Amherst couple donates $1 million for new emergency department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital

  • John and Elizabeth Armstrong of Amherst. SUBMITTED PHOTO/BEN BARNHART

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2021 5:33:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A $1 million gift from an Amherst couple is supporting a $15.5 million project to renovate, reconfigure and enlarge the undersized emergency department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

The gift from John and Elizabeth Armstrong, announced Wednesday by Dr. Lynnette M. Watkins, the new president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Health Care, will go toward the “Transforming Emergency Care: Campaign for the Cooley Dickinson Emergency Department” that aims to raise $9.3 million.

“Cooley Dickinson is grateful to John and Lise Armstrong for their generosity and for understanding that charitable giving is a critical resource to provide access and deliver the range of health care our community needs, demands and deserves,” Watkins said in a statement.

The capital campaign began following a pre-COVID-19 master facilities plan undertaken by the hospital’s board of trustees that identified the emergency department as the highest priority and to meet the emergency medical needs for everyone from infants to older adults.

John Armstrong, who worked for IBM for 30 years and served as a presidential-appointed member of the National Science Board, said the donation to the hospital fits with his and his wife’s philosophy of giving.

”Lise and I are blessed to have resources and one of our main criteria for giving is to help out right where we are,” Armstrong said.

Chief Development Officer Diane Dukette said the project, that will begin with a groundbreaking toward the end of 2022, will enlarge the emergency department that is 40% undersized, and will help meet the community’s demands by providing care to patients requiring critical medical attention.

The number of patients visiting the department has grown from 17,000 annually in the 1970s to nearly 34,000 in recent years.

The initial construction work will see the size of the space increase from 15,620 square feet to 22,220 square feet, by bumping out the building near the current ambulance bays, Dukette said. The project will feature more and better-designed spaces that increase privacy for patient care, faster access to computerized tomography (CT) scans, improved coordination of care to allow face-to-face communication between providers and nurses; and an increase in rooms from 23 to 32.

Other aspects of the project include:

Enhancing geriatric care, with renovations that will allow the hospital to achieve higher levels of accreditation than the current Level 3.

Expanding the behavioral health pod, with more specialized spaces to create a healing environment that respects privacy.

Creating a specialized pediatric observation unit for young patients when they need to stay in the department overnight.

A streamlined admission process that improves patients’ admission experience.

Armstrong said he has direct experience from three times he has been admitted to the hospital and understands there has been a growing number of patients. “Each time, I received excellent care and service despite the fact that the ED can be overcrowded,” he said.

Elizabeth Armstrong said the donation will benefit their friends and acquaintances in their retirement community.

“We live in a retirement community with 115 other elderly people, many of whom need emergency department services,” she said. “For their sake, as well as for our own possible future needs, we’re glad to have a role in making the emergency department as efficient and up-to-date as possible.”

Dukette said the hospital had not received such a significant gift from a person alive at the time of the donation since Yankee Candle founder Michael Kittredge and wife Lisa Kittredge gave $1 million in May 2006.

“This is only the second time we’ve received a donation of this magnitude from a living donor,” Dukette said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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