The history of Saint Thomas Health begins with the Daughters of Charity, a Catholic community of religious women founded in Paris, France in 1633 by Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac. Together they organized and trained young peasant women to take food and other necessities to the homes of the less fortunate. From the beginning, the Daughters were unlike other communities of religious women. Not cloistered as were the other orders of the day, they wore peasant dress and carried their ministry into the streets.
Soon the Daughters’ mission expanded to educating children and caring for the sick in hospitals and on the battlefields. They were the first to nurse the poor in their homes, to care for the mentally ill and to visit patients after discharge from the hospital. As pioneers of modern social services, the Daughters started orphanages, homes for the aged and for unwed mothers, soup kitchens, and hostels for beggars; they also worked for prison reform and war relief.
The selfless work on behalf of the poor was extended across the ocean to the United States by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, a widow from New York. She established the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1809 and dreamed of uniting with the Daughters of Charity. The dream was realized in 1850, 25 years after her death. The tiny community founded in 1633 now numbers over 26,000 members worldwide with ministries in health, education, social service and pastoral care on behalf of the poor and vulnerable.
The Daughters of Charity began their formal health care ministry when they were asked to take charge of Saint John’s Hospital in Angers, France in 1639. The healthcare ministry in the U.S. began in 1823 when the Daughters staffed the Baltimore Infirmary, now the University of Maryland Hospital. The Daughters were invited to bring their healthcare skill to Nashville in 1898 by the Catholic bishop of Nashville, Thomas Byrne, who was certain that "so much good can be done here in a Hospital."
The Dickinson property on Hayes Street became the first Saint Thomas Sanitarium. In 1902, a new Saint Thomas Hospital was constructed on the property. Having outgrown several additions and renovations, Saint Thomas Hospital relocated to its current Harding Road location in 1974.
In 1918, a group of influential Protestant clergy and laymen organized an effort to create Protestant Hospital, partly in response to an influenza epidemic. The founders’ objective was for the hospital to be nondenominational and provide service to paying and nonpaying patients alike. The first patient was a maternity patient.
In 1948 the hospital was acquired by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and renamed Mid-State Baptist Hospital. A series of questions and answers published at the time captures well the spirit of the hospital: "Are only Baptists to be served?" "No. It‘s going to be a ministry to humanity." "What about races?" "It doesn’t matter what background or ethnic group. If they are in need, we minister to them and we do it at this place." "How should the hospital be run?" "It ought to be done in a religious way, highly ethical. But it ought to be up to date, use modern methods. People deserve the best, all races, all people, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, religious differences; there are similarities in our desire to maintain health and live a long time." In 1964, it was renamed Baptist Hospital, and in 1991, it became independent of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Nearby Rutherford County had a high death rate from tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and high incidences of pellagra, hookworm, and venereal disease. Without any hospital facility, most surgeries were done on the kitchen table in patients’ homes with more intensive cases going to Nashville. In the mid-1920s the county had only four registered nurses, three practical nurses, and sixteen midwives.
A key visionary and leader was Miss Maude Ferguson, Public Health Nurse of the Rutherford County chapter of the Red Cross. She demonstrated much success in a children’s health program, which was funded by the Commonwealth Fund of New York. Miss Ferguson, together with Dr. Harry S. Mustard, County Health Officer, and two local businessmen, Simeon B. Christy and Sam Houston applied to the Commonwealth Fund of New York for a $161,620 grant to build the Rutherford Hospital, which opened on May 2, 1927. In 1986, Saint Thomas and Baptist Hospital, at that time otherwise unaffiliated, came together to acquire Rutherford Hospital and changed the name to Middle Tennessee Medical Center.
In 2002, Saint Thomas and Baptist Hospitals came together as Saint Thomas Health to develop a comprehensive and integrated system for the delivery and financing of healthcare throughout middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. In 2013, Saint Thomas consolidated the names of all its member hospitals under a single designation, and in 2015, four more hospitals were acquired from Capella Health to better serve the residents of the Middle Tennessee and Upper Cumberland region.
A faith-based ministry with more than 8,000 associates serving the area, Saint Thomas Health’s regional health system today consists of nine hospitals:
Saint Thomas Health is a member of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world's largest Catholic health system. Saint Thomas Health is continuing into the 21st century the centuries old commitment of our founders to tend to the suffering found among the poor and sick.