Baptist Health celebrates 100th anniversary

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 693 views 

Baptist Health board chair Judy Henry introduces nurses and nursing students wearing period uniforms over the last 100 years.

Baptist Health was born on Feb. 16, 1921 just as the nation was coming out of a global pandemic known as the Spanish Flu. One hundred years later, Arkansas and the world find themselves in similar territory.

Little Rock-based Baptist Health System, the largest healthcare system in Arkansas, celebrated its 100 year anniversary on a gorgeous 75-degree day Tuesday (June 22) in the capital city. The ceremony was delayed from February when a snowstorm shut down a portion of the state.

Troy Wells, Baptist Health CEO, greeted a crowd of business and civic leaders and hospital leadership and staff for the momentous occasion outside at the Little Rock campus’ garden entrance. He noted that despite 11 campuses and hundreds of health care facilities, the real strength of the health care network has nothing to do with acreage, technology, or buildings.

“The story of Baptist Health is really about people,” Wells said.

He said over the past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately one in four Arkansas patients who needed hospitalization were treated at Baptist Health facilities.

To celebrate the centennial, Wells said a new “Give 100” campaign was being launched to encourage employees to volunteer 100 hours of time over the next year.

Baptist Health CEO Troy Wells.

The Baptist Health Foundation, a charitable fundraising arm for the system, donated a new mobile health unit to be used for going into communities to deliver health care, especially in underserved and rural parts of the state. It cost more than $600,000, according to Cathy Owen, chair of the foundation’s board.

President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea was born at Baptist, made a video appearance. He complimented the giving nature of health care professionals who have endured the challenges of the last year and a half.

“Medicine and health care have changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the compassion of the staff and volunteers” of Baptist, Clinton said.

Other dignitaries in attendance were Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott and North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick. Representatives from Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s, U.S. Sen. John Boozman’s, and U.S. Rep. French Hill’s offices were present.

Baptist Health was legally founded as Baptist State Hospital in a three-story building in downtown Little Rock on February 16, 1921 by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. It could treat 75 patients at full capacity.

Later that year, construction began on a five-story building in downtown Little Rock to expand the hospital’s reach. In its first year of existence, Baptist also opened a nursing school, which it still operates. Baptist Health board of trustees chair Judy Henry said the school has trained more than 15,000 nursing professionals with nearly 95% being from Arkansas.

In 1949, the hospital was renamed Arkansas Baptist Hospital. The Arkansas Baptist State Convention relinquished control of the medical center in 1966.

A turning point for the health care system was the opening of its current campus – then on the western edge of Little Rock – in 1974. Vice President Gerald Ford spoke at the dedication ceremony.

Today, Baptist Health boasts 11 hospitals ranging from western to north central Arkansas as well as central and south Arkansas. There are 250 points of access in the system that includes hospitals, urgent care centers, a senior living community, and over 100 primary and specialty care clinics.