By Troy Wells, President and CEO of Baptist Health
What a difference a year makes. A year ago, we were busy planning the February 16 launch of our 100th anniversary celebration on the date the original Baptist State Hospital became a legal entity. At that time, Arkansas hadn’t seen its first case of COVID-19.
Baptist Health’s 100-year history is bookended by the 1918 influenza pandemic, or “Spanish Flu,” that began in 1918 and killed more than 7,000 people in Arkansas and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more than 4,300 lives lost in Arkansas so far.
COVID-19 is the greatest challenge Baptist Health has faced in the 21st century, and we won’t know its full effect on the state and on the system for some time. But I’m reassured of our resilience when I look back at our history.
Baptist State Hospital had humble beginnings in the former Little Rock Sanitarium building, which had 75 beds. The Hospital Committee of the Arkansas Baptist Convention planned to raise money to construct a new 300-bed building, but their plans were delayed as the state struggled with recurring outbreaks of the Spanish Flu and quarantines. It took four additional years to raise the funds and construct the new building, which opened in 1925.
Those early leaders had to adapt to the challenges and circumstances that arose, just as we are adjusting to “the new normal” in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new normal means that we won’t be celebrating our anniversary exactly the way we thought we would a year ago. Some things will go forward as planned. Some things will be adapted to fit the current circumstances. Some things will be postponed until it is safe for groups to gather in public and when our staff can take the time to celebrate properly.
But I’m reminded that what we are celebrating isn’t a date—it’s a century of providing faith-based care to the communities we serve.
Because the story of Baptist Health is the story of our patients. It’s the story of how we found ways to provide charity care to patients with no insurance and limited financial resources. It’s the story of how we broke new ground in patient care with many medical firsts, including the state’s first heart transplant and first total artificial heart transplant. It’s the story of how we have taken health care beyond the acute-care hospital walls and built more than 250 points of access that cover all aspects of health care.
Together, we have so much to celebrate, and I can’t wait until we can celebrate it together.
The State of Care blog by Troy Wells, President and CEO of Baptist Health, is published once a month at Baptist-Health.com. Learn more about Baptist Health’s 100th anniversary by visiting BaptistHealth100.com.