Mary Healy (1865 – 1952) hospital administrator
Nurses who trained at St Vincent’s, Sydney, (pictured) where Mother Gertrude Healy was Rectress spoke of her with awe and respectful affection. Mary Healy (Mother Gertrude) is commemorated in the Gertrude Healy Wing of St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. Sir Herbert Schlink, chairman of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, described Mary Healy as one of the greatest hospital administrators in Australia.
Mary Healy, best known as Mother Gertrude, Sister of Charity and hospital administrator, was born on 24 July 1865 in Dublin, daughter of Francis Healy, ironmonger, and his wife Anne, née Carton. Mary accompanied her family to Victoria where she attended Loreto Abbey, Marys Mount, Ballarat, under Mother Gonzaga Barry and gained some teacher training. She entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of Charity, Sydney, on 5 June 1889 and was professed on 2 October 1891 as Sister Gertrude. That year she began training at St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst; she registered with the Australasian Trained Nurses’ Association on 24 July 1903.
In 1910 Sister Gertrude was appointed mother rectress of St Vincent’s. Keen to see the institution become a clinical school for the University of Sydney, she set out to expand the hospital and increase the number of specialties. In 1913 work began on new accommodation for nurses. The out-patients’ division was extended, with improved X-ray facilities, and an enlarged electro-therapeutical and massage department provided rehabilitation for returned servicemen. Construction of a third storey was completed in 1918. By 1917 nursing staff under Mother Gertrude’s direction had risen to thirty Sisters of Charity and eighty trainees. During the 1919 influenza epidemic St Vincent’s admitted over 27,000 urgent cases and treated another 70,000 as out-patients. Her term of office ended in 1920.
Following three years managing the Order’s adjoining private hospital at Darlinghurst, Mother Gertrude was appointed rectress (1924-33) of St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. She expanded fund-raising activities and, in 1927, helped to establish an auxiliary movement. In 1932 she engaged Norma Parker, St Vincent’s first qualified hospital almoner. That year Mother Gertrude toured Europe to study advances in the design and administration of modern hospitals. The results of her investigations were incorporated by (Sir) Arthur Stephenson in a new wing which contained the administrative offices, the X-ray and therapeutic equipment, four operating theatres and six wards. Opened in 1934, it was to be named the Gertrude Healy Wing.
From the early 1940s Mother Gertrude had acted as councillor to the superior general in hospital matters. Her calm, dignified countenance, kindly eyes and gentle Dublin accent made her very approachable. Throughout her nursing life her efforts to achieve excellence in medical care were aimed at benefiting the ‘sick poor’. She died on 28 April 1952 at St Vincent’s and was buried in Rookwood cemetery.
Sir Herbert Schlink, chairman of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, described her as one of the greatest hospital administrators in Australia.
A great co-worker is commemorated in the Gertrude Healy Wing of St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. Nurses who trained at St Vincent’s, Sydney, where Mother Gertrude Healy was Rectress too, also spoke of her with awe and respectful affection.
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