Exhibit explores Ellis Island's medical history

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The crowded hospital is overflowing with hundreds of patients every day, as a small, harried staff copes with pregnancies, critically ill patients, mentally ill people and children in varying states of distress. They come from all corners of the world, and the trick is to treat them quickly -- to make way for the next arrivals.

"It is by no means unusual to receive 100 cases or more at this hospital in one day," writes one journalist, astonished by the scene. "The task of admitting, examining, treating and housing the number of new patients five or six hours would tax the capacity of the largest hospitals in the country. And here the problem is complicated by the fact that practically none of the patients speak English."

It sounds like the frantic emergency room of a modern-day hospital, but the year was 1915 and the place was Ellis Island, where a general hospital had been set up to screen the millions of immigrants pouring into America's gateway in New York Harbor.

That history has come back to life in "Future in the Balance: Immigrants, Public Health and Ellis Island's Hospitals," an exhibit in the just-opened Ferry Building, the latest phase in a planned restoration of all the buildings on the island.

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