20 hospitals with humble beginnings

One of America's healthcare giants was founded by a widow who had $5 to her name. Another prominent hospital opened in the middle of the Civil War. And others trace their roots back to outdoor tents, private homes, a summer camp and a horse stable.

The following 20 hospitals appeared on Becker's Hospital Review's 2014 edition of 100 Great Hospitals in America. While each of those organizations has an interesting story to tell, these 20 grew from especially modest beginnings. Their stories serve as a good reminder of the people and places who shaped American healthcare — well before it was a multibillion-dollar industry.   

Abbott Northwestern Hospital, part of Allina Health (Minneapolis) traces back to the 44 women who opened the charitable Northwestern Hospital in a small rented house in 1882 at the corner of Chicago Avenue and 27th Street in Minneapolis. The hospital's namesake, Amos Abbott, MD, was consulting physician to Northwestern's first medical staff up through 1902. Over time and through mergers, the hospital has grown into a nationally recognized 649-bed teaching hospital, the largest hospital in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital (St. Louis). Robert Barnes came to St. Louis in 1830 without a dollar to his name. After working his way up as a bank president, he died in 1892 and bequeathed $850,000 to the city to build a "modern general hospital for sick and injured persons, without distinction of creed," which later became Barnes Hospital. Soon thereafter, the Jewish community in St. Louis similarly established Jewish Hospital to help care for the wave of new immigrants coming into the city. Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the largest hospital in Missouri, was born from the merger of Barnes Hospital and Jewish Hospital in 1996.

Baylor University Medical Center (Dallas) was founded in 1903, when it opened as Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium in a 14-room renovated house with 25 beds. The hospital was established with the help of a $50,000 gift from Colonel C.C. Slaughter, a wealthy cattleman and devout Baptist who gave an estimated $200,000 to the hospital throughout his lifetime. The hospital was renamed Baylor Hospital in 1921, then Baylor University Hospital in 1936. Today, nonprofit teaching hospital has 1,079 licensed beds, 1,146 physicians and is home to more than 20 specialty centers. It is also a national leader for organ transplants.

Children's Hospital Colorado (Aurora) dates back to 1897 and "summer tent hospitals," where a staff of six treated children under the age of five in the fresh air and sunshine. This was back when Denver's high country air was considered a cure various diseases. In 1908, the medical staff founded the bricks and mortar Children's Hospital of Colorado. Now, the hospital is located in Aurora, adjacent to the University of Colorado Hospital and School of Medicine. The hospital has become part of a nonprofit healthcare network with nearly 2,000 pediatric specialists and more than 400 outreach clinics.  

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia got its start in 1855, when Francis West Lewis, MD, T. Hewson Bache, MD, and R.A.F. Penrose, MD, decided to open the nation's first hospital focused exclusively on treating children. At the time, most childhood illnesses were treated at home, since pediatric patients at adult hospitals often died due to cross-infection or neglect. It opened with 12 beds and served 67 inpatients. Now, 535-bed CHOP has more than 50 network locations and treats more than 1 million children annually.

The Christ Hospital (Cincinnati) can trace its roots back to 1889. That's when Isabella Thoburn, a teacher, nurse, and missionary, came to Cincinnati and opened Christ's Hospital, a 10-bed facility. Now part of The Christ Hospital Health Network, the hospital works to fulfill its mission: "To provide the finest patient experience and improve the health of our community." Today, the 555-bed hospital has garnered several prestigious national awards, cementing it as one of the nation's great hospitals.

Christiana Care Health System (Newark, Del.) dates back to 1890, when Delaware Hospital opened in Wilmington, Del. In its first year, 161 patients were treated at the hospital, which was much-needed given the distance people previously had to travel after railroad accidents, which were common at the time. In 1906, Delaware Hospital's first X-ray department opened (costing $1 dollar each) and by 1939, 5,000 people were treated annually at the hospital. The hospital was renamed Wilmington Hospital in 1981 and construction of Christiana Hospital began that same year. The Christiana Care Health System was formally created in 1990.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center dates back to 1883, when it opened in a three-bedroom house as the Hospital of the Protestant Episcopal Church, thanks to the insistence of three Cincinnati women. Mrs. Robert Dayton, Isabelle Hopkins and Mary Emery earned support from their bishop to open a hospital for children as a project of the Episcopal diocese. The hospital opened in a rented three-bedroom house in Walnut Hills before moving into a new facility in Mount Auburn, built by Thomas and J. Josiah Emery, in 1887. Today, Cincinnati Children's is a leader in medical innovation and one of the top children's hospitals in the country.

Emory University Hospital (Atlanta) is affiliated with the city's first medical school, which was founded in the decade following the Civil War. The hospital's predecessor, Wesley Memorial Hospital, was established in March 1904 in an Atlanta mansion that was spared from destruction by General William Sherman's Union army. In 1922, the hospital needed bigger space than the mansion, moving to its current site on the campus of Emory University. That new 275- bed hospital was a gift from Asa Candler, founder of The Coca-Cola Company. The hospital was renamed Emory University Hospital in the mid-1930s.

Geisinger Medical Center (Danville, Pa.) is named after Abigail Geisinger, the daughter of a wagon-maker who built the hospital in the early 1900s at age 85. She told Harold Foss, MD, the hospital's first surgeon and director, to "Make my hospital right; make it the best." Dr. Foss helped grow the hospital from its original 70 beds to more than 300 beds, more than 500 employees and admitted more than 11,000 patients a year. Dr. Foss is now considered a prototype of the 20th century healthcare executive, as he balanced the roles of surgeon and chief of staff. Today, Geisinger Health System is now one of the nation's largest rural health services organizations.

Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center was founded in 1888 with just 12 beds, making it the first hospital in New Jersey's Bergen County. The hospital was founded in direct response to the Great Blizzard of 1888, which closed roads and buried rail lines. A young man died when he was unable to reach the nearest hospital in Paterson, N.J., which prompted calls for another hospital. The 10-room hospital was founded by five men. Now, the facility is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in the state and has deep ties to its local sports teams as the hometown hospital for the New York Giants football.

Hospital for Special Surgery (New York City) was established in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, as a hospital to treat impoverished children with disabilities related to musculoskeletal diseases, making it the oldest orthopedic hospital in the nation. The 28-bed hospital was first called the Hospital for the Relief of the Ruptured and Crippled and was in the private residents of James Knight, MD, a general practitioner from Maryland. A group of prominent New Yorkers raised more than $200,000 for a new and larger facility, which opened in 1870 on the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore) opened in 1889, four years before the university's medical school. It was established at the bequest of its namesake, who was a successful Baltimore merchant. Johns Hopkins did not intend to build a hospital on the site of Maryland's dilapidated insane asylum, where in the end it landed, but he changed his mind and paid $150,000 for the hospital site before passing away in December 1873. Johns Hopkins Hospital is the birthplace of many standards in medicine, including grand rounds and the use of latex surgical gloves. The hospital was also the first in the country equipped with central heating, thanks to John Shaw Billings, a surgeon, major in the U.S. Army and intellectual architect of the hospital. He is considered a pioneer not only for heating and ventilation, but in healthcare sanitation, as well.

Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center (Portland, Ore.) was founded in 1875 as Good Samaritan Hospital by the Rev. B. Wistar Morris, who came from Philadelphia to become the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon. He believed caring for he sick was "eminently Christian work" and raised money to build the hospital, which was established with 25 beds but no electricity nor elevators. Cows in a pasture behind the hospital provided milk for patients and staff.   

Sentara Norfolk (Va.) General Hospital's origins date back to 1888, when the 25-bed Retreat for the Sick was founded in downtown Norfolk. At the time, there were only about 200 hospitals in the United States. In 1892, the hospital was moved to accommodate more patients and renamed Dixie Hospital. Today, 525-bed hospital is flagship for the 12-hospital Sentara Healthcare system.

Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital (Grand Rapids, Mich.) began as a small, furnished house to care for elderly, homeless and ill parishioners of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in 1873. The facility, then known as St. Mark's Church Home, later relocated to a larger building and was renamed St. Mark's Home and Hospital. The hospital reported 30 total admissions and seven births in its first full year. Butterworth Hospital has since involved into the 1,048-bed flagship of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids

St. Francis Hospital (Roslyn, N.Y.) began as a plot of land in 1922 called "Elderfields," which was used as a summer camp for New York's inner-city children and run by the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. In 1936, city hospitals were struggling to care for increasing numbers of children with rheumatic fever. As a result, the sisters accepted a dozen children to the Elderfields. Soon, the camp's horse and carriage stable had turned into a small sanatorium for the sick children. The sisters had to turn away children until grants from a Protestant welfare agency enabled an expansion to what became would become the St. Francis Hospital and Sanatorium for Cardiac Children. The hospital took on another new name in 1954 when it began accepting adult patients, rebranding as t. Francis Hospital and Sanatorium.

University of Michigan Medical Center (Ann Arbor). In 1848, the University of Michigan board of regents established a three-member medical department, today known as the University of Michigan Medical School. U-M's first class of medical students paid $5 a year for two years of education. U-M's academic medical center opened in 1869 — the first university-owned medical facility in the United States. The 20-bed hospital was founded in the residence of a former professor and had no wards or operating rooms. U-M added a couple of wooden pavilions to the hospital in 1875 — structures designed to burn down in 10 years due to infections, according to the writings of one physician. U-M opened its 700-bed University Hospital in 1925.

University of Virginia Medical Center (Charlottesville) dates back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia School of Medicine. The school dedicated its first hospital in 1901, a 25-bed facility with three operating rooms. Before then, the medical school (founded in 1825) used a dispensary as a surgery center and site for outpatient care, and patients were taken across the street to a rooming house to recuperate from surgery.

UPMC Presbyterian (Pittsburgh) was founded in 1893 by Louise Lyle, "a newly minted MD when female physicians were about as common as female shot-putters," according to the hospital. Dr. Lyle was dismayed by the health problems she saw among Pittsburgh's immigrants, and decided to organize a hospital even though she was a widow, had only a year of professional experience and had $5 at her disposal. The six-bed hospital was born after she swayed a landlord to lease her a three-story house without a security deposit. The hospital moved three times, and then in 1938, six years after Dr. Lyle's death, the hospital began accepting patients as the teaching hospital of University of Pittsburgh. Since then, UPMC has become a national and global healthcare powerhouse.

More Articles on Hospitals in America:
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