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Syracuse Free Dispensary, Then and Now

The building at 610 East Fayette Street, Syracuse prior to 1964 and in 2014.

The Syracuse Free Dispensary building, prior to 1964 (left) and in 2014 (right).

In the days before Medicare and Medicaid, sick and injured Syracusans who had no money for doctors‘ bills could be seen at the Syracuse Free Dispensary, located at 610 East Fayette Street in Syracuse.

Howard Weinberger MD was a medical student and resident at Upstate from 1954 to 1961, and remembers working at the free dispensary.

Howard Weinberger MD in Upstate's Roosevelt Room.

Howard Weinberger MD in Upstate's Roosevelt Room.

“Patients were lined up in the hallway, waiting to be seen. Medical students would sit between them, asking one after another about their medical issues,” he explained. “There was no privacy, no confidentiality. It was like something out of Dickens.”

Then came 1964 and the building of Upstate University Hospital at 750 East Adams Street.

Dr. Weinberger had just returned to Upstate—this time as a faculty member in pediatrics. The dispensary had moved to the newly built Upstate University Hospital.

“It was like heaven,” smiled Weinberger, describing the outpatient clinic at the new hospital. “There were private rooms with doors. All the latest equipment was here. “

Bronze plaque by Dorothy Riester

Bronze plaque by Dorothy Riester

In honor of the 1964 transfer – and transformation – of the outpatient clinic, artist Dorothy Riester created a bronze plaque for the hospital. It hangs in the lobby.

The building that once housed the dispensary has had a transformation as well. For many years, it was home to Syracuse University's University College and, for a few years,  a charter school. In August 2011, the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center moved into the former dispensary building, increasing the size of the center tenfold, and enabling it to offer services for abused children under one roof.

The McMahon/Ryan Center has been completely renovated and the first floor is a combination living room/playroom. The professional staff housed in the former dispensary includes law enforcement, child protective, mental health specialists, and the doctors and nurses of Upstate‘s Child Abuse Referral and Evaluation Program.

McMahon/Ryan Center waiting room

McMahon/Ryan Center waiting room