Difficulty getting volunteers and the pandemic shut Laconia Hospital auxiliary after 129 years

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 01-30-2023 5:13 PM

Difficulty getting volunteers and the pandemic shutdown have delivered a one-two punch to Laconia Hospital’s auxiliary, closing a group that was founded in 1893.

“It was a hard, hard decision to make,” said Paulette Adams, president of the auxiliary, concerning the recent board decision to wind up the non-profit organization.

The group operated the hospital’s gift shop and had run an annual craft fair for 18 years. Between them, those two enabled the auxiliary to donate many tens of thousands of dollars to the hospital every year.

“There are some years that the quarterly donation from the gift shop was $20,000. It really did a good, good business,” Adams said. “All the money we ever earned has gone to the hospital.”

The group dates back to 1893 when Laconia Hospital Association was formed to create the city’s first hospitals. The Ladies Hospital Auxiliary, composed mostly of doctor’s wives, was formed at the same time. Together, they opened the original hospital in Laconia in 1908.

In 1967, the hospital became Lakes Region General Hospital and the Ladies Hospital Auxiliary incorporated to become the LRGH Auxiliary, welcoming men to their ranks.

At its peak, the auxiliary had more than 100 members. Over its lifetime, it raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of items such as hospital beds, Staxi wheelchairs, blanket warmers, body scanners and a Crisis Clothing Closet within the emergency room, as well as annual scholarships for students pursuing careers in the medical field. The auxiliary also made sizable donations and sponsored events such as the Tanger Breast Cancer Walk and the Red Dress Gala.

In 2021, Laconia Region General Hospital as part of LRGHealthcare was acquired by Concord Hospital, and the auxiliary became the Concord Hospital-Laconia Auxiliary, but by then the pandemic was forcing members to face the future.

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“We were having problems getting volunteers for the gift shop before COVID hit. The board members and I were there almost 24/7 to keep it open, and some days we couldn’t keep it open at all,” said Adams, noting that volunteers and board members were all of retirement age.

The pandemic forced the gift shop to shut in 2020 and also canceled the annual fall craft fair, which had started small but had grown so large that it moved to the Laconia High School gym. After two years of shutdown, it proved impossible to get going again.

“We sat down, put our heads together, said there’s no way to make the money we had made. And the only members were lifetime members in their 80s and 90s, and board is in their 60s and 70s,” Adams said. “It just couldn’t continue.

“We thought of doing raffles, but that’s not going to bring in the money we’re used to. We wanted to leave on a good note.”

Still, she said, it was difficult to end an organization group that lasted through 31 presidential administrations.

As part of winding up, the auxiliary donated $30,000 toward the replacement of an echocardiogram machine, $10,000 for continuing education for mammography technicians and $1,000 to the Employee Helping Hand Fund to assist employees of the hospital. Some former members will continue to serve at Concord Hospital-Laconia within the Volunteer Program.

The gift shop will be reopened under the hospital’s management.

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