Medical Excellence Since Its Beginning
The University of South Alabama Medical Center is a 406-bed acute care facility that serves as the primary teaching hospital for the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. It is the major referral center for southern Alabama , southern Mississippi , and portions of northwest Florida , offering centers for Level I trauma, burns, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and sickle cell disease. Its sophisticated technology combined with the desire, dedication, and determination of an acclaimed professional staff allows patients to receive the finest medical care available. It has exemplified medical excellence since the beginning of its time.
First, City Hospital
In 1830, the corner stone for a city hospital building was laid on city-owned land on St. Anthony Street . This marked the "birth" of an institution that was destined to serve the citizens of Mobile faithfully and competently for 136 years. The building was completed one year later and was said to represent the finest in architectural craftsmanship.
Founding Father and Mothers
The keen managerial insight of the first superintendent appointed, Dr. Willis Roberts, ensured that the "City Hospital of Mobile" would not only represent the finest in architecture, but would represent the finest medical services available in Mobile at the time. In doing so, Dr. Roberts requested his Board grant him permission to employ the services of "a suitable matron" to care for female patients. This idea to secure women attendants, which appears to be the germ idea of organized women nursing, is seen in a letter written by Dr. Roberts to the City Mayor and Alderman which reads: As is oftentimes said,"Anything worth having is worth waiting for" . . .
Several years later, in 1841, Mrs. Sarah Debois was installed as the hospital's first matron. She served in this capacity "displaying unparalleled excellence in initiative, drive, and perseverance" until 1846, when she left City Hospital to take charge of Marine Hospital .
Mobile continued to prosper and grow despite a terrible epidemic of yellow fever in 1853. And in 1859, the Medical College of Alabama was constructed a short distance from the hospital. The opening of the medical college one year later marks the beginning of the two institutions working simultaneously to provide Mobilians with the finest medical care available.
But the triumphant outcomes in the institutions' battles against yellow fever and cholera were to be short-lived, for that same year the North and South were on the verge of war. In 1861, the unrest between the states exploded into War and every man, youth, physician, and nurse found it necessary to answer the call of arms, jeopardizing the medical progress of the two institutions. For this reason the mayor, aldermen, and college faculty saw the necessity of securing the services of the Sisters of Charity for the hospital; women known for their heroic labors during the great epidemic of 1853 and their experience in managing Providence Infirmary, just across the street.
Sisters of Charity Take Up the Cause
As every man, youth, physician, and nurse continued to fight for "the cause" on the battlefield, the Sisters of Charity were involved in their own war, fighting battles of their own; the battle against time, the battle against limited personnel, and the battle against scarce resources. Their weapons were that of perseverance, ingenuity, generosity, and self-sacrifice. Their bloodshed was seen in their perspiration and tears. Their victory was life and their defeat was death. By May 12, 1865, Mobile was occupied by Northern troops and the horrors of war had begun to diminish.
In 1879, the City of Mobile became bankrupt and was forced under court action to give up its charter. Trustees were appointed by chancery court and a temporary municipal government called the "Port of Mobile" was installed. It was by this action that, in 1880, the hospital was renamed the "Port Hospital". It was during this time that the Sisters were faced with the bitter humiliation of being accused of misappropriation of funds and were dismissed from the hospital. It was a preposterous charge of which they were later completely exonerated by the city and the public at large, but for which no adequate amends existed.
The City was re-chartered in 1887, and the following year the hospital once again took its original name. In the spring of 1895, after fifteen years of being operated under the supervision of the Medical College of Mobile, the Sisters were once again asked to take charge of City Hospital. The Sisters accepted and signed a contract with the city for a period of ten years. The main points of the original contract are as follows:
"The City of Mobile shall . . . pay said Sisters monthly the sum of five hundred and twenty five dollars, plus forty cents a day for extra patients . . . and said Sisters shall maintain thirty-eight patients from the City of Mobile and such excess patients as may be sent by the City, not to exceed eight . . ."
"The medical staff shall be divided into attending staff, consulting staff, and resident staff." (The resident staff consisted of an intern or resident and two externs.)
"The Sisters shall provide, maintain, and run at their own expense a suitable ambulance for the removal of the sick to the hospital . . ."
Other provisions in the contract allowed private physicians free access to the hospital, allowed religious advisors of all denominations free access, allowed inspection of the hospital by city officials, and required a "faithful performance" bond of ten thousand dollars payable to the City.
The nursing idea was continuously flourishing and fast becoming a fundamental part of the hospital. And in 1907, with the permission of the City of Mobile, the first school of nursing was founded by the Sisters. In 1920, the Medical College of Alabama was relocated to Tuscaloosa, thus ending the sixty year affiliation of the two institutions.
In August of 1923, the citizens of Mobile voted on a proposed bond issue to finance improvements to City Hospital; the vote was favorable, the issue was authorized, the bonds sold, and construction began. This marks the first, but not last, time the hospital was in need of financial assistance. In 1932, Legislation was passed requiring the County to pay one-half of the hospital's operating costs.
Moved to Present Site
In June of 1966, the doors of Mobile General Hospital were shut for the first time in 136 years. The hospital was relocated to the new six-floor, 350-bed capacity building on Fillingim Street, while the memories of the "tired old veteran" remain in the thoughts of the citizens for which she served so tirelessly and faithfully for so many years.
In 1970, Governor Albert Brewer announced that the city of Mobile would, once again, have a medical school. This can be seen as marking the beginning of the association between various Mobile hospitals and the University of South Alabama. On January 1, 1971, the County Hospital Board transferred Mobile General Hospital to USA for the price of $10.00. The transfer agreement is as follows:
"It is agreed by and between the Mobile County Hospital Board and the University of South Alabama that
(a) The University establish an accredited College of Medicine in Mobile County, Alabama
(b) The University render proper medical treatment and care to indigent patients in Mobile County to the financial extent to which application of the proceeds of the 3-mill Ad Val Orem tax permits."
Services and Support Grow
In 1975, the hospital's name changed, for the sixth time, to the University of South Alabama Medical Center. As the primary teaching facility for the USA College of Medicine, the hospital would continue to flourish at a remarkable pace: in 1978 the Animal Research Building opened; in 1979 the psychiatric facility, children's clinic, and allied health trailers opened; in 1980 Governor Fob James designated USAMC as a Level I trauma center; in 1983 the Children's and Women's Hospital of South Alabama was established; in 1984 the Clinic Building opened; in 1985 the heliport was constructed; and in 1986 the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit opened.
Also in 1986, the SouthFlite USA helicopter service began operation with two helicopters, a Bell 222 and Bell 206L-1. The helicopter service was dedicated in memory of Danny Conway, a USA student who died in a Baldwin County automobile accident. Tragically, in May of 1987, the Bell 222 crashed in Texas while on a routine maintenance flight, killing Chief Pilot Ray Wood, and Chief of Maintenance, John Palmer. The Southflite Program continued until 2004, when aging equipment and escalating costs prompted the Medical Center to contract the service to an outside provider.
USA Expands Medical Facilities and Programs
In 1990, USA purchased Doctors Hospital and Knollwood Park Hospital from Healthtrust, Inc. for $39 million dollars. This acquisition would aid in alleviating the source strain felt by the Fillingim Street facility from the tremendous growth of programs and services. That same year, pediatrics was moved from the Medical Center to Doctor's Hospital and the seventh floor Psychiatric Unit was moved to the USA Springhill campus.
Beginning in 1991, the unfinished tenth floor of the Medical Center was converted into office space for the College of Medicine. The Cardiovascular Diseases Center opened its doors in 1991, followed by the Stroke Center in 1995.
In 1997 construction was completed on a 56,000 square foot, $5.2 million addition/renovation at USA Doctors Hospital. On September 3, 1997, USA President Dr. Frederick P. Whiddon and Mr. Mayer Mitchell, chairman pro tempore of the USA Board of Trustees, unveiled the new sign officially changing the name of USA Doctors Hospital to USA Children's and Women's Hospital. All of USA's Labor and Delivery services, along with the Nurseries, moved from USA Medical Center to USA Children's & Women's Hospital on September 27, 1997.
The University of South Alabama Medical Center continues to maintain the medical excellence of its past, provide Mobilians and the entire Gulf Coast with specialty services of the present, and strive to attain the knowledge and technology of the future.