March 18, 1978, was a Saturday. Gas cost about $1.25 a gallon, bread was about 50 cents a loaf and the Bee Gees “Night Fever” topped the Billboard chart of Top 100 songs.
That same day, an important event was underway in downtown Atlanta. At 7 a.m. that morning, the first of several ambulances left the Saint Joseph’s Infirmary on Ivy Street to transport 25 patients to the newly opened, 300-bed Saint Joseph’s Hospital in the “suburbs.”
The Saint Joseph’s Beacon, an in-house newsletter, reported, “Approximately four hours later at 11:05 a.m., the last of our 25 patients arrived…” And while it was bittersweet to leave the downtown facility, administrators and staff knew they were doing what was ultimately best for the hospital and the community it serves.
The 32-acre campus at Peachtree Dunwoody Road and Interstate 285 would provide the physical space needed to sustain hospital growth for many years to come.
Not only did the hospital relieve important space needs with the move to the suburbs, but it also gained its permanent name, Saint Joseph’s Hospital, instead of Saint Joseph’s Infirmary.
“Some of us – staff and Sisters – remember very well the new Saint Joseph’s Hospital in 1978,” commented Sister Angela Ebberwein. “The move from downtown to this “huge” campus was a mega-change, put in perspective in the ensuing 35 years by countless unimagined and significant medical achievements, human challenges and even miracles in the hospital.”
Since the move, Saint Joseph’s has grown to a 410-bed facility and has been the site of many medical advances, earning recognition as one of the nation’s top 100 cardiovascular hospitals. In 1988, Saint Joseph’s became the first hospital in Georgia to implant an artificial heart into a human patient. That same year, the hospital became the first in Georgia to begin PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanning, a technology that allows non-invasive detection of heart disease and now is a standard in disease management for oncology patients.
In its first decade at its new home, Saint Joseph’s continued its specialty areas of vascular surgery, orthopedics, plastic surgery and neurological sciences and earned a national reputation for oncology research, screening and treatment. In 1987, the National Cancer Institute designated Saint Joseph’s a grantee for its Community Clinical Oncology program. It was one of only 50 hospitals nation-wide to earn such a prestigious designation.
In 1995, Saint Joseph’s became the third hospital in the nation to earn the Magnet Recognition for Nursing Excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Since then, Saint Joseph’s has earned the designation four times and is currently pursuing its fifth re-designation.
“This wonderful institution continues to provide a healing ministry to patients and their families through the finest doctors, nurses and outstanding support staff,” said Hospital Board Chairman Phil Coletti.
“What’s most apparent in the ever-changing life of Saint Joseph’s is the changeless, merciful presence of God in its people,” said Sister Angela. “If this same grace informs Saint Joseph’s future as it has its past, we’ll have much to celebrate in 10, 25, 50 years.
“Well, somebody will,” she quipped.
Archbishop Thomas Donellan was present for the symbolic groundbreaking of Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta. Thirty-five years later, on March 19, 2013, it is fitting that Archbishop Wilton Gregory would be at the same site, leading a prayerful celebration of the Feast of Saint Joseph’s, coincidentally falling the day after the hospital’s 35th anniversary. The Archbishop challenged Saint Joseph’s management team to understand the true spirit of leadership.
“Good leaders are humble leaders,” he said, adding that “Credibility in leadership is more important than genius” and that “simplicity is more enduring than brilliance.”
Just returned from the conclave and election of Pope Francis at the Vatican, Archbishop Gregory said that as society becomes more cynical and conditioned to constant news of failed leadership, “people are still open and hopeful for true leadership.”
The people of Rome responded to the humility displayed by their new pontiff, who in his introduction, asked the people to pray for him, the knelt to receive their prayers and blessings.
“At that moment, he won the hearts of the people,” said Archbishop Gregory.
CEO Scott Schmidly said, “When I reflect on what this week has been – the excitement surrounding the papal election, to celebrate our anniversary, to share our Feast with Archbishop Gregory – this is a tremendous show of what it means to be Saint Joseph’s in this community and the future of service we are building here together.”
To the hospital team who continues to carry out the healing ministry begun by the Sisters of Mercy so long ago, the Archbishop said to consider that, “Even in the most cynical heart, there is a desire to hope and to trust.”
Thirty-five years after that move to the suburbs, the people of Atlanta continue to place their hope and trust in the skill and compassion of the team of professionals at Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta, who prove each day that there is indeed reason to hope.
This Day in History
• In the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Kentucky wins the Mideast Regional final over Michigan State, 52-48
• Author Leigh Brackett dies, shortly after turning in a script for The Empire Strikes Back. Although she will receive a writing credit, practically none of her words or ideas will make it onto the screen
• Lindsey Wagner of The Bionic Woman is on the cover of TV Guide
• Tonight, it’s the final episode of Kojak