St. Mary's Medical Center (San Francisco)

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St. Mary's Medical Center
Dignity Health
Location450 Stanyan St. San Francisco, CA 94117
Care systemPrivate
Hospital typeCommunity
Founded1857 (Sisters of Mercy)

St. Mary's Medical Center (SMMC) is a hospital in San Francisco, California, US. It is currently operated by Dignity Health.


SMMC is the oldest continuously operating hospital in San Francisco. St. Mary's Hospital was opened on July 27, 1857 by the Sisters of Mercy.[1] Prior to this, the sisters had operated the first County hospital in San Francisco, the Stockton Street Hospital. Only after the County refused to reimburse the sisters for their service were they forced to open SMMC.

St. Mary's sister hospital is Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, also in San Francisco, it is located between the Nob Hill and Tenderloin districts and is the only hospital in the downtown area.

The history of St. Mary's Medical Center is an inspiring testimony to the tireless efforts of the Sisters of Mercy, outstanding physicians and the many other dedicated individuals who have committed their talents and resources to serving the community of San Francisco, including the poor and marginalized .

In 1831, Irish heiress Catherine McAuley used her fortune to establish the Sisters of Mercy at the Convent of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland. A teaching-nursing-social services congregation that has become the second largest order of religious women in the world, the Sisters of Mercy sponsor and co-sponsor many organizations and ministries, including St. Mary's Medical Center and Dignity Health. Six Sisters from the order's Burlingame Region—which covers California, Phoenix, Arizona and Peru—continue to serve vital roles at St. Mary's today.

In 1854, Rev. Hugh Gallagher, at the request of San Francisco's first Archbishop Joseph Alemany, solicited the Sisters for service in San Francisco. Almost all of the 29 Sisters volunteered. Eight Sisters were chosen to make the journey, headed by 25-year-old Sister Mary Baptist Russell (née Katherine Russell), who had joined the order at the age of 19 and nursed victims through Ireland's horrible cholera epidemic of 1849—an experience that later would prove valuable in San Francisco.

The Sisters faced a harrowing, three-month journey. Mother Russell booked passage on the Arctic, scheduled to leave Dublin on September 13. In a twist of fate, the ship was overbooked, so the Sisters sailed from Liverpool on the Canada a few days later. The Arctic collided with another vessel in a dense fog, and everyone on board died. After crossing the Atlantic, the Sisters faced an exhausting crossing of the Isthmus of Nicaragua by river boat and mule train before boarding the Pacific steamer, Cortes, for the last leg of their journey, sharing the voyage with a motley crowd of gold prospectors. The valiant Irish nuns disembarked to a chilly gray dawn in San Francisco on Friday, December 8, 1854.

After a few weeks of sharing accommodations with the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy rented a six-room cottage on Vallejo Street, across from the only hospital in the city of 35,000, the State Marine Hospital. Within months, the Sisters were called to aid a city in crisis when the S.S. Uncle Sam arrived September 5, 1855, carrying the deadly Asiatic cholera that ravaged the city for six weeks.

In the interval, the California Legislature had withdrawn its responsibility for the indigent sick, ruling that each county must care for its own. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors petitioned the Sisters to organize and operate the first County Hospital, using their own borrowed funds to purchase the old Stockton Street Hospital.

By 1857, it was evident the Board of Supervisors would not honor their obligations to reimburse the Sister for their expenses in caring for the indigent. The Sisters reluctantly had to terminate the Mercy management of the County Hospital. On July 19, the County patients were moved, and on July 27, the Sisters opened the Stockton Street building as St. Mary's Hospital, the first Catholic Hospital in San Francisco—beginning a new chapter in their ongoing story of providing health care and community services to the city of San Francisco.[2]

Timeline of St. Mary's Events[3][edit]

2005 The X –Stop device is approved by the FDA. Drs. James Zucherman and Ken Hsu of St. Mary’s Spine Center’s invented the X-Stop device to treat patients with spinal stenosis, a painful condition in which enlarged spine nerves pinch nearby nerves.

2002 St. Mary's opens the first Chest Pain Evaluation Unit in the city to provide rapid evaluation of patients with chest pain that is of unclear origin. Spine Center surgeons receive FDA approval as one of five centers in the U.S. for trials of the Prodisc artificial disc replacement.

2001 St. Mary's opens a new state-of-the-art, all-digital Cardiac Catheterization Lab, one of the most advanced labs in the U.S. The Spine Center pioneers development of the X-Stop Device, a non-invasive procedure for spinal stenosis.

2000 HCIA-Sachs names St. Mary's in its national tabulation of "100 Top Hospitals: Cardiovascular Benchmarks for Success."

1997 Anton Szandor LaVey dies there, age 67. Date of death, however, is written as October 31 for Halloween.

1993 St. Mary's launches the WomanKind Program, a comprehensive women's healthcare program.

1991 The St. Mary's Rehabilitation Program is expanded and renamed the Ben Berman Outpatient Rehabilitation Center, a distinguished facility for treatment of strokes, head injuries and other impairments.

1987 St. Mary's establishes the HIV/AIDS Services Department and the CARE Unit, the world's first program for AIDS-related dementia.

1986 The Sisters of Mercy, Burlingame, join with the Sisters of Mercy, Auburn, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters of Michigan to form Catholic Healthcare West

1982 The St. Mary's Western Heart Institute opens, bringing together the best diagnosticians, surgeons and rehabilitation experts. Surgeons perform approximately 1,000 coronary artery bypass procedures each year, in addition to 1,200 cardiac catheterizations, balloon angioplasties and other procedures.

1980 The Sports Medicine Center at St. Mary's opens to treat both professional and amateur athletes for sports-related injuries.

1978 St. Mary's becomes the first hospital in the U.S. to perform the balloon angioplasty procedure.

1974 The newest St. Mary's, an 11-story acute care and medical facility, is dedicated. The tower at 450 Stanyan Street becomes an instant landmark in San Francisco.

1972 Cardiologists begin performing cardiac catheterizations at St. Mary's. St. Mary's launches the Hospital Spiritual Education Program, the forerunner of today's Clinical Pastoral Education Unit, now the largest such program on the West Coast, serving as the center for both Saint Francis and Sequoia as well as St. Mary's.

1971 The first coronary bypass surgery at St. Mary's is performed. St. Mary's breaks ground for the current hospital facility. 1970 The Joint Center opens, beginning with total hip replacements, the first such surgery in California.

1968 The Respiratory Care Unit, the Cardiovascular Diagnostic Unit and the Sports Medicine Program were opened. Meanwhile, an influx of Haight-Ashbury "flower children" requiring medical care turns to the Sr. Mary Philippa Clinic, the peak period of service for the clinic.

1968 The Sr. Mary Philippa Clinic is inundated with medical requests from the Flower Children of the Haight Ashbury.

1966 The St. Mary's Clinic is expanded and renamed in honor of Sr. Mary Philippa, SM who provided exceptional commitment to the Mercy Style of Care and who served St. Mary's and the residents of San Francisco from 1918 to 1963.

1965 St. Mary's opens the Speech and Learning Center under the direction of Anna Foudy to serve the needs of children requiring special education.

1954 St. Mary's McAuley Neuropsychiatric Institute opens, offering the most comprehensive and diversified psychiatric program for children and adults in Northern California.

1946 Archbishop Mitty asks Sisters of Mercy to open a second Catholic Hospital in San Francisco. The Sisters purchase the former Dante Hospital at Broadway and Van Ness and rename it Notre Dame Hospital.

1937 St. Mary's College of Nursing moves to St. Mary's Hall on Hayes Street. The college has 160 students and the Hall also serves as the dormitory.

1926 A new wing, additional main corridor and service units building are completed at St. Mary's.

1923 St. Mary's Clinic is opened to provide high quality medical care to individuals and families, especially the elderly and the poor.

1922 St. Mary's Volunteers and Auxiliary are formed, focusing on donating time and energy to assist patients as well as raising funds for the support of programs, equipment and furnishings.

1911 The new St. Mary's Hospital opens on Hayes Street, a gleaming white structure with facilities for 150 patients.

1906 St. Mary's opens a Tent Hospital on the Sisters of Mercy property adjacent to Golden Gate Park. For over two months the hospital responds to the needs of the sick and wounded of the earthquake and fire. The Sisters of Mercy acquire the Maudsley Sanitarium, quickly repair it and open in June as the temporary site of St. Mary's Hospital.

1906 St. Mary's Hospital on Rincon Hill is destroyed by the fire that devastates San Francisco after the earthquake. Not a patient is lost and they, with vital equipment, are ferried across the Bay to Providence Hospital.

1900 Sisters of Mercy establish St. Mary's School of Nursing, the first nursing college in California to be accredited by the National Nursing Accreditation Service.

1898 Mother Russell dies and San Francisco papers list her as the "best known charitable worker on the Pacific Coast". Mother Russell is listed as the only woman among the 50 individuals honored as the "Makers of Northern California".

1898 Several of the Sisters of Mercy move into the Presidio of San Francisco for nine weeks to provide care for the soldiers stricken with typhoid and influenza.

1871 Mother Russell opens an elementary and secondary School for Girls in the Rincon Hill hospital. She also starts an industrial Training School and an Employment Service. Over 1,000 young homeless women are trained and placed in jobs. Many of these are former prostitutes.

1868 The Sisters of Mercy staff the two "pest houses" set up by the city to isolate victims of a black smallpox epidemic.

1861 A new St. Mary's Hospital is constructed on Rincon Hill to replace the antiquated building on Stockton Street Sisters of Mercy begin their Community Outreach Program. They trudge the muddy lanes and alleys of San Francisco, bring hearty Irish Stew and clean bed linen to the sick and poor, wherever they find them. A formal program to visit and comfort the prisoners at San Quentin Jail is begun.

1857 The Sisters of Mercy withdraw from the County Hospital for failure of the City to pay. Ten days later, they open St. Mary's Hospital. This becomes the first Catholic hospital on the Pacific Coast. St. Mary's Hospital develops an exceptional medical staff, including Dr. Beverly Cole, founder of the University of California School of Medicine. Joining him on staff is Dr. Levi Cooper Lane, founder of Stanford Medical School and rated "the most brilliant medical scholar of the West, its leading surgeon and teacher of surgery."

1857 Dr. A. J. Bowie, especially skilled in plastic and bone surgery, resigns from the Navy to work at St. Mary's and Marine Hospital. The leading medical journal of the time writes, "It cannot be denied that San Francisco and Dr. A. J. Bowie lead the surgical world in the success of operations upon bones."

Dr. Henry Gibbons, another member of the charter staff, begins and edits the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal. He is also a key organizer of the state and county medical societies.

Dr. James Whitney spearheads St. Mary's Medical Education Program and is noted for his oratory skills as well as his views in medicine and surgery.

1855 Asiatic Cholera epidemic hits the city. The Sisters of Mercy donate their services to the State Hospital and work "round the clock", eventually restoring calm and order to the frightened city.

Sisters of Mercy asked to run the San Francisco County Hospital and assured that they will be reimbursed for their expenses.

The Sisters of Mercy purchase the old Stockton Street State hospital (with funds the Sisters borrowed) and officially open San Francisco's first County Hospital. Two years pass and no reimbursements from the City of San Francisco are received.

1854 Eight Sisters of Mercy, headed by Mother Mary Baptist Russell arrive in San Francisco from Ireland.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ History Primary Page
  2. ^ "St. Mary's Medical Center History".
  3. ^ "St. Mary's Medical Center History".

Coordinates: 37°46′26″N 122°27′16″W / 37.774015°N 122.454311°W / 37.774015; -122.454311