Cleveland’s First Private Hospital
The history of Cleveland and St. Vincent Charity Medical Center are not independent of one another. A city is people; a hospital is people—the story of the past century and a half is the story of how these people have helped each other.
Since 1865—nearly 150 years ago—a handful of pioneering Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine were brought to Cleveland at the request of Bishop Amadeus Rappe, the first bishop of Cleveland. Against the backdrop of a soul-searing Civil War and a spirit saddened by the assassination of a President, new life was teeming on the streets, avenues, shores, railways and alleys of Cleveland. However, without a hospital the city could not serve the railroad and steamboat disaster victims and returning Civil War soldiers who were requiring immediate medical attention and nursing care.
To meet these needs, St. Vincent Charity Hospital, rose above almost insurmountable difficulties to come into existence.
In May 1863, Bishop Rappe had proposed to City Council that Cleveland build a hospital to care for wounded soldiers, with nursing care to be provided by the Sisters. City Council appointed a committee to investigate and immediately dissension occurred. Newspaper editorials opposed a hospital under Catholic auspices since nine-tenths of the taxpayers were Protestants, and proposed instead the establishment of a nonsectarian hospital.
Familiar with failure and discouragement, Bishop Rappe made another attempt. He offered to build a hospital and provide Sisters to care for the patients if the citizens would furnish adequate financial support.
Cleveland citizens agreed and the site—at Perry Street (now East 22nd Street) between Marion and Garden Streets (now Central Avenue)—was purchased for $10,000. The initial hospital cost $72,000 of which $42,000 was raised from the primarily Protestant Cleveland community.
The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine stated that patients would be received regardless of religious belief and that those unable to pay would have their care paid for by the city. Mother Augustine, a woman of refinement and strength of character, who possessed unusual executive ability, was the first superior of the hospital. She and seven Sisters took up their duties on October 5, 1865. Their practice of always aiding the sick and suffering regardless of creed, race or ability to pay has continued throughout the next century and a half.
Today, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is Cleveland’s faith-based, high-quality healthcare provider. As a teaching hospital, it is home to the renowned Spine and Orthopedic Institute, the Center for Bariatric Surgery as well as complete services in cardiovascular, emergency medicine, primary care, behavioral health, occupational health and addiction medicine in a setting that is as caring and comfortable as home.
Everyone at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is devoted to the mission to treat every patient with clinical excellence and compassionate care. Because we are all caregivers.
St. Vincent Charity Medical Center Milestones
- October 10, 1865
- St. Vincent Charity opens as St. Vincent Charity Hospital.
- The first operating room opens. Cleveland’s first amphitheater for demonstration of surgical and clinical procedures to medical students.
- Dr. Gustave C.E. Weber, first chief of staff at St. Vincent Charity and one of the first surgeons, organizes Charity Hospital Medical College, which confers first medical degree in Cleveland. In 1881 it merges with Medical Department of Wooster University to form Western Reserve Medical Department, the precursor to Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
- Hospital opens first outpatient department, known as the “outdoor” department.
- April 1895
- Sister M. Mechtildes, CSA, went to La Crosse, Wisconsin, to study pharmacy. She returns in July 1895 “fully efficient to take charge of the drug room and fill any and every prescription of the physicians.”
- School of Nursing, with an enrollment of six, was founded under the director of Sister M. Charles, Superior of the hospital with the motto, “Charity is Kind.”
- Electricity comes to St. Vincent Charity because two men working for the Illuminating Company were burned and brought to Charity. To ventilate the room, fans were requested but could not be used as the hospital was not wired. The Illuminating Company brought the cables from the street through the window so the fans could be used. After the patients were discharged, the building was equipped for electricity.
- As the hospital outgrows its facilities, a wealthy donor requests an investigation of St. Vincent Charity and eight other hospitals to ensure it was being operated efficiently and economically. Cost per day per patient at St. Vincent Charity was $2.75. Six of the hospitals had higher costs: one $3.69 per day, another $3.80 per day. The Benefactors, including John D. Rockefeller, were pleased and contributed to the campaign.
- St. Vincent Charity celebrates its 50th Anniversary with the opening of a Surgical Pavilion, a “monumental gift from the Citizens of Cleveland.” More than $250,000 was raised in six days to support the six-story building with 150 beds, five ORs, X-ray Department, the Accident Room, Contagious Ward and living quarters for House physicians.
- The School of Nursing opens a new residence and teaching facility along East 24th Street.
- Hospital celebrates 75th Anniversary.
- As the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine observe the 90th anniversary of their first hospital in Cleveland, their thoughts and prayers are with the 12 Charity physicians and 33 nurses serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.
- Specialized work in heart disease began with the opening of the Cardiovascular Laboratory, one of the first diagnostic and evaluation labs in the Midwest.
- The hospital’s new $2 million, 112-bed main building facing Central Avenue opens. The building adjacent to the surgical pavilion features the Edward F. Murphy Memorial Pavilion for pediatrics division.
Rosary Hall Solarium was founded by Sister Mary Ignatia Gavin, CSA, in December after she had been transferred from St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, the birthplace for Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Under the direction of Dr. Henry A. Zimmerman, the hospital puts into operation the first fluoroscope for diagnosing heart disease in the United States.
- The first open-heart surgery in the Midwest is performed on a 6-year-old girl by Dr. Earle B. Kay. The surgery used the Cleveland-developed heart lung machine known as the Kay-Cross Heart Lung Machine. The Cardiac Recovery Unit opens in October and is designed as one of the first in its kind in the country to provide more safety for the cardiac surgery patient.
- The Intensive Care Unit, the first in the city, opens.
- St. Vincent Charity dedicates the Roger W. Disbro Research Building. Funded by the Ford Foundation and the U.S. Department of Public Health, the building would house research labs for doctors in heart, circulation, artificial heart valves, hypertension, liver disease, kidney function and shock.
- Ninety-nine years and 11 months after the first St. Vincent Charity opens, the hospital dedicates its modern-day $8 million, 424-bed facility. It includes an ER, psychiatric division, four patient floors, the first of its kind heart pavilion.
- The 14-room surgical suite opens along with a cardiovascular lab, pathology lab, pulmonology, occupational and physical therapy, neurological resting and electrocardiography.
- Bishop Anthony M. Pilla rededicates Charity Hospital under its new name—St. Vincent Charity Hospital and Health Center—to better reflect the hospital’s scope of activities.
- St. Vincent Charity School of Nursing merges with Ursuline College.
- A 54-year-old Amherst, Ohio, man is the first to receive the “New Jersey knee,” a high-tech knee replacement joint developed by two doctors. It was performed by Arthur Steffee, M.D., chief of orthopedic surgery at St. Vincent Charity.
- Occupational Health and Wellness Center opens to provide comprehensive health and wellness programs for area employers.
- Arthur Steffee, M.D., chief of orthopedics at St. Vincent Charity, performs the first vertebral implant in the country. He uses a metal and plastic replacement he designed himself. Dr. Steffee goes on to form Acromed, which he later sells to DePuy in 1998 for $325 million.
- St. Vincent Charity brings laser surgery to Cleveland. Dr. Rais Beg performs the first laser arterial surgery on a 70-year-old woman with blocked coronary arteries.
- St. Vincent Charity opens the psychiatric emergency room, one of only two in the state of Ohio.
- The first Center for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery opens in the area, allowing patients to undergo treatments and surgery without receiving donor blood. It was developed to serve the needs of the Jehovah’s Witness population.
- The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System form joint venture partnership with Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation, creating a for-profit system.
- St. Vincent Charity is the first hospital in the region to begin offering bariatric surgery.
- The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System and University Hospitals Health System announce formation of a not-for-profit joint venture corporation to replace the partnership with Columbia/HCA.
- Rosary Hall celebrates 50 years of helping addicts find freedom from addiction.
- Dr. Louis Keppler, co-medical director of the Spine and Orthopedic Surgery, performs the first short-stem hip replacement surgery in the U.S. Those procedures now account for nearly 30% of all hip replacements performed in the U.S.
- Completely renovated state-of-art Psychiatric Emergency Department, one of only two in the state, opens.
- St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, in collaboration with the Sisters of Charity Health System, extended the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) throughout the health system under the direction of Rev. Robert McGeeney, creating the first CPE System Center Program in the East Central Region of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education.
- $6.9 million, two-year renovation of both the medical emergency department and the psychiatric emergency department is completed, expanding the space by 24,000 square feet and modernizing to reflect expectations for care today and to provide a respectful healing environment.
- After a decade of joint venture with University Hospitals, St. Vincent Charity Hospital returns to sole ownership by the Sisters of Charity Health System and rebrands itself as St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.
- Thanks to generous gift from John M. and Mary Jo Boler, the School of Nursing Memorial Garden is dedicated at the corner of East 24th and Central.
- Computerized physician order entry (CPOE) is implemented across the hospital as St. Vincent Charity works toward meeting Stage 2 Meaningful Use for electronic health record.
- 150th Anniversary yearlong celebration kicks off with biennial Pizzazz Gala.
- October 5, 2015
- St. Vincent Charity Medical Center celebrates 150 years of caring for Greater Cleveland.