Until the 19th century, most Americans endured illnesses at home with little assistance from medical personnel. Medical facilities were very few and concentrated in urban areas. In the United States, hospitals were founded from homes and institutions that nursed and cared for the ailing poor. Rooted in the tradition of providing assistance to the poor, the public hospitals trace their origin from the efforts by the community to provide shelter and care for the ill, disable, and deprived. In the US, the Bellevue, Charity, and Pennsylvania hospitals are some of the oldest, dating back to the mid-1700s. Today, there are thousands of hospitals and health facilities throughout the United States.
Bellevue Hospital, New York - 1736
Bellevue Hospital is the oldest public hospital in the US. It was established on March 31, 1736, and is still in operation to date. Bellevue Hospital is situated on First Avenue, New York and is also home to the FDNY EMC Station 08. The hospital traces its origin from New York’s first permanent almshouse which was a two-story building built in 1736. In 1799, Bellevue Hospital became the first in the US to open a maternity ward. In 1867, the physicians from the hospital were also the first to report that TB was a preventable disease. The hospital can handle 30,000 inpatients, 105,000 emergency visits, and 460,000 outpatient clinic visits per year. The majority of the patients who come to the hospital are mainly New York City’s medically underserved population.
Charity Hospital, New Orleans - 1736
Charity Hospital was established on May 10, 1736, from a grant from Jean Louis, a French shipbuilder, and sailor, who had died a year before. According to his will, he was to finance the building of a hospital in New Orleans from his estate. The hospital was initially named the Hospital of Saint John. The first hospital was built at the intersection of the Bienville Street and Chartres Street, now known as French Quarter. The second Charity was built on Basin Street in 1743 while the third was built nearby in 1785. In 1809, the hospital was destroyed by fire leading to the building of the fourth hospital in 1815. By 1939, a sixth hospital had been built, making Charity Hospital the second-largest in the US with a bed capacity of 2,680. However, it suffered severe damage during Hurricane Katrina. Charity Hospital reopened August 2015 as part of University Medical Center New Orleans.
Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia - 1751
Pennsylvania Hospital in the city of Philadelphia was founded on May 11, 1751, by one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, and Dr. Thomas Bond. The hospital’s main building dates back to 1756 and is now considered a National Historic Landmark. Pennsylvania Hospital was founded with the aim of receiving and curing the sick free of charge. The hospital seal contains the story of the Good Samaritan with the phrase “Take Care of Him and I will Repay Thee.” It quickly gained a reputation as a center of innovation and medical advancement, especially in the area of maternity. From its beginning, it was a teaching hospital and also served as a center for treating war-wounded patients. It was home to the first surgical amphitheatre in the US which served as an operating room from 1804 to 1868.
Other Oldest Hospitals in the US
By 1820, there were only 10 public hospitals in the US. Apart from the three hospitals discussed above, the other oldest hospital in the US are New York Hospital (1771), Boston Dispensary (1796), Candler Hospital (1804), Massachusetts General Hospital (1811), McLean Hospital (1811), Friends Hospital (1813), and University Hospital (1818).