In the early 1900’s, the Daughters of Charity responded to Pensacola’s growing need for modern healthcare by sending five pioneering Sisters to set in motion plans for what was to become Pensacola Hospital.
Today, Sacred Heart Health System is Northwest Florida’s leading provider of high quality health care. The hub of the Health System is the 566-bed Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola that includes the region’s only Children’s Hospital.
Sacred Heart continues to advance technology and expand services in effort to serve Northwest Florida with spiritually centered, holistic care that sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities.
The Daughters of Charity Return to Pensacola
In 1861, during the Civil War, the Daughters of Charity, a religious order dedicated to care for the poor and the sick, responded to Pensacola’s need for medical aid by mending wounded soldiers in a rugged patient-care tent.
In 1908, a young woman who had been educated by the Daughters of Charity, proposed that the Sisters open a hospital in Pensacola. The Pensacola Sanitarium, located on West Garden at DeVilliers, was the only medical facility in the city. Pensacola residents had to travel to either Mobile or New Orleans to receive “modern” healthcare.
The Daughters of Charity responded to Pensacola’s growing need for healthcare by sending five pioneering Sisters to set in motion plans for what was to become Pensacola Hospital. The hospital was constructed on 12th Avenue during the summer of 1915 and the new hospital officially opened its doors to the community on September 1, 1915.
The hospital was built at a cost of more than $400,000. For the construction of the magnificent structure, train loads of Alabama sandstone, Indiana limestone, several million bricks, and thousands of barrels of concrete and marble were shipped to Pensacola. The outer walls were made of massive blocks of sandstone with trimmings of limestone. The inner walls and foundation were made of reinforced concrete and brick.
Pensacola Hospital: The Pride of Northwest Florida
Pensacola Hospital’s laboratory was outfitted with the most modern technology in 1915. The new hospital also provided specialized care for children with an entire Pediatric Ward.
Private rooms were available for an extra fee for patients who wanted freedom from disturbances. Nurses’ patient-care duties included administering medication, delivering patient meals, rubbing patients’ backs and giving daily baths to increase wellness.
When the hospital opened, a bed in a ward cost $1 a day. A small room without a connecting bath was $3, and a small room with a connecting bath was $5 a day. The hospital never turned people away because they could not pay.
The first baby, Janice Gundersheimer, was born on September 7, 1915. When mother and daughter left the hospital 11 days later, the total bill was $47.57.
The hospital had been in operation just three years when the worldwide influenza pandemic reached the city, taking a toll locally as it did virtually everywhere. Pensacola’s ultimate death total is relatively uncertain; however, the situation locally, from mid-September 1918 through the end of January, 1919, illustrated what was occurring in one of the great health care disasters since the bubonic plague of the 1600s. (Read more about the Pandemic Flu of 1918.)
The majority of the patients at Pensacola Hospital were cared for in wards. There were separate wards for women and men, and children were cared for in a separate wing. African-American men and women received the same high-quality care, but at the community’s insistence, were in separate wards until the current hospital was built in 1965.
The Sisters kept a handwritten cash ledger to track all incoming and outgoing funds. The 1916 ledger shows that the Sisters paid $65.53 for weekly salaries for the entire hospital staff. A week’s worth of bread for the hospital cost 50 cents; vegetables for a week were less than $10.
Pensacola Hospital School of Nursing
The Daughters of Charity also opened the Pensacola Hospital School of Nursing in September 1915. Some of the requirements for acceptance into the school included that the students be female, single and at least 18 years old. The first official class of nurses graduated in 1918. The School of Nursing trained approximately 750 new nurses between 1915 and 1967.
Most students lived in the nursing dorms adjacent to the hospital. The Sisters, who enforced strict dress codes and curfews, supervised the dorms. Nursing school was a full-time occupation for its students. In addition to attending classes about medical technology and patient care, junior and senior students were assigned shifts in the hospital.
During WWII, the U.S. Surgeon General initiated aggressive recruiting to fill the nationwide need for nurses. Between 1940 and 1945, nursing graduates from the Pensacola Hospital School of Nursing were in high demand due to the dire need for nurses in combat areas and hospitals to care for soldiers coming home from the front lines. In 1942, the Red Cross began offering Victory Nurse Aid classes to minorities to help understaffed hospitals. The wartime atmosphere provided employment opportunities for minority women that were not available prior to the war.
In the 1950’s, the 130-bed hospital, which had been renamed Sacred Heart in 1948, had a difficult time keeping up with the expanding population of Pensacola. In an attempt to meet the growing patient demand, hospital waiting rooms and sunrooms became overflow wards with an additional 16 beds. By the late 50’s, the hospital’s central supply had outgrown its quarters, and the area seriously limited its efficiency.
The cramped hospital needed to make a change. While magnificent on the outside, the building was deteriorating, overcrowded, and it lacked room to expand. The Daughters debated whether to renovate the hospital, transfer it to another order of sisters, or build a new hospital nearby.
In 1959 Daughters of Charity visited vacant land on high ground on 9th Avenue. They chose this site for a new Sacred Heart Hospital.
Sister Carol Keehan, the first nursing supervisor at the Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart reviews construction plans.
Sr. Frances Michael Plantamura, the administrator who arrived in 1959, recalled years later that the businessmen on the hospital board gave her some far-sighted advice.
"They said, in essence, if you build here, you’re going to be landlocked. It doesn't make sense to put money into putting a hospital down here (in East Hill.) The city is moving north … So I was able to convince the powers that be that we should move and build a new hospital."
The property the Sisters considered was well north of the city, located on a hill past the end of the pavement on Ninth Avenue. The hospital was relocated in 1965, to the 26-acre site on Ninth Avenue.
A Vision Realized: A Children’s Hospital for Northwest Florida
Two years after the new hospital opened, pediatricians in the community led by Dr. Reed Bell and Dr. John Whitcomb approached Sr. Anne William with a proposal to convert the former nursing school dormitory into a children’s hospital. Again, the Daughters responded to a dire community need and opened the area’s only Children’s Hospital in 1969.
The same year, new coronary care unit also was created at Sacred Heart, and on April 11, 1972, the area’s first open heart surgery was performed.
In 1983, the hospital celebrated the completion of its three-year expansion program, giving the facility 36 new beds for a total of 380 beds. With the expansion, the Emergency Center grew to three times its size; more private rooms were added; the cardiovascular laboratory was renovated and upgraded; and radiology, nuclear medicine, and gastroenterology benefited from the additional space.
Growing to Meet Community Needs 1990-2010
Sacred Heart Hospital celebrated its 75th anniversary celebration on August 31, 1990. On the same day, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to begin what was then the largest renovation and expansion program in the hospital's history. Over the next two years, the hospital added a new MRI facility, a new heart catheterization facility, a center for outpatient radiation therapy, an outpatient Diagnostic Center, and new medical offices.
In 1993, the hospital broke ground for construction of a new Children's Hospital and Women's Hospital which opened in August 1996. The expansion cemented Sacred Heart’s role as the region’s leader in providing specialized care to women, infants and children.
A Regional Health System
In late 1995, Sacred Heart installed its first administrator who was not a member of the Daughters of Charity. Patrick Madden was named President and CEO and brought a new vision of a regional health system that would extend far beyond Pensacola.
Under Madden’s leadership over the next 15 years, Sacred Heart expanded to become a regional health care network that provides care for people in Northwest Florida and South Alabama at all stages of life – with hospital services, the Haven nursing home, a large network of employed primary care physicians and specialists, and a regional system of outpatient Rehabilitation Centers.
In 2000, the Health System added a new Emergency Center and a new Regional Heart and Vascular Institute that strengthened Sacred Heart’s role as the area’s leader in heart procedures and less invasive heart surgery. Also in 2000, Sacred Heart opened a new six-story building for women’s services and the Nemours Children’s Clinic, a partner with Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in caring for children with serious medical problems. A year later, Sacred Heart partnered with Methodist Homes for the Aging to build a new Haven of Our Lady of Peace nursing home off Summit Boulevard in Pensacola.
A New Hospital for the Emerald Coast
Sacred Heart’s regional plans took a huge step forward in January 2003 when the system extended its mission and opened a second hospital – Sacred heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast -- in response to requests from residents of Destin and South Walton County who wanted their own community hospital.
Expansion of the Pensacola campus continued in 2005 with the opening of Sacred Heart Medical Office Park on Airport Boulevard. A similar Medical Park was opened in Pace in 2006 and a new Cancer Center in Pensacola opened in 2010.
Also in 2010, Sacred Heart extended its regional mission again in response to community needs, this time in the rural, medically underserved of Gulf County. Sacred Heart built a small community hospital on land donated by the St. Joe Co. The 19-bed hospital, located in Port St. Joe, has provided first-class healthcare to a county that had no hospital and no emergency department.
Sacred Heart Health System is Northwest Florida's leading provider of high quality health care to children and adults.
The hub of the Health System is the 566-bed Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola that includes the region's only Children's Hospital.
Key services include a Regional Heart and Vascular Institute, a regional Stroke Center, Level II Trauma Center, a Cancer Center affiliated with MD Anderson Physicians Network, and a large regional network of 150 physicians with offices stretching from Foley, Ala. to Apalachicola, Fla.
Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast was built in response to a request from citizens of Destin and Walton County.
In 2003, the Health System opened Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast, a 58-bed community hospital in Walton County that is rated among the top hospitals in the United States for patient satisfaction.
In March 2010, the new Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, a 19-bed hospital, opened in Port St. Joe, Fla.
In July 2014, Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola’s new five-story patient-care addition opened for service. The Bayou Tower houses state-of-the-art intensive-care units , cardiology units and a brand new joint-replacement center.
The new tower allows Sacred Heart to expand services, meet the community’s need for more capacity to treat critically ill patients and provide all-private patient rooms.
In March 2010, Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf opened to meet the healthcare needs of the people of the Port. St. Joe, Florida area.
Currently, Sacred Heart Health System employs more than 4,000 people and has become a member of the nation's largest Catholic and nonprofit health care system, Ascension Health.
Expansion in Pensacola
Sacred Heart Health System has announced plans for a major expansion of The Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida.
Sacred Heart’s preliminary plan envisions a 4- or 5-story building that will connect to part of the front side of the current Children’s Hospital.
The added building would enlarge the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and consolidate other pediatric services in one location.
Expansion in Miramar Beach / Destin
Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast has planned a $30 million expansion of facilities and services.
The expansion will increase the capacity of the Emerald Coast hospital for inpatient services, maternity services, emergency services and pediatric services.
Construction is scheduled to begin this year and will be completed in two phases with the first phase opening in 2016 and the second phase opening in 2017.