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St. Vincent Health System
has embodied a spirit of charity, love of the poor, and a sincere desire to end suffering from its inception as "The Charity Hospital" in 1888 to the current era of managed care and rapid change in health care.
owes its existence to an epidemic that did not occur. In 1878 yellow fever was ravaging the South and was as near a Memphis. It seemed only a matter of weeks, maybe days, before the fever would strike Little Rock, which had few physicians and no hospital service at that time. Many, including Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Hager, believed only an act of God would stop the plague. The Hagers, two of the city's wealthier residents, vowed to God that if Little Rock was spared they would, in gratitude, provide the funds to build a hospital. Miraculously, the yellow fever outbreak did not affect Little Rock and the Hagers kept their vow.
In 1888 Mother General Cleophas, leader of the religious community, with five Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, arrived at the Little Rock train station on the slow moving Iron Mountain Railroad. Sisters Mary James, Cornelia, Mechtildes, Mary Sebastian, and Hortense were invited to Little Rock by the Most Rev. Edward Fitzgerald, Bishop of the Little Rock Diocese. A 10-bed Charity Hospital was founded on East Second Street by the Hagers' estate and with the support of Little Rock financier Edward Parker and others. It was the first hospital outside the boundaries of Kentucky which the Sisters of Charity would operate.
The Arkansas Gazette reported that seven physicians were involved in the initial planning of the hospital - R. B. Christian, R. G. Jennings, J. A. Dibrell, Edwin Bentley, William E. Green, Claiborne Watkins, and E. D. Avers.
"The people of this City have taken a just pride… Contributions of ice, meat, furniture, groceries and clothing have been quite liberal in the past and will no doubt continue in the future. Owing to the general appreciation of the public, immediate steps are being taken to enlarge the capacity of the buildings." - Arkansas Gazette, March 1889.
In 1889 Bishop Fitzgerald changed the name of the hospital from Charity Hospital to the Little Rock Infirmary. The original desire of Bishop Fitzgerald and the Sisters of Charity was to name the hospital St. Vincent Infirmary in honor of St. Vincent de Paul, a French priest who compassionately cared for the sick and the poor.
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