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VOL. 127 | NO. 5 | Monday, January 09, 2012



A Century of Health Care

Baptist Memorial Health Care celebrates 100 years of service

By Aisling Maki

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Memphians packed the new Dr. H. Edward Garrett Auditorium at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis last month to listen to music icon Patti LaBelle discuss her struggle with diabetes and the grief she experienced after losing three sisters to cancer.

The original Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis at 899 Madison Ave., as seen in 1912. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s new pharmacy building now stands here. (Photo: Courtesy of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.)

“An Evening with Patti LaBelle,” a fundraiser for Baptist’s new comprehensive cancer care center, kicked off the yearlong centennial celebration of both Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis and Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., which have been treating patients for longer than any other health care organization in the Mid-South.

LaBelle’s appearance was the first of several celebrity appearances planned for the year. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin is scheduled to speak in April about children and adults with special needs, and the organization says numerous other special events – including the recognition of past leaders and staff – will be announced throughout 2012.

“We’re hosting several events throughout the year, writing a book and producing a documentary that chronicles our history, and planning many other activities to honor this important milestone,” said Stephen C. Reynolds, Baptist Memorial Health Care president and CEO since 1994, who has worked for the organization for more than 40 years.

Baptist Memorial Health Care today has 14 affiliate hospitals and is among the nation’s top 15 integrated health care systems.

“We’re the largest not-for-profit health care provider in the Mid-South, and one of the largest in the country today,” Reynolds said. “We’re also the largest provider of TennCare and Medicaid in this community and in this region.”

It all began on July 22, 1912, when the original 150-bed hospital, built at a cost of roughly $235,000, opened its doors to patients in Downtown Memphis.

Baptist School of Nursing opened the same year, with 45 nurses-in-training. Today the school, which grew from a diploma program to a baccalaureate degree program in 1994, has more than 1,000 students.

The hospital and system were established by the Southern Baptist conventions of Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas after they recognized a tremendous need for a health care facility in the region.

“In 1906, a group of visionary Baptist leaders came together to try to determine what could be done in the Mid-South to respond to the health care needs in this community,” Reynolds said. “They had a big dream and, of course, that dream was realized in 1912 when we opened the hospital. It was actually quite a lovely facility.”

That group didn’t just open the hospital; it crafted the organization’s mission.

“It paralleled the three-fold ministry of Christ: healing, preaching and teaching,” Reynolds said. “And that has not changed in over 100 years and it will not change going into the future. That has remained a constant and an inspiration to the people who work here and to those who come for care.”

By 1915, the fledgling hospital was $100,000 in debt and the trustees discussed selling the institution. But A.E. Jennings, who would serve as general superintendent of Baptist for three decades, chose to initially serve without pay, and the debt was retired in two years.

In 1918, a 100-bed south wing addition was built at a cost of $273,000, increasing the hospital’s capacity to 250 beds. And by 1922, Baptist Memorial Hospital had become the largest privately owned hospital in the South.

In 1927, Baptist, which served so many patients from throughout the region, became the first hospital in the nation to offer a hotel and to own and operate a physician office building.

The 1930s marked the most devastating economic downturn in U.S. history, but Baptist weathered the Great Depression. Not one Baptist employee was laid off and the hospital even purchased groceries in bulk for its workers.

“We got through the Depression, thanks to the first CEO of the organization (Jennings), who took from his personal resources and kept us from closing our doors,” Reynolds said. “He actually lived in the hospital during the time and helped create a wonderful setting for health care. We grew in those early years and survived those challenging times.”

Reynolds said some of the greatest advancements for the organization occurred after 1946, when Frank S. Groner became hospital administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital. During Groner’s 34 years of leadership, the hospital achieved numerous medical and industry firsts, set all-time records for hospital occupancy and added several new patient care wings.

“People came, really, from all over the world for care, but also came from all over the world to study the health care that was being presented here in Memphis, Tennessee,” Reynolds said.

Helen Deneka, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, graduated from Baptist College of Nursing in 1946. She started at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Downtown, has worked at Baptist Memphis and currently works at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton in Covington.

Now age 86, Deneka has witnessed dramatic changes both in the medical profession and in the organization.

“They didn’t have bathrooms or telephones in the rooms,” Deneka said. “We didn’t throw away stuff like they do now; we had to sterilize everything we used. We didn’t have big monitors like they do now to watch everything. We had to do everything by hand – take blood pressure and pulse by hand. Now the machines do it for you.”

Baptist Memorial claims many firsts. Its physicians, along with Campbell Clinic, were the first in the region to specialize in orthopedics – the beginning of what would become a major medical industry in the Mid-South, attracting device makers such as Smith & Nephew and Medtronic Inc.

In addition to orthopedics, physician pioneers in the fields of neurology and cardiology –including one of the physicians who performed the world’s first open-heart surgery – practiced at the hospital.

Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis was the first hospital in the nation to build an attached physician office building, the first to install automatic elevators, and the first to install a computer for accounts billing.

And it became known around the world for some of its celebrity patients, including Lisa Marie Presley, who was born in the hospital in 1968, and Elvis Presley, who was pronounced dead there on the afternoon of Aug. 16, 1977.

“It was very chaotic,” said Deneka, who was working the day Presley died, and had visited Graceland when it was owned by a doctor who practiced at Baptist.

In 1979, Baptist Memorial Hospital East, which would later be renamed Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, opened as a satellite hospital. The organization in 1980 acquired a hospital in Lauderdale County and another in Tipton County the following year – a trend that continued throughout the next three decades.

And in 2000, the last patients were transferred from Baptist Memorial Medical Center Downtown to other Baptist hospitals. The property was closed and many Memphians who had been born there gathered to watch the implosion of the old hospital in late 2005.

In 2001, Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women – the only freestanding women’s hospital in the Memphis area and one of only a handful of such hospitals in the nation – opened at 6225 Humphreys Blvd. Over the past decade, more than 50,000 babies have been born at the facility, including Libby Wilson’s quintuplets, who spent their first four weeks of life in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“Everyone was so kind and thoughtful and accommodating to my family,” Wilson said. “They just took great care of me. For us, it was a blessing because we anticipated our children going into the NICU, so it wasn’t a scary experience. The babies were so well taken care of.”

Baptist has been busy aligning with physician practices – a national trend representative of widespread, emerging health care models aimed at lowering costs and improving the quality of care. Baptist Memorial Medical Group, an affiliate of Baptist Memorial Health Care, is one of the area’s largest nonprofit multispecialty physician group practices. And over the last 18 months, the group has grown from having 40 physicians to having more than 300 in three states.

Partnerships include Stern Cardiovascular, Memphis Lung Physicians, Finn and Associates, The Light Clinic, Memphis Internal Medicine and Jonesboro-based NEA Clinic. It’s a trend that Reynolds says shows no signs of slowing down.

“It really allows all of us – the physicians and the hospitals – the opportunity to partner more effectively and to be able to really focus very precisely on the patients’ needs,” Reynolds said. “Not only will we be able to improve the quality of care, but we believe we’ll be able to reduce the cost of care, which is on the hearts and minds of everyone who needs care and those who pay for the care.”

Baptist is also expanding with the construction of new facilities, including a $400 million hospital in Jonesboro and a $250 million to $300 million investment to develop new facilities in Oxford, Miss. In 2011, BMMG acquired the Boston Baskin Cancer Group to form Boston Baskin Cancer Foundation PLC, which includes 15 physicians and eight clinical sites in three states.

At the same time, Baptist Memorial Health Care announced it was developing the Mid-South’s first adult multidisciplinary, comprehensive academic cancer center in the Wolf River medical corridor. As part of the system’s overall oncology strategy, Baptist officials said the organization has committed more than $65 million to build a flagship outpatient cancer center in the corridor, and more than $20 million toward the development of regional cancer centers and related services.

Reynolds said Mid-Southerners can expect more announcements surrounding Baptist’s expansion and community commitment in 2012.

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