Saint Thomas Midtown Began As A Schism. 100 Years Later, It’s Returned To The Fold. | Nashville Public Radio

Saint Thomas Midtown Began As A Schism. 100 Years Later, It’s Returned To The Fold.

Mar 20, 2019

The Nashville hospital formerly known as Baptist is marking a century in operation, though it's changed hands a few times. There's a 100-year celebration on Wednesday, with former executives invited back to speak.

The facility was born from a doctor schism at Saint Thomas, which had been started by nuns 20 years before.

"These physicians had a different view of how they thought medicine should be, and there was — at the time — a great need for more beds because of the Spanish flu," says Saint Thomas Health chief mission and ministry officer Greg Pope, who has become the unofficial historian. "So they literally just went out the back door, across the street, bought an old school campus and started Protestant Hospital."

The competing facility was meant to be nondenominational and serve both those who could pay and those who could not. The first patient was reportedly a mother delivering a baby.

The unaffiliated hospital was busy but struggled financially.

The Baptist signage came down in 2013, more than a decade after Saint Thomas acquired the midtown campus.
Credit Blake Farmer / WPLN (file photo)

After World War II, the Tennessee Baptist Convention rescued it from bankruptcy under leadership from Jack Massey, a pharmacist and businessman. He would go on to pioneer for-profit health care 20 years later by helping start Hospital Corporation of America nearby.

Baptist grew to nearly 700 beds and delivered more babies than anywhere in town (still does). The facility broke from the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 1991, but in the early 2000s, it needed a buyer again. And Saint Thomas — which had moved to the western edge of town — brought the rival hospital back into the Catholic fold.

"You could also say that whatever that fracture or tension was in 1919 got healed up," Pope says. "It was really a reunion."

It took more than a decade for the parent company, Ascension, to rebrand Baptist as Saint Thomas Midtown. Even now, Pope says Baptist can be seen on old campus signage and more often heard as patients reference the hospital that opened March 20, 1919.