150 Years of Caring for Hoosiers
Indiana hospitals have been there for you, providing care and comfort for well over a century. From the Civil War to the current COVID-19 pandemic, dedicated hospital staff have offered care, comfort and support when you or your family need it most.
Hospitals and caregivers are there for many of the moments that matter: Joy at the birth of a new baby, relief when surgery is successful, triumph when a disease is overcome, and sorrow when a loved one passes away. Thank you for allowing us to care for you.
Continue reading below to learn more about the history of Indiana hospitals.
Hospitals have come a long way since the early 19th century. Back then, doctors treated most patients in their own homes, and early hospitals more closely resembled what we might think of today as homeless shelters. Patients in these hospitals lacked financial means and many had been abandoned by family and friends. By the middle of the 19th century, hospitals had transitioned from being social service providers to offering medical care to the poor, and the middle class began getting care at hospitals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Civil War & the 1918 Pandemic
Some of the state’s early hospital-based medical care was tied to the American Civil War. For example, it was during that era when City Hospital in Indianapolis began caring for soldiers who were sick or wounded, before transforming into a hospital for the indigent following the war. Also, in what is now known as Jeffersonville in southern Indiana, Jefferson General Hospital was one of the most active hospitals during the Civil War.
More hospitals developed across Indiana in the following decades. St. Joseph Hospital was founded in 1869 in downtown Fort Wayne, and just under a decade later it was joined by Fort Wayne City Hospital, which evolved into today’s Parkview Health. In 1881, the Daughters of Charity of the St. Vincent de Paul Society established what today is known as Ascension St. Vincent Health in Indianapolis. Protestant ministers and laypeople founded Deaconess Hospital in Evansville in 1892. What became known as Memorial Hospital of South Bend was created in 1893 as Epworth Hospital. St. Margaret Hospital opened in Hammond in 1898—today it’s known as Franciscan Health Hammond. Bloomington Hospital opened in 1905.
Back in Marion County, what eventually evolved into Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital opened in 1908, and the Sisters of St. Francis opened a hospital a few years later in Beech Grove. In the northeast part of the county, the U.S. Army’s Fort Benjamin Harrison was the home of General Hospital 25, which was created to serve wounded soldiers but also treated more than 3,000 cases of Spanish flu and related pneumonia during the pandemic of 1918.
Meanwhile, medical science continued to advance. Hospitals overcame the earlier concerns about infection that had caused many people to get care in their homes in the early 19th century, and hospitals added many more services, from obstetrics to neurology. And communities continued to develop hospitals to bring care closer to home across Indiana. Cities, counties and philanthropic organizations raised funds to open new hospitals in many communities, while the federal government brought veterans’ hospital services to Indianapolis.
Hospital demand has continued to grow, fueled by the baby boom following World War II, growing medical insurance coverage, and population shifts. Major hospital organizations have formed in recent decades, building new hospitals in growth areas and coordinating care in communities across the state.
Modern Medicine and Growth
By the early 20th century much of the stigma attached to hospitals had subsided and hospitals began offering specialty services such as care for contagious patients, obstetrics-gynecology, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, neurology, and urology. Hospitals were also influenced by the tremendous growth of medical science (especially the development of the germ theory and bacteriology) and medical technology, improvements in medical education, and the professionalization of nursing. For the first time, hospitals had the potential for providing better care than could be received at home. They also became an integral part of the medical education system and important facilities for training medical students and nurses, as well as major research centers.
The early 1900s also witnessed the growth of several specialty hospitals funded through private philanthropy. Many specialty hospitals opened in Indiana focusing on caring for the rural poor, obstetrical and gynecological services, and children. During this time two hospitals served the needs of the mentally ill.
Despite the addition of hospitals in the city, the Black population failed to receive proper health care, since there was only one institution until the late 1940s which admitted Black patients. Unable to gain admission to existing hospitals, African Americans established their own hospitals, all these institutions were short-lived since they lacked money and proper facilities to practice modern medicine. In 1927 the black physicians of Indianapolis approached the Indianapolis Foundation to study the state of black healthcare in the city. The foundation’s report in 1930 concluded that Indianapolis City Hospital’s facilities were woefully inadequate to care for Blacks, and it urged that City Hospital construct a separate hospital for them.
The Great Depression had an adverse effect on the city’s hospitals, with resources strained to the limit as charity care increased dramatically. Some hospitals were unable to withstand the economic hardships. Other hospitals began considering accepting hospitalization insurance, although the state and local medical associations initially opposed it. In 1944 Methodist Hospital became the first Indianapolis hospital to sign an agreement with the Blue Cross Hospital Service.
Indiana hospital organizations have also formed many partnerships with one another in recent decades—creating new facilities for specialty care, for example, and expanding medical insurance offerings. They’ve even joined forces with health care systems that might be considered rivals, to work hand-in-hand on such important tasks as improving patient safety, focusing collectively on the social needs of Indiana communities, and working as partners to improve the general health of Hoosiers. Most recently, Indiana hospitals have collaborated in battling the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing issues of systemic racism and racial inequities.
In short, the story of Indiana hospitals has been one of constant evolution. Hospitals have developed and expanded to meet the growing needs for medical care across the state. They’ve embraced new techniques and technologies to serve patients more safely and effectively. They’ve increased their focus on well-being in their communities by focusing on the human challenges that impact health. Most important, they will continue to evolve as needed to fulfill their missions of service to Indiana communities.