Thursday, December 03, 2015

Adventures in Archives: Dr. Chauncey E. Marston House

Hello Dear Reader,
Recently I was invited to visit Portland State University's University Honors building after hearing from one of my archives colleagues that it was the home and perhaps business location of Dr. Chauncey E. Marston, a graduate of the University of Oregon Medical School.  I was told there were some documents from Marston's practice lurking in the attic and that I should visit and review.
The box in its original glory

I visited for the first time in October and went through the nearly disintegrated box of documents.  It contained a variety of well-labeled folders that had succumbed to moister, mold, and time.  The vast majority of the records were Marston's patient files, which carry a substantial HIPAA burden for archives to take on.  There were some individual pages of UOMS Library reading lists and recommended reads for various types of surgery.  From what I could gather from the records which included some photographs, Marston did a lot of mastectomies.

A close-up of the files, still in original order!
After reviewing the materials and meeting a small, but terrifyingly fast silverfish, I worked with the administrators at the building to bring the box down to the basement, where I could revisit with more safety supplies and fully review the documents.
Sample patient record without PHI.
I returned in November and brought surgical gloves and a particulate mask.  I was set up on a bench in the basement and went through the box again, this time much more thoroughly, noting the document conditions, and potential issues and research value of the remaining materials.  I was provided with a spray bottle containing a cleaning solution and was advised to spray the little black spiders if they appeared (I never saw them).
Archival folders, an envelope, surgical gloves and face mask--tools of the trade, sometimes.
From the one box of materials I was able to glean about a folder's worth of archival material that did not contain PHI, had not been damaged by water, had no indication of mold or mildew, and was not a home for the silverfish (the carcasses of which I uncovered as I dug deeper into the files).
My work area with "The Box" during my second visit in November
In the end that meant leaving the photographs and patient medical histories, even though some were from Vanport.  We would not be able to provide access to those documents without patient consent, which makes the research value drop for such a limited amount of material in such poor condition.  The poor condition was almost more of a barrier to acquiring as they would have disproportionately needed extreme care and handling and could have brought in pests, molds or other contaminants that can potentially contaminate other collections.
Example Vanport record
The silverfish was lurking in the financial documents.
As I finish up 2015, I hope to have some more fun or interesting posts in the next few weeks.  I feel like I say that, and then get really busy.  But here's to hoping!

All the best,
Max

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