Health Care

Mercy Health Saint Mary’s celebrates 125 years

Hospital was among the first to treat AIDS patients in West Michigan.

August 31, 2018
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St. Mary's Bill Manns
Bill Manns, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s president, is proud of the number of “firsts” the organization has accomplished over the years. Courtesy Mercy Health Saint Mary's

In a way, the story of the hospital that has become Mercy Health Saint Mary’s starts in 1827 Ireland with a woman named Catherine McAuley.

She used her inheritance to establish the House of Mercy to shelter and educate poor women and girls. McAuley established the Sisters of Mercy society of nuns beginning in 1831 until she died 10 years later.

Today, the group has more than 3,000 members worldwide dedicated to carrying out good deeds, inspired by McAuley.

In 1893, three sisters opened the 15-bed Saint Mary’s Hospital in the former McNamara House at 145 S. Lafayette Ave. in Grand Rapids. During its first year, the hospital treated about 60 patients and recorded a profit of 65 cents, according to a history published by the hospital.

Five years later, a three-story addition doubled the number of beds to 30.

In 1911, Saint Mary’s constructed a new 75-bed hospital at the corner of Cherry Street and Lafayette Avenue SE, where Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center now stands.

The hospital has experienced myriad moves and expansions since then.

Celebrating its 125th anniversary, the hospital now accommodates 303 beds at its present base, 200 Jefferson Ave. SE.

Since 2011, Saint Mary’s has been part of the five-hospital Mercy Health system containing more than 800 hospital beds and 1,300 physicians.

The hospital has had a number of “firsts” through its history, said Bill Manns, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s president.

That includes hiring Grand Rapids’ first African-American hospital-employed physician, Dr. Robert Claytor, founder of the Grand Rapids Urban League.

And, in 1990, the hospital established the area’s first McAuley Infectious Disease Program for HIV/AIDS, while other facilities disavowed the thought, the hospital said.

Dr. David Baumgartner said he remembers that; he was the one who started the center. It was during the AIDS crisis, just a few years after researchers learned the disease was a virus.

He said there was a lot of fear and stigma around caring for AIDS patients, but he saw diagnosed people’s sense of hopelessness, and he wanted to help.

Saint Mary’s agreed, and after the hospital received a grant, he said the new program identified 30 local AIDS patients in three months.

Baumgartner, Mercy Health Saint Mary's chief medical officer, started working for Saint Mary’s in 1972 in the housekeeping department when the hospital still was on Cherry and Lafayette.

He’s been in multiple positions since that time, including as an infectious disease specialist, and he’s watched Grand Rapids grow, Saint Mary’s along with it.

Part of what’s kept Baumgartner around is his alignment with the hospital’s mission, he said, that caring for patients goes beyond their physical needs.

“We try to meet people where they are and understand them as people,” he said.

“We have a special place in our heart for those who have difficulty accessing care.”

As Mercy Health Saint Mary’s continues into the future, Manns said the plan is to further expand the organization — physically, technologically and virtually — and continue “doing the right things by the community.”

A piece of that means continuing the “evidence-based hiring practices” Mercy Health West Michigan has developed over the years, meant to bridge gaps in minority hires using a consistent process that evaluates candidates holistically.

Manns, who had a part in developing the practices after he joined Mercy Health five years ago, said the practice has reduced first-year turnover and increased diversity of new hires.

“When you think through being a transforming presence in the community, one of the ways in which we can help improve the health status of the community is by providing jobs for people and keeping them healthy,” he said.

Giving people jobs gives them health benefits and helps improve access, which Manns said is important to him.

“When you look at health disparities and the notion of equity, ensuring people have equal opportuneness is highly important,” Manns said.

Manns also said he looks forward to continued partnerships with other Mercy Health hospitals.

“Being part of a large system allows us to take advantage of some of the synergies and really provide more value to the community,” he said.

He said the efficiency of having shared administrative departments, for example, frees up resources for other areas and lowers overall costs.

Having worked in a number of health care systems throughout the country, Manns said there is something special about Mercy Health Saint Mary’s — the culture and community.

He said he often meets new employees who choose to work at Saint Mary’s after an experience with the hospital that left an impression on them.

He thinks the common understanding among employees about why the hospital exists is what fosters Saint Mary’s culture.

“Everybody understands that the patient comes first,” he said.

Saint Mary’s timeline

1893 – Three Sisters of Mercy establish 15-bed St. Mary’s Hospital in the former McNamara House

1898 – Saint Mary’s Hospital builds three-story addition for $10,000, adding 15 beds; training school for nurses opens

1911 – New 75-bed hospital is built on Cherry Street and Lafayette Avenue for $65,000

1914 – X-ray department opens, advancing health care in West Michigan

1918 – Laboratory department opens

1920 – Outpatient clinic opens

1926 – Saint Mary’s Hospital expands for $650,000, increasing bed capacity to 220

1934 – Volunteer league established to support services and patients

1935 – Nursing schools in Muskegon and Bay City join Saint Mary’s, establishing Mercy Central School of Nursing

1936 – Dr. Robert Claytor, co-founder of the Grand Rapids Urban League, becomes first African-American hospital-employed physician in Grand Rapids

1953 – Hospital addition increases bed capacity to 358

1963 – Short-stay medical/surgical unit established

1964 – Intensive care unit established

1965 – Ambulatory care unit opens; inhalation therapy department opens

1967 – Hemodialysis unit opens

1970 – Construction begins on seven-year project for new hospital costing $15.5 million

1973 – New building opens at 245 Cherry St. SE, now housing physician groups and other departments; kidney transplant program added

1974 – Professional office building at 260 Jefferson Ave. SE opens

1977 – Final phase of $15.5-million hospital completed, bringing bed capacity to 370

1982 – Michigan’s first mobile diagnostic unit opens at Saint Mary’s

1983 – Cancer and breast center programs established

1985 – Patient travels from Kenya to receive kidney transplant

1988 – Heartside Health Center opens, later moving to 359 S. Division Ave.

1989 – Area’s first HIV clinic established

1990 – Clinica Santa Maria Health Center opens, later moving to 730 Grandville Ave. SW

1990 – McAuley Infectious Disease Program opens at 550 Cherry St. SE; bone marrow transplant program approved; psychiatric unit opens

1990 – Area’s first outpatient cancer treatment center opens

1992 – Spine center opens

1993 – Current Mercy Health Physician Partners established

1997 – 310 Lafayette building opens; Saint Mary’s forms rehab services join venture with Mary Free Bed

1997 – Neonatal intensive care unit opens

1998 – Peter M. Wege Center for Health & Learning opens, costing $16.1 million

1999 – Sparta Family Health Center is purchased; radiation oncology’s new digital technology is first and only in West Michigan, fourth in U.S., sixth in world

2000 – Browning Claytor Health Center opens at 1246 Madison Ave. SE

2003 – Hauenstein Parkinson’s Center opens

2004 – Full implementation of electronic medical records

2005 – Lacks Cancer Center opens at 250 Cherry St. SE, along with TomoTherapy Center of Excellence, one of 20 worldwide; epilepsy program established

2005 – Saint Mary’s Hospital’s first angioplasty performed

2006 – Epilepsy monitoring unit opens with four beds

2007 – Another campus opens at 2373 64th St. SW, now known at Mercy Health Southwest

2007 – ALS center opens

2009 – Hauenstein Neuroscience Center opens at 220 Cherry St. SE, which included new Emergency Trauma and Trauma Center

2011 – Saint Mary’s Hospital and Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon merge to form Mercy Health, owned by Trinity Health

2012 – Sophia’s House opens to house visitors of patients

2013 – Lung program established

2014 – Lacks Cancer Center begins using highly specialized robotic technology

2015 – Mercy Health Innovation Hub opens

2016 – NICU transport unit begins; 13 new surgical suites open, each 650 square feet

2016 – Evidence-based hiring practices to bridge gaps in minority hires featured in White House report

2017 – Saint Mary’s is first in Michigan to offer naturally dissolving heart stents

2017 – Mercy Health Physician Partners launches online clinic

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