Rose Medical Center: Celebrating our past and looking to the future

To serve the need of every creed.

It was early 1945. The Allies were claiming victories in World War II and hopes were high on the front lines and on the home front that the sacrifices, rationing and waiting of war would soon end. In Denver, such hopes were central to the decision to move forward with the creation of a new hospital.

During the war, millions of soldiers had come through Colorado to receive training or complete an assignment at Lowry Field, Buckley Field, Fort Logan, Fitzsimons Army Hospital, Camp Carson or Camp Hale. Many fell in love with Colorado and started returning to its capital city to raise their families. As a result, Denver’s population expanded rapidly, and a hospital bed shortage soon became problematic.  A local pediatrician wrote, “It is my belief that [the bed shortage] was, to a large extent, responsible for the deaths of [these] two children.”

Rose Medical Center Founders 'The Nine Wise Men' in 1940s.

At the same time, Jewish physicians returning from military duty were finding it difficult to obtain hospital appointments and places to practice medicine. Dr. Sol Barrow wrote, “There is a definite and appreciable shortage of hospital beds in Denver. All the hospitals are overstaffed and the Jewish doctor, in particular, finds it difficult to receive a desirable staff appointment.”

It was under these circumstances that the vision of a community campaign to create aNew Jewish Hospital in Denver came together, a hospital that would be built on the foundational values “To Serve Every Need and Creed.” The Jewish Physicians’ Committee was formed with the (affectionately deemed) “Nine Wise Men”: Drs. Eugene Auer, Sol Bassow, Bernard Sherbok, Emanuel Friedman, Ray Gottesfeld, Maurice Katzman, Herman Laff, Eli Nelson and Abe Ravin, who met every Sunday from 1945 through 1949. They enlisted the leadership of Maurice Shwayder, a local businessman and one of the founders of the Samsonite Luggage Company. 

While they had a clear vision of an inclusive facility offering world-class medical care, the committee needed to secure significant funding. Their dream of a 150-bed hospital in East Denver, where many in the Jewish community was residing and where a housing trend was moving, had been upgraded to a six-story structure with 250 beds. This was estimated to cost nearly one million dollars—a price tag that, today, would be more than 17 million dollars.

It was around this time that news broke that General Maurice Rose, a Denver son and the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the U.S. Army during World War II, had been killed in combat. Rose was known for his aggressive style of leadership, directing his units from the front rather than a rear command post. When he and his staff, surrounded by German troops, were attempting to surrender, a panicked young German tank soldier fired one shot to Rose’s head, killing him instantly. His death caused an uproar: demands were made by congressmen for an investigation, and it was front-page news. Suddenly, the committee knew they could achieve two goals—create the new Jewish hospital and memorialize a fallen Jewish hometown hero.

Goldberg brings a million dollar idea to life

With the newly strengthened vision, the committee turned to local public relations expert, Max Goldberg. “When General Rose was killed in 1945, it was kind of like a light bulb moment: here's what we are going to name it,” Max Goldberg’s son Rabbi Hillel Goldberg explained. “It wasn't just an abstraction for the doctors who felt they didn't have a place to practice because of antisemitism—it was it was a much larger vision now.”

Eddie Cantor, a top entertainer in the late 1940s headlines a fundraiser. Among those present were Max Goldberg, Arnold Rose and Mrs. Katy Rose.

Max Goldberg was well-known in the Denver community, running political campaigns for the likes of Ralph Carr, Lee Knous, Steve McNichols, Edwin Johnson and Tom Currigan. He was publishing the Intermountain Jewish News and had a regular column in The Denver Post. He also was a key fundraiser for war bonds. Rabbi Goldberg recalled that his father raised more for the war bond effort from Denver than was raised in Chicago.

With a fresh focus to not only fill a community need but also memorialize a war hero, Max Goldberg got to work. “He convinced the Hollywood and New York stars of the day to come to Colorado, put on fundraising dinners and appear pro-bono. They included Phil Harris, Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor and many others,” Rabbi Goldberg recalled. At that time, Goldberg was well known in local politics and Denver society, but did not have many of such connections outside the state. Convincing celebrities to appear and national media outlets to cover the campaign was no easy task. “You have to understand: I'm not sure my dad had ever been to New York or California. He certainly had no connections there. He had to figure out how to get there, what to do there and who to contact … to get to these movie stars. He also was able to garner interest in the hospital by getting national publicity for it. In those days, that meant radio and there was something called the Walter Winchell Show. My dad was able to get the hospital’s effort covered on it.”  The fundraising events were a key part of launching the hospital. Eddie Cantor’s dinner raised $95,000 alone.

Rose Historical Fundraising Campaign Brochure 'A Million Dollar Idea' from 1940s.

In addition to events, the team put together informational brochures and advertisements, encouraging the community to take part in the creation of the hospital while never losing sight of the hospital’s mission of inclusivity. “The General Maurice Rose Memorial Hospital will not be a building of steel and concrete alone. You will be a living part of it… [The hospital] will be a sanctuary for all who suffer illness or injury… men, women and children… regardless of race, creed or ability to pay,” read one pamphlet.

A 1940s fundraising pamphlet that donation cost is less than a cigarette or cigar purchase.

“It is the enthusiastic support of the Denver community, Jewish and non-Jewish, that made possible the groundbreaking ceremonies on 5/15/46 and the completion of the structure in May 1948,” according to Dr. Sol Bassow in his book “The First Twenty-Five Years of the General Rose Memorial Hospital.”  

Rabbi Goldberg explained that this sense of pride and ownership in the hospital continues in the Denver Jewish community today, more than 70 years later. “There is a great sense of countless Jewish people in the community of ownership. It doesn’t matter that the hospital is owned by whomever; that doesn’t change anything.”

As the hospital was nearing completion, those at the helm had a grand idea to dedicate the hospital by inviting General (later, President) Dwight D. Eisenhower to lay the cornerstone for the building. As the publicist for the campaign, Max Goldberg, a young man in his mid-30s, had to find a way to meet with the general. “First of all, he had to get an appointment with Eisenhower. This is the person who won World War II—the Supreme Allied Commander—and he was an extremely popular person,” Rabbi Goldberg said. A connection was made through Colorado Senator Edwin Johnson and the meeting was set. “It was fairly intimidating. He made the presentation to Eisenhower that he would like to have him dedicate the hospital in memory of one of Eisenhower’s favorite generals: General Rose.”  

Eisenhower was reluctant. He had heart problems and the treatment prescribed was rest. “He was turning him down cold on health problems and other grounds. But on the spot, my dad says: ‘We understand about your health. If you are able to come out to Colorado, you choose the date, we will not call the press, we will not make a public announcement.’ The general thanked my dad, but the meeting ended without a resolution.”

General Einsenhower at Rose Medical Center dedication in 1948.

And yet, several months later, Goldberg received word that General Eisenhower would accept the invitation and participate in a dedication ceremony in August of 1948. “Here then, we have not only a building, not only a place where suffering will be relieved—we have the perpetuation of a spirit that will endure for longer than these walls and this glass and the equipment that shall go into this hospital, because in participating in this effort, each of us is saying, ‘I stand ready to go do my part in the solution of those problems that are given to a citizen of the greatest, most powerful country upon the earth,’” Eisenhower said in his address at the dedication.

Rose’s distinction of being America’s first post-war, privately sponsored hospital, and the first hospital in Denver to admit physicians based solely on their professional credentials regardless of their race or religion, marked just the beginning of many innovative milestones.

Our standards are simply higher

In addition to General Eisenhower, one of the attendees of the General Maurice Rose Hospital dedication was a young boy. Nephew of hospital founder and seven-year board president Jess Kortz, Don Kortz remembers the time fondly, “My oldest memory of Rose [Hospital] was when they laid the cornerstone. I remember my mother holding me in her arms when General Eisenhower was there for the ceremony.” This early memory is one in a long line of Kortz’s involvement with the hospital as it grew from an abstract idea into a concrete landmark and monument off 9th & Cherry in East Denver.

“I remember my uncle being very, very active. When it first opened, this was a hospital that had just gotten started. Founders had to continue to put money in to pay the staff and it took awhile to take off. It wasn’t an instant success,” Kortz recalled. But, even in the tough times, the vision of the hospital was never compromised. “From day one, they were going to be open to everybody. No segregation. No color. It was a caring, loving institution.”

This commitment played out in many ways, but perhaps one of the most notable was when the hospital changed its medical staff requirement to include the words: “or eligible to membership by virtue of his or her medical training.” These few short words allowed the hospital to admit Denver’s first credentialed black doctor, Edmond F. Noel, MD, on staff in 1949.

Rose Medical Center West Wing Dedication and Opening in the 1970s.

“The board had a vested interest in keeping it first class. It was meant to be a real jewel for the community and the people that ran it and the people involved kept that thought,” Kortz explained. “I think the most important part of the institution was that they created a culture. They kept that culture and it still exists.”

During the ensuing decades, Rose continued to receive ongoing community support through three major fundraising campaigns. The Expansion Program increased the hospital’s beds to 400; Project Forward underwrote the construction of a west wing, main building renovation, the Physician Office Building I and the first parking structure. The Critical Care Campaign brought the hospital $22 million in the 1980s. Through these, Rose opened the region’s first coronary care unit, the Rocky Mountain area’s primary center for the treatment of arthritis and rheumatic diseases, and one of the region’s most progressive programs in obstetrics, gynecology and newborn care—continuing to be known today as Rose Babies.

Sign after main entrance renovation, hospital CEO Jeff Dorsy with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck.

Throughout these changes and their subsequent challenges, Rose continued to receive high marks in regulatory testing, “Again, this is because of the culture. Everyone wants to make sure that the hospital is the best. It is the way the employees are raised, and it started at the very top. The hospital motto was ‘Our standards are simply higher’” Kortz noted. “The board, especially in the 70s and 80s, really got into it. They would be everywhere, even in the kitchen. They were a hands-on board that was not going to allow this hospital to fail or not be great.”

For Kortz, the hospital has many family ties. His own daughter, Zoey, was born at the hospital in the 1980s; his uncle and aunt’s names reside on the exterior of the main entrance tower, an honor given for their generous support; he has served in numerous leadership roles at the hospital; and a picture in the hospital’s museum portrays famous comedian Jerry Lewis gazing at a brand new Rose baby—Don Kortz’ own nephew. But Kortz believes it’s not just family to him through blood lines, it’s also family to everyone because of its culture. “Rose is one big family,” Kortz emphasized. “Success has a lot of parents and there were thousands of parents that should take credit for the success of this hospital.”

Among his many roles at Rose, Kortz served as chairman of the board. He recalled, “When I came back from the army, completed college and law school, then I began my involvement with the hospital for the same reasons that if you talk to any of the past trustees: we just wanted to be a part of the hospital, to be a part of the institution.”

As healthcare changes, Rose culture and quality remain

During his tenure on the board, a shift in the structure of American healthcare was taking place. Larger hospitals were moving into the Denver area and private hospitals were unable to compete with the finances of major healthcare corporations. In 1985, Kortz wrote: “It is the mission of Rose Medical Center to ‘provide the highest quality of care to the people of the Rocky Mountain Region.’ Unquestionably, there will be changes at Rose in response to the issues presented by the rapidly evolving health care industry. Some priorities may be altered: however, the commitment to quality patient care will not be one of them. We will meet the challenge of successfully competing in the modern medical world without compromising the personal approach to health care or the importance of the patient.”

Rose Medical Center front sign from era of tag line 'Our Standards are Simply Higher'

By the 1990s, it became clear that joining forces with a healthcare system would be imperative to allow the hospital to survive and continue serving patients in a way that maintained the vision set forth by its founders. A team was created to interview potential health systems with which to align Rose.

“[The sale] was not without debate within the community. In fact, Uncle Jess was very upset with me,” Kortz recalled. “The reason they created this hospital was not to make money but to serve patients. But the board was concerned that with all of the major hospitals moving into Denver, they couldn’t compete.”

Another member of the team chosen to help select the right corporation for Rose was Dr. Stephen Shogan. A neurosurgeon, Dr. Shogan was trained in Michigan. He relocated to Denver for an opportunity with the University of Colorado and became affiliated with Rose. In the 1990s, he was member of the Rose medical executive committee who had experienced firsthand the unique culture and history, “Overall, I knew Rose had a great medical staff and a great attitude toward providing really quality medical care. I gradually learned the history as I spent more and more time at Rose, especially as a member of the medical staff leadership. I began to learn what the tradition of the hospital was,” he said. “And we really had to look at all of that very seriously when we were thinking about selling the hospital – whether or not we would be able to maintain the ideals that the founders wanted to maintain.”

The team began to take meetings around the country with health systems and corporations interested in the hospital. “The main thing was that we really wanted to maintain the culture of Rose as well as the medical excellence,” Dr. Shogan explained. “The organization we chose had to be cognizant of the fact that Rose was started as a place for Jewish doctors to practice when they had no other places practice coming back from the war from WWII. We wanted to make sure that Rose kept it kept its Jewish heritage as well as its reputation for providing really high-quality medical care.” After a careful and intentional research and vetting, the team found the right fit with Columbia HCA, now Nashville-based HCA Healthcare.

Kortz recalled, “When the hospital was sold, the hospital board wanted to ensure the new entity, HCA, would still carry on some of the same functions the hospital did: that Rose would still have requirements for charitable giving, for education of physicians and to continue its affiliation with University of Colorado. Then, for five years, the foundation had the right to approve any CEO of the hospital.” These meticulous requirements ensured that the hospital would continue with a dedicated, loyal staff and high care standards while honoring its history and vision.

Rose Community Foundation

One of the provisions made to ensure the vision remained uncompromised was the creation of the Rose Community Foundation. Prior to the sale, Rose employed a fundraising foundation. With the hospital’s sale, the fundraising foundation was transitioned to a community foundation, which was formed with the assets from the sale, approximately $170 million. The mission of the Rose Community Foundation was unwaveringly to support and serve the entire community. Kortz became the foundation’s first President and CEO; he remembered: “We went to the community to find out where they wanted the funds to be used. From that, we created five program areas: Aging, Child & Family Development, Education, Health and Jewish Life, which are still used to structure the foundation’s fundraising today.”

Along with Kortz and Dr. Shogan, founding trustees of the Rose Community Foundation include Linda Alvarado, Joseph Aragon, David Boyles, Fred Davine, Steven Farber, Jeannie Fuller, Stephen Kurtz, Norman Levy, Sister Lydia Peña, Ph.D., David Pollock, Richard Robinson, Martin Shore, Robert Silverberg, Richard Tucker and Albert Yates, Ph.D.

While Kortz and Dr. Shogan (along with the rest of the founding trustees) have transitioned off the board and community members now fill the seats, they credit the success of Rose Medical Center as a unique, high quality institution, in part, to the hospital’s 1995 move to join HCA Healthcare. “I think it’s important for people to see how much good has been accomplished by the hospital functioning well and with the assets from the sale,” Dr. Shogan explained. “The money was poured into the community and the hospital continued to serve the community’s health needs well.”

As the sale was finalized, HCA Healthcare and the board began looking for a hospital president who could balance the needs of a hospital operating within a larger healthcare system while continuing to honor its history and culture.

CEO Ken Feiler collaborating with Jewish community leaders in the 1990s.

The executives turned their attention to a young HCA CEO, Kenneth H Feiler. Feiler was happily living out a longtime dream: he was living in South Florida, had married a wonderful woman, together they had two children and he was serving as a hospital CEO. “I’m originally from New York, I grew up in Brooklyn, but it was my dream to move to Florida. I never gave much thought to moving out of Florida,” Feiler explained. But in 1996, he received a life-changing call. An HCA executive told him about a special hospital in the heart of Denver, Colorado that just might be perfect for Feiler to lead. “He said: ‘Imagine working in a hospital that’s revered by the community; a hospital that has the finest physicians; a place that if you needed healthcare you could really breathe easy that you were going to a wonderful place,’” Feiler recalled. He felt honored to even be considered for this role but was unsure that leaving Florida was the right move. “Life in South Florida was a dream come true, but I started to think maybe my dream was different than I thought.” In 1997, the allure of working with such special people at a one-of-a-kind hospital won Feiler’s heart. He moved his family and served for the next two decades as the hospital’s President and CEO.

Of Rose’s transition to HCA, Feiler said, “Healthcare was changing in those days. I don't know that the hospital could have been a standalone hospital and survive. As painful as it might have been for the board of directors to say we need to make a bold move, they sold the hospital, they created the foundation and they created a sale document that detailed the expectations. Through that, they said: this place has a legacy for our grandparents, our parents, ourselves, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren. Then, they went looking for someone who understood that vision and made that commitment. For me, my part of the legacy was to say: I accept that responsibility.”

Honoring the past, reaching the community

And accept, he did. Feiler’s name soon became synonymous with the hospital as he worked to maintain Rose’s community ties and rich history. He became deeply connected to Denver’s Jewish community, the neighborhoods, the patients and the families.  “Over the years, I learned who Maurice Shwayder was and how he was at the hospital every day while it was built. And I heard about the time the board of directors took out their checkbooks to help make payroll,” Feiler said. “These stories are important and special. But something that was really special to me was the Holocaust Torah. Throughout my time at Rose, the rabbi would take the Torah out and he would share it with me…it just had this power for me.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Kaye with Holocaust Torah

“Rose, as far as we know, is the only healthcare institution in the western hemisphere to have very proud possession on permanent loan the Holocaust Torah, which managed to survive the Shoah. The Nazis, in their very deliberate desire to completely obliterate the Jewish people, went to such great lengths to murder but also then to try to destroy any vestiges of Jewish life, which included sacred Torah scrolls and other sacred texts.  The vast majority of millions of Torah scrolls and sacred texts were defiled and destroyed,” explained Rabbi Jeffrey Kaye, Rose Medical Center director of chaplaincy services. “Yet the Nazis, because they wanted to create a ‘museum’ to the lost race of the Jews, took a very small segment of Torah scrolls and other sacred texts and threw them into the basement of a warehouse in Prague. This treasure trove was then discovered at the end of the second World War. Later, the Torahs were distributed and disseminated throughout the world. The philosophy was these are meant to be living, breathing victories over Hitler and they should be shared throughout the world.” Rose received a Holocaust Torah in October 1989 and it was displayed as an exhibit and used for education.

“The Torah was something that could be viewed and used to educate, but it wasn’t kosher; it wasn’t a Torah anymore. That used to really bother me. It was a symbol of the pain that we had all gone through, the strife, the disrespect,” Feiler remembered. “I said to the rabbi many years ago that our legacy is that we are going to kosher this Torah and we are going to say for once and for all that the Jewish people not only survived but thrived. And this will be a symbol of connecting to the community, connecting to the people. Along the way, we unexpectedly lost our board chair, Alan Laff [grandson of Rose founders Dr. Herman and Rose Laff and Jess and Rose Kortz], and we knew this was our way to honor Alan and the people of the community.”

Feiler, who served as CEO from 1997-2018, and the Rose advisory board found a group of scribes who painstakingly learned the original calligraphy of the scribe from the town of Susice, Czechoslovakia, where this Torah originated. The scribes spent a year rewriting every letter and repairing the pages. When the restoration was complete in 2008, the hospital celebrated for a full week with hospital staff, employees, physicians, community members and children from the local Jewish Day School. With the late Holocaust survivor from Susice, Hana Gruna, in attendance, as well as Founder and Secretary of the Czech Torah Network/U.S. Director Memorial Scrolls Trust of Westminster Synagogue Susan Boyer and the lead scribe refurbishing the Torah Scroll, Rabbi Gedaliah Druin, the very final letters of the Holocaust Torah were completed.

Now that it has been restored, Rabbi Kaye explained, “The Torah scroll is an absolute joy and pride and joy of Rose Medical Center. It is used often internally with patients and patient family members as well as by our staff for special observances such as bar and bat mitzvahs. We have a number of other people in the community utilize this Torah scroll for their special lifecycle of mitzvahs and it is our honor to facilitate that. This is truly the intended purpose of this living breathing sacred scroll of history and tradition and remembrance.”

The power of Rose

“From its very inception, the General Rose Memorial Hospital has borne upon its brow the stamp of dedication. The Jewish community of Denver sponsored this entire effort and dedicated the hospital to the ideal ‘serving the need of every creed,’” reads the hospital's 1958 annual report.

The same vision has continued today in the year of the hospital’s 70th anniversary. Throughout the years, the hospital has not been afraid to do as its namesake did: lead from the front. It is uncompromising in doing the right thing for its patients and community, even if that is radical or unprecedented. The result is a power that only can be found in doing right.

“Rose is all about our beloved patients and the community that surrounds them,” Rabbi Kaye explained. “And that has been Rose's story for 70 years: treating with dignity and honor and compassion our beloved patients and making sure that their experience is one filled with safety and quality, compassion and clinical excellence.”

Feiler agrees the hospital’s power is found in its people—the staff, the patients and the deeply invested community. “Throughout my tenure at the hospital, I would see people come and they look for the name of their family member on plaques and other commemorations of their families’ support for the creation and expansion of the hospital.” Feiler said. “And I think that's the power of Rose. It is this connection to these families in our community and the connection to these commitments that we hope will continue to live on.”