Wednesday 05.17.2017

Pensacola Healthcare A Century in the Making

Despite its strong economy of the early 20th century, Pensacola fell well behind similar communities in facilities for delivering health care. A series of small, proprietary institutions had come and gone. In 1914, the survivor of such small facilities had been the Pensacola infirmary, with just over 20 patient accommodations and minimal equipment.

Community leaders, led by Father John Kennedy, physicians Clarence Hutchinson and Sidney Kennedy, Chamber of Commerce officers and city commissioners led by Adolph Greenhut, agreed that a city of almost 25,000 deserved much better. Working together these proponents developed a series of incentives, then approached the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland for assistance. The Daughters already were owners and operators of several large, successful centers of care.

As potential, the community proposed to provide a square block of property on 12th Avenue, $10,000 toward construction funding and assurance that all of the county’s more than 25 qualifying physicians would give full admissions support. The Daughters accepted the proposal. Architect A.O. Von Herbulis became designer, and so work on the $400,000 hospital began.

The building was designed with a late Gothic Revival styling, to be faced with Indiana Limestone. The facility was erected with two four story wings, and with generous installation of windows throughout for lighting and ventilation. Arrangements for patient accommodations followed those in general practice of the times, with allowances for wards of several sizes, and a few private and some semi-private rooms. Provision was made for modern radiology and laboratory services, and the surgical suites were state-of-the-art.

The experience enjoyed by the Daughters from other locations guided planning for dietary programs and for maternity and child care. All appropriate phases of the community assisted in speeding construction. Following an open house, the first patients were admitted Sept. 1, 1915, with Daughters present for administration and patient care.

The hospital — first called Pensacola, later Sacred Heart — moved quickly to begin nurse training. This was expanded in later war years, then was terminated in 1969.

The handsome building was a much used, much appreciated addition to the community. Facilities and staff served well during World War I and in the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic.

For 30 years this was the community’s only hospital, thus through depression and the second World War, Sacred Heart was caregiver to many thousands.  However, through those times funds were seldom available for expensive equipment additions or modernizations. One by one new health care suppliers opened. To meet competition and to relocate to serve an expanding population, the Daughters chose to begin anew. Their North Ninth Avenue campus saw ground breaking in 1963. Soon thereafter the 12th Avenue building was vacated.

From 1969 through 1978, the building became the site of a private academy. In 1980, the structure was acquired for private uses, and in years that followed private offices, restaurants, other private schools and even a theater, with required modernizations.

Into the 21st century older citizens, passing by the 1010 N. 12th Ave. structure, remarked that “they remembered fine things done there … and that the building, built with the strength of a fort, would probably remain present and in use for many more decades.”

Article and image originally published in the Pensacola News Journal.