again be the joy of parents in knowing that their sons had a clean and decent place for recreation, and competent, wise and brotherly advice in young men’s problems.

The present M.S.A. staff, headquarters, experience, assets, cars, property, trained men, etc., are ready. If the Hospital Service is closed, the present Hospital Visitation machinery will be scrapped. It would cost at least $150,000 to set up Masonic Service Centers and train and put in the field a duplicate of the present field force.

When the first Masonic Service Center was established in 1941, the Association started from the beginning; set up standards, procured and trained men, learned how to work with Army and Navy. In the event, which God forbid, of World War III, the Association now has the tool forged in the fires of World War II, ready to go to work immediately, to put into action American Freemasonry’s right hand of fellowship for the defenders of our country.

That is the tool which will rust if the present Hospital Visitation Service is closed. Experience in Headquarters will remain, but the brethren in the field, once scattered and in other positions, could not be reassembled. New men would have to be secured and trained. The present field property, once sold, would have to be rebought. Most important, the present relations with government, Army, Navy and Veterans Administration would have to be rebuilt; Masonry could not expect these to accept a past record as evidence that Masonry can do what we know she can do. The M.S.A. has proved it now; we have now the confidence of all these agents of the United States. If Masons faint and falter behind the plough they forged to till the field of human unhappiness in hospitals and there make grow some joy of living, those in governmental authority must be resold, reeducated, recultivated, and reconvinced in a future the more terrible that at present is hidden behind an Iron Curtain.

It is necessary to plan Hospital Visitation work a year in advance. It will not be possible to run to the end of all reserves, and then, overnight, be supplied with fresh funds. There is too much property involved, too many men employed, too much in the way of correspondence and detail necessary to permit this system to run suddenly against a blank wall.

If this service is to be discontinued, Masonry will seem to the world to say that in undertaking “help, aid and assistance” to the country’s defenders in hospitals it designed a task too large for it. Masons have endeared the Ancient Craft to untold thousands by this service; what will its discontinuance, for want of a few cents per brother per year, mean to the hospitalized veteran? What will be his reaction and the reaction of his family and friends to the Fraternity?

Almost any hospitalized veteran might quote Swinburne’s bitter lines to the world: “Forget that I remember — and dream that I forget.”

Thomas Southerne said of a nation’s treatment of soldiers:

. . . and when we are worn,
Hacked, hewn with constant service, thrown aside
To rust in peace and rot in hospitals!

Freemasons did not forget their wounded brethren and their ill buddies. For four years Masonry has ministered to them. Is now the time when Freemasons must teach those who “rot in hospitals” to sing “My brothers forget that I remember. . . they just dream that I forget?”

The problem is of the present. Its solution is in grand lodges’ hands.

The Masonic Service Association of North America