Providence celebrates 75 years in Columbia

Seventy-five years ago this month, an order of Catholic nuns from Cleveland opened a new hospital in Columbia.

Some of the specialties at Providence Hospital at Forest Drive have changed through the years – obstetrics was the first order of business in the early years, heart care is the headliner now – but the overriding goal has remained providing quality health care. As the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a Columbia native, said in 1995: “God’s healing power is at work in a special way at Providence, and it is a cause of celebration.”

The hospital is celebrating its 75th with events Sunday at St. Peter’s Catholic Church and at the hospital.

“Over the past 75 years, the Providence presence in the Midlands has been unwavering,” said George Zara, president of Providence Hospitals. “As we mark decades of devotion to healing this month, we will also celebrate the people who daily live our values and our mission in their service to our patients and our community.”

Here are some historical tidbits on the hospital, mostly from a booklet entitled “Devoted to Healing: 75 Years of Faith, Leadership and Innovation” by Bud Ferillo:

Formal dedication: June 16, 1938, but the first patients weren’t admitted until four days later. On June 20 at 8:45 a.m., William Slater Rule was the first child born at Providence. The hospital cost $250,000, had 93 adult beds and 26 nursery bassinets.

First outreach: The Columbia facility was the first outside of Ohio for the Cleveland-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. Msgr. Martin C. Murphy of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Columbia and Bishop Emmet Walsh of Charleston persuaded the sisters to take the chance on a new medical ministry in Columbia. Today, Sisters of Charity Health System owns four hospitals – one in Cleveland, one in Canton, Ohio, and two in Columbia, including Providence Hospital Northeast on Farrow Road at I-77– and co-owns one in Westlake, Ohio.

Non-Catholic assistance: Columbia businessman James B. Younginer was one of the major backers of the new hospital. A non-Catholic, Younginer had been convinced of the quality of Catholic hospitals after his wife, Flora, was treated for a medical emergency at a Catholic facility in Oakland, Calif., in 1932. Younginer helped procure the 17.5 acres on which Providence was built. He converted to Catholicism shortly before he died.

Address changes: The main hospital has been at the same location since 1938, but it has had two address changes. The name of the road running in front of the facility has changed from Old Camden Road to Taylor Street to Forest Drive.

Youngest of Columbia’s hospitals: Of the three major hospitals in Columbia, Providence was the last to get its start. Palmetto Health Richland, then known as Columbia Hospital, opened in 1893. Palmetto Health Baptist, then Baptist Hospital, opened in 1914.

Major expansions: Providence added east and west wings in 1963; a three-bed cardiac unit in 1968; 24 additional beds and a six-bed intensive care unit in 1969; a 25,000-square foot heart wing in 1974 and a medical office building and parking facility and 48 new beds in the late 1970s. The opening of Providence Hospital Northeast in 1999 was much more than an expansion.

Babies come and go: By 1953, the Providence staff had delivered 10,000 babies. But the hospital closed its labor and delivery department in 1971, ceding that market to other hospitals in the region. The hospital system got back into the baby business with the opening of Providence Northeast, but the hospital board opted to close that labor and delivery unit in 2011.

Heart of the matter: Providence dived head first into the heart surgery field with its new cardiac wing in 1974. It was the first facility in the Midlands to offer many new cardiac procedures. Its first open-heart surgery was performed in 1974. By 1979, 35.4 percent of all cardiac catheterizations and 35.1 percent of all heart surgeries in the state were performed at Providence.

Happy birthday, Providence

Two events are scheduled Sunday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the opening of Columbia’s Providence Hospital.

Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 2 p.m., 1035 Hampton St., Columbia

Remarks and reception at Providence Hospital, 3:30 p.m., 2435 Forest Drive, Columbia

By the numbers


Number of beds at Providence Hospitals, including 258 at the Forest Drive location and 74 in Northeast Richland.


Number of hospital employees, including 1,249 downtown and 374 in the Northeast. That includes 401 combined medical staff.


Number of annual admissions to the hospitals, including 7,995 downtown and 2,783 in Northeast.


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