At the time of the Civil War there were no general hospitals in North Carolina; nonetheless, Charlotte increasingly found itself as a final transportation stop for wounded soldiers from battlefields near and far. To accommodate the pressing need to care for those soldiers, a Confederate hospital was eventually built, and Charlotte’s citizens gained their first hands-on experience with large-scale patient care.
A few years later, in 1876, the women of St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church combined energies to open the state’s first civilian hospital, called Charlotte Home and Hospital. Located in the area we now call Fourth Ward, the hospital operated under the leadership of a woman named Jane Wilkes. Wilkes had been a caregiver at the city’s Confederate military hospital.
The facility later changed its name to St. Peter’s Hospital, and that hospital continued to operate through October of 1940, when it was succeeded by a newly built facility in Dilworth called Charlotte Memorial Hospital. The connection to St. Peter’s is still honored today, however, as the wooden alter and stained glass windows used in CMC’s chapel were donated from the old hospital.
Shortly after its formation, Charlotte Memorial took on a special role in the medical history of World War II. Dr. Paul Sanger, a thoracic surgeon, alerted the U.S. Army’s chief of staff that Charlotte was home to an outstanding group of specialists and practitioners who were eager to make a contribution to the war effort. Sanger’s idea was well received, and Charlotte Memorial was invited to organize a unit for overseas service called the 38th Evacuation Hospital. It was the first such unit in the country not associated with a medical school.
The medical staff of the 38th Evacuation Hospital distinguished itself in Europe, with deployments in London, North Africa and Italy. In the meantime, however, Charlotte Memorial struggled at home from a variety of financial and governance problems. In response, one of Charlotte’s influential business leaders stepped up to assist. Hospital board member Rush S. Dickson, who headed up the Ruddick Corporation (which operates Harris Teeter), solicited additional financial support from both corporations and individuals.
He lobbied city and county officials for more adequate reimbursement for emergency and indigent patients. Dickson also started a campaign to strengthen the hospital’s commitment to education. He believed that a strong teaching component was essential to attracting quality personnel, maintaining high standards of care, and sustaining a positive reputation.
An ongoing fear of political influence in hospital operations prompted Dickson to work with Fred Helms, a respected local attorney, to resolve the problem of “ownership.” Related legislation was formulated, and in 1943 the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority was organized under the North Carolina Hospital Authorities Act. This act provided more efficient and effective oversight mechanisms. It set out the ground rules for constructing new facilities, borrowing money and managing day to day operations. In addition, Authority status provided the hospital with a clearer legal and financial framework for treating patients who could not afford to pay for services.
In July of 1982 the “Tree of Life” logo was introduced at Charlotte Memorial, providing a graphic symbol of hope and rejuvenation whose roots extend back to Biblical times. The logo has since been modernized, incorporating nine branches that represent courage, wisdom, kindness, humility, gentleness, loyalty, prudence, generosity and justice.
In March of 1990, Charlotte Memorial Hospital changed its name to Carolinas Medical Center, an alteration that acknowledged steady growth in the number and scope of services. In particular, the change was intended to reflect the hospital’s expanding role in medical education. The facility had just been designated as an “Academic Medical Center Teaching Hospital” by the state of North Carolina.
Currently, CMC is one of only five hospitals in North Carolina to have that designation, and the only one not directly affiliated with a major university, the others being located at Duke, Wake Forest, East Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill. The education program grew in size and prestige over the years, now encompassing numerous fellowships and more than 200 medical school graduates annually pursuing residency training in 15 specialties.
In 1996 the Authority initiated another name change, to reflect growth patterns not directly connected to the CMC campus, and started doing business as Carolinas HealthCare System. CHS has since grown into the largest healthcare system in the Carolinas and the third largest public system in the nation, ranking behind only the Veteran’s Administration system and the University of California system. CHS today has total assets of $6.3 billion, with total operating revenue of $3.8 billion, and encompasses more than 300 care locations in two states, including 25 hospitals.
Levine Children’s Hospital opened to patients in December 2007. The children’s hospital was built with the aid of more than $65 in community philanthropy and is one of the most comprehensive facilities of its kind in the entire country.
Read more about Carolinas Healthcare System.