About a century ago, Alabama Baptists had a burden — they wanted to get involved in health care so they could minister to the state’s hurting. So they earmarked $100,000 and chose a location for a Baptist hospital — Selma.
For state Baptists, it was a start.
But Birmingham Baptists couldn’t shake the burden they had for the “great need” in their own area, said Chris Crain, executive director of Birmingham Metro Baptist Association. A Selma hospital, while great, wouldn’t help people in their own city.
So on Oct. 22, 1921, representatives of the association signed a contract to buy Dr. W.C. Gewin’s privately owned infirmary in Birmingham’s West End. For $245,000, they acquired a 90-bed hospital, part of which was a house. They also got the services of a part-time pharmacist, a part-time pathologist and a medical staff of 77 doctors. A seven-year-old nurses training school with 12 students also came as part of the deal.
And suddenly Birmingham Baptists were in the hospital business, kicking off a ministry that’s still going today.
In 1922, that original facility, Birmingham Baptist Hospital (now called Princeton Baptist Medical Center), merged with Montclair Hospital to become the start of Baptist Health System.
“The desire of the association in forming the hospitals was to extend the healing hand of Jesus Christ to the Birmingham area through excellent health care,” Crain said. “Without a doubt, the desire of the association in forming what became Baptist Health System was to advance the gospel.”
So what does BHS look like today?
Over the past 98 years, the system has changed a good bit, and at one point it had 10 hospitals under its umbrella.
For the second half of the 20th century, BHS was one of the largest health care providers in Alabama.
But starting in 2003, a money crunch forced it to sell off six of its Baptist medical centers. That helped get things back on track, according to then-CEO Shane Spees. By 2008, things were leveling out and looking up.
The legacy today is strong.
Throughout the system’s history, BHS hospitals have made an impact, pioneering treatments like cutting-edge cardiac procedures. In 2006, one of its hospitals — Trinity Baptist Medical Center — was the site of the first robotic mitral valve repair in the state.
Then in 2011, BHS employees were on the front lines of disaster relief help, setting up mobile clinics in four communities devastated by tornadoes.
That same year, three BHS hospitals were named among the nation’s best in quality treatment for needs such as heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care.
For all of its history, BHS directly owned and operated hospitals in its local area until a change came in 2015. At that time, it was operating four hospitals — Princeton Baptist Medical Center, Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, Walker Baptist Medical Center in Jasper and Citizens Baptist Medical Center in Talladega.
In October of that year, BHS formed a partnership with Tenet Healthcare Corporation out of Dallas, Texas. As laid out in the agreement, the two would own the four Baptist hospitals together along with Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, said Amy S. Allen, BHS president and CEO.
The joint venture — called Brookwood Baptist Health — is 70 percent owned by Tenet and 30 percent by BHS and is managed by Tenet.
“Under the joint venture arrangement, all five hospitals maintain the Christian ministry of Baptist Health System and the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association,” Allen said. “So not only does the Christian ministry remain in our previous hospitals, but it also has been expanded to Brookwood. We continue to ensure strong pastoral care programs at all five hospitals and to ensure that clinicians can practice their profession in a Christian environment.”
Additionally, Baptist Health Foundation, a separate legal entity that supports Baptist Health System and Brookwood Baptist Health, provides additional support and resources to families and patients in need, she said.
And the tie to its parent organization, BMBA, is still strong, she said. The association approves all of the members of the BHS board of trustees and has three members on the board.
Click here to see related story – Baptist Health System gifts BMBA with new building.
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