As more than a thousand people packed the cafeteria at University Hospital and spilled out into the adjoining halls and lobby, University kicked off its 200th anniversary celebration Thursday with many of those who had helped shape its history over the last several decades.
“I was worried we wouldn’t have a big crowd,” University CEO Jim Davis said as he watched people crowd into the room before the celebration began.
University traces its roots back to City Hospital, founded in 1818 in the 100 block of Greene Street, which Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis noted was 82 years after the city itself was founded. That hospital became the home for Medical Academy of Georgia when it was founded in 1828, later to become Medical College of Georgia.
The hospital would later move to a new building in 1869, built for just under $6,100, according to a history compiled by former University personnel director Joe Herzberg. University Hospital was created in 1915 by combining the City and Lamar hospitals into a single facility. In 1935, an infectious disease wing named for MCG founder Milton Antony was added, said Dr. Randy Smith, chair emeritus of University Health Inc.
“I was in there as an 8-month-old with meningococcal meningitis,” Smith said.
Penicillin had just come on the market months before and “saved my life,” said Smith, who has been serving patients at University for 41 years. Nearby at a table with t-shirts celebrating the reunion of the Lamar School of Nursing at University were sisters Doris Gaines Dunton and Ruth Gwendolyn Allen, 1949 and 1952 graduates of the nursing school. Dunton would serve as a nurse at University until 1963 and Allen for nearly nearly 43 years, including after University moved again in 1970.
University was the teaching hospital for MCG until the state opened its own hospital for the medical school in 1956. University moved to its current location in 1970, the fourth location University has had. University still participates in residency and fellowship programs with the medical school. The hospital acquired McDuffie Regional Medical Center in 2012, which became University Hospital McDuffie, and last year bought Trinity Hospital, which became University Hospital Summerville.
But what makes University different is the way employees feel about the place and about each other, Dunton said.
“I still say University is the best hospital because of the friendship and the fellowship,” she said.
Dr. Mac Bowman remembers feeling that after coming to University in 1986 straight out of military service and then watching at one of his first staff meetings as a senior surgeon dressed down two others who were trying to get out of indigent care, reminding them of the mission and the duty owed to the community.
“We know here that at University Hospital, it doesn’t matter where you came from, it doesn’t matter what you had when you got here, we’re going to take the best care of you, as if you were family because you are family. That is the University way,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we set the standard. And we have for 200 years.”
The assembled staff, physicians, volunteers and retirees responded with thunderous applause.
The event is just the first of a series of celebrations that will last all year and the anniversary will become a part of all of the hospital’s events, Davis said.
“How many companies last 200 year and never really change much as far as ownership,” he said. “Very few companies survive 200 years, much less thrive.”
As he clutched a book about much of that history, Smith just shook his head.
“To serve the community that long, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org