POST TIME: 50 years ago, tragedy spurred creation of Boca hospital

The fatal poisoning of Debbie and Randall Drummond led to the establishment of Boca Raton Community Hospital in 1967. A painting of the four Drummond children — Debbie (from left), Bobby, Randall, and Robin — hangs in the hospital’s lobby. Palm Beach Post file photo

Readers: Half a century ago, Boca Raton didn’t have a hospital. When it finally got one, the moment honored two children who might have been saved. Here’s more from an Oct. 18, 2012 column.

In September 1962, 351 Boca Raton-area residents formed the Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League. Their goal: to raise money to build a hospital. Debbie and Rand were Debra Ann Drummond, 9, and her brother James Randall Drummond, 3.

The youngsters were victims of one of Palm Beach County’s most disturbing crimes: Their 11-year-old neighbor confessed to disguising poison as milk and sneaking it into their refrigerator.

It was 1962 and Boca Raton had only about 10,000 residents. The nearest hospital was Bethesda Memorial, 15 miles away in Boynton Beach.

The children’s parents — their father was developer Robert Drummond — said having a hospital closer probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but the deaths spotlighted the need for one in Boca Raton.

Critics said a hospital there was unnecessary and would never happen. But the town rallied — a history of the hospital says one of every three city residents donated — and within five years, on July 17, 1967, Boca Raton Community Hospital opened its doors. Fiercely possessive residents call it “the miracle on Meadows Road.”

In the ensuing half century, the league’s efforts have helped contribute more than $30 million to the hospital and nearly eight million hours of combined service. Its ranks have swelled to nearly 1,200, making it one of the nation’s largest hospital-based volunteer organizations.

Robert Drummond died at 58 in 1989, in the hospital his family’s tragedy inspired. Gloria Drummond remained active with the hospital until her death in December 2011.

In 1996, many of the same people who’d supported the hospital over the years rose in protest when managers considered selling it for $187 million to a consortium of not-for-profit hospitals. Residents said that might be a good thing, but feared the hospital would lose its role as a community treasure. In the end, the deal was called off.

In August 2010, the facility changed its name to Boca Raton Regional Hospital.And in October 2010, local businesswoman and philanthropist Christine E. Lynn presented Gloria Drummond with a $10 million donation.

The hospital held an internal celebration of its birthday on Monday.

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