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At the turn of the 20th century, Baton Rouge was a sleepy small town nestled against the Mississippi River. In those days, healthcare took place in a doctor’s office or a patient’s home. But this was about to change thanks to one doctor’s passion for healing and a community’s desire to make their home a better place to live.

In the early 1900s, the Yazoo & Mississippi River Valley Railroad cut through Baton Rouge on its daily trek to Memphis. One morning, a train wreck in the downtown area injured several railroad workers. Dr. T.P. Singletary, a Baton Rouge physician, took them to a nearby building and treated their injuries. As he cared for them, he realized that he and other physicians could treat patients more effectively if they were all in one location.

By 1908, Dr. Singletary had built a three-story brick hospital he called The Sanitarium, which would eventually become Baton Rouge General. The Sanitarium opened with a small staff that included Dr. Singletary, a nurse, a janitor and a cook. A rope elevator was used to transport patients from floor to floor and Dr. Singletary paid his son a quarter to operate the elevator.

In 1910, Louise R. "Lula" Hiedingsfelder Caruthers, a community-minded woman, gathered a group of local residents and formed the Charity Ward Association to treat patients who could not afford medical care. Mrs. Caruthers was a staunch supporter of the hospital and even took charge in 1912 when Dr. Singletary became too ill to continue his practice.

The Great Depression and World War II

The following decades were busy years for the young hospital, which grew along with the community. A particular point of pride was its School of Nursing, which was established in 1912 and offered a three-year diploma program. The young women trained here were invaluable for their healthcare skills as men were being called away for military service during World War I.

In 1923, the Sanitarium’s name was officially changed to Baton Rouge General Hospital, and by 1927, the Charity Ward Association had raised enough funds to open a new 62-bed facility on Government Street. When the Great Depression hit, many men who served on the hospital’s board of directors were drawn to personal business matters, and it was the women of the Charity Ward Association who stepped up and helped handle the hospital’s business affairs.

Not long after the Depression ended, World War II erupted, and like hospitals all over the country, Baton Rouge General again experienced a staff shortage as the military called doctors, nurses, and other medical staff to serve on many fronts. Baton Rouge General was able to continue operating thanks to community and volunteer support. Annual “linen showers” kept the hospital supplied with sheets. Local farmers sold produce to the hospital to provide meals for patients. And volunteers like Farrow Behrens helped transport patients home from the hospital. Ms. Behrens actually used her war-time gasoline rations to provide this service.

In keeping with a tradition that remains today, Baton Rouge General was fortunate to attract volunteers who donated valuable time and services to the hospital. The Blue Birds and the Pink Ladies were two early groups that evolved into the hospital’s Auxiliary, which was founded in 1952. Today, the Auxiliary includes 400 dedicated volunteers who contribute more than 30,000 hours of service to the hospital each year.

Healthcare in the ‘40s and ‘50s focused on diseases such as polio and tuberculosis. To address the need for isolation and specialized care, the fourth floor of the hospital was set up as a polio unit, which at the height of the epidemic, housed up to 75 patients. Polio sufferers with chest paralysis were treated in “iron lungs” which helped them breathe. When a lifesaving polio vaccine became available, nurses and volunteers at Baton Rouge General administered it to thousands of Baton Rouge residents.

Modern Medicine

The morning of January 30, 1950, was a big day for Baton Rouge General. The small hospital on Government Street had outgrown its facility, and more than 20,000 people had assembled at 3600 Florida Blvd. to see the “new” Baton Rouge General Hospital open its doors. Many in the crowd had donated their money and time to make this new hospital a reality. That morning, 19 patients were transported by ambulance to the 250-bed facility, and the clinical staff got to work providing healthcare services, including emergency care, in one of the finest hospitals in the state of Louisiana.

Over the next 30 years, Baton Rouge General would come to be known as a hospital of “firsts” in the areas of cardiology, cancer, burn care and behavioral health, among others.

By the late 1950s, a young heart surgeon named Dr. Page Acree was making huge strides in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He even fashioned a heart bypass system from a pump used in a soup factory and grafts that his wife had sewn together. In 1958, Baton Rouge General performed the city’s first open-heart surgery, and in 1961, the city’s first pacemaker procedure. A decade later, the hospital performed Baton Rouge’s first coronary artery bypass surgery, and in 1974, made national headlines when Dr. Eugene Berry successfully implanted a pacemaker in 5-day-old Amy Sciple. Today, the Womack Heart Center is nationally recognized as a center of excellence for heart and vascular care.

In the 1970s, Baton Rouge had developed into a major hub of the state’s industrial corridor, with chemical and petroleum plants dotting the outlying towns and cities along the Mississippi River. The need for specialized burn care became apparent and Baton Rouge General opened its Regional Burn Center on July 14, 1970. It was one of the country’s first regional burn centers, and within 24 hours of opening, an accident in Pierre Part, La. brought 10 critically burned patients to the new unit. Today, Baton Rouge General’s Regional Burn Center is the only facility in a 300-mile radius designated as a regional burn center, treating about 1,000 patients each year.

The 1970s saw a sharp increase in drug abuse, especially among teenagers and young adults. Substance abuse had moved from a social problem to a legal issue, and ultimately, to a serious health concern. In 1976, Baton Rouge General took the lead in addressing the problem and opened the state’s first chemical dependency unit.

Approaching a New Millennium

To reflect its expanding services, the hospital’s name was changed in 1981 to Baton Rouge General Medical Center. By now, the hospital was offering state-of-the-art cancer care, and opened its Radiation Oncology Center in 1986. In 1987, Baton Rouge General became the first hospital to be approved by the American College of Surgeons as a community hospital comprehensive cancer program. Part of its innovation stems from its involvement in national research studies, clinical trials and cutting edge technology.

In 1991, Baton Rouge General’s medical education program expanded when it partnered with Earl K. Long Medical Center to provide training for residents in internal medicine, emergency medicine and general surgery. In 1994, the hospital was named one of the country’s top 100 teaching hospitals by Modern Healthcare magazine.

By 1994, the hospital had outgrown its Mid City location and as the city stretched further to the east, a second campus was needed. Baton Rouge General opened its Bluebonnet facility, which quickly expanded to include an Emergency Room, a Birth Center, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Neonatal Intensive Care unit (NICU), a Cancer Center and Heart Center.

A 21st Century Medical Community

Baton Rouge General has become a fully integrated medical community with a physician network of more than 800, a hospital staff of more than 3,500, and more than 20 clinics and medical facilities. In 2010, the hospital became a satellite campus for Tulane University School of Medicine, further cementing its reputation as a regional teaching hospital. Expansion continues on both campuses to accommodate new services and programs.

Recent additions to the Bluebonnet campus include the Regional Burn Center and a new Comprehensive Care Clinic, which offers multi-disciplinary care for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The Mid City campus has become a hub of post-acute care, including hospice care, skilled care, physical rehabilitation and behavioral health.

By incorporating our values and our vision, Baton Rouge General has been the most trusted name in healthcare for this city for more than a century. From its earliest days as a tiny patient ward over a downtown storefront, to the medical community it is today, Baton Rouge General has created a rich legacy of commitment and caring.
We continually strive to fulfill that legacy by keeping our community at the heart of everything we do.

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