Hospital Center History

The history of MedStar Washington Hospital Center began with an act of Congress. It was 1944, and wartime Washington, D.C, was teeming with people who had come to the nation's capital to fill the jobs created by the war. Eleanor Tydings was doing her patriotic duty, working as a volunteer nurse's aide at Garfield Memorial Hospital.

Garfield, like most of the other hospitals in Washington, traced its beginnings back to the Civil War or to the decade that followed when as many as 85 'hospitals' were created as the government commandeered a hotel, a room, or a large private home for medical use.

By 1943, burdened by the limitations of mid-19th century structures, the remaining local hospitals were sorely outdated, overcrowded and ill equipped to handle the crush of war-wounded and ailing patients who came through their doors. This was immediately apparent to Mrs. Tydings, who spent hours in the dilapidated medical wards helping patients. While these conditions often were the topic of conversation among Mrs. Tydings and her socialite circle of friends who worked in the hospitals, the time for change came when Mrs. Tydings observed a rat scurry across a corridor at Garfield Memorial. She went home and told her husband, U.S. Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland, about the appalling conditions. With her friend Elysabeth Barbour, the wife of U.S. Senator Warren Barbour of New Jersey, these two women would raise the awareness and support needed for a new hospital that would set the medical mission standard by which others would be measured.

In late 1943, Mrs. Tydings and Mrs. Barbour formed a Hospital Center Committee and gathered hospital representatives from the District to discuss the state of its hospitals. Officials from Georgetown University Hospital, Garfield Memorial Hospital, The Central Dispensary and Emergency Hospital, the Episcopal Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, and Children's Hospitals agreed that the time had come to build a new, larger modern hospital. A third-party expert concurred and the hospital representatives went to work on a proposal for a new hospital.

The result was The Hospital Center Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate in 1944 by Senator Tydings. The bill authorized spending $35 million to improve the city's voluntary hospitals and acquire property and equipment. Three District hospitals - Episcopal, Garfield, and The Central Dispensary and Emergency - agreed to merge, creating the new medical facility in a new location. In return, the three hospitals would turn over their properties to the government.

While the measure sailed through the Senate, it was still bogged down in the House in early 1946. But that changed in May, when the results of a hospitals' survey were released by the Washington Metropolitan Health Council. The survey reported the District's hospital facilities as deplorable, impossible to operate and in extensive need of renovation. On August 8, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the Hospital Center Act into law.

Twelve years later, on March 10, 1958, when the new Washington Hospital Center opened its doors, it was the model of a modern medical facility. It was one of the first hospitals in the country to be fully air-conditioned and have computerized accounting systems. It was equipped with a laboratory that was the precursor to those in nuclear medicine, the area's first tissue bank and the first eye bank in a private hospital. The new Washington Hospital Center also housed the District's largest private psychiatric service. The Washington Post and Times Herald reported, "this is a great day…the sad deterioration of medical care facilities in the nation's capital has ended."

That was just the beginning of the innovations in medical research and technology at the Hospital Center. In the intervening years, District residents have witnessed the establishment of nationally recognized programs in cardiovascular, transplant, cancer, surgery, trauma, burn, emergency medicine, neurosciences, women's services, ophthalmology and informatics all at the Hospital Center. The hospital remains firmly committed to teaching the next generation of medical professionals, to the continued education of its current staff and to the pursuit of cutting edge medical research to the benefit of its patients.

On May 7, 1998, Medlantic Healthcare Group, the Hospital Center's not-for-profit parent company, merged with Helix Health, a group of four Baltimore, Md.-based hospitals, making the combined company the largest health care provider in the mid-Atlantic region. The new entity is called Helix/Medlantic. On February 1, 1999, Helix/Medlantic is renamed MedStar Health, the parent company of MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Since 1958, MedStar Washington Hospital Center has proudly carried out its mission to provide top quality "patient first" medical care and to forge its clinical and research legacy as "the first, the most and the only" in service to the District, the region and the memory of those who had the vision to make it possible.