Eskenazi Health’s extraordinary history can be traced to 1855 when hospital construction began at what is now 10th Street and Indiana Avenue in response to a smallpox epidemic in Indianapolis. City Hospital officially opened in 1859 as a Civil War military hospital, treating an estimated 13,000 sick and wounded soldiers until 1865.
After the war, the federal government turned City Hospital over to the city, which opened the facility in 1866 as a 75-bed charity hospital. The hospital expanded in the 1880s under the direction of William N. Wishard, M.D., who added aseptic hospital procedures and state-of-the-art three-story brick buildings to better care for patients.
City Hospital also established the first nursing school in the state. The Flower Mission Training School for Nurses graduated its first class of five nurses in 1885, with another 2,750 nurses following in their footsteps over the next 97 years.
Various medical schools used City Hospital for teaching purposes as well. In 1887, City Hospital ambulances began transporting sick and injured patients, laying the foundation for what would become one of the largest hospital-based ambulance services in the nation.
During World War I, City Hospital opened the Sunny Sanitarium to care for local tuberculosis patients, and in 1935 Eli Lilly and Company purchased Indiana’s first iron lung for City Hospital to use in the treatment of polio patients. In the 1920s and ’30s, City Hospital was the only institution in the city to care for African Americans (including those able to pay). Charles W. Myers, M.D., who was superintendent from 1931 to 1951, was instrumental in appointing African Americans to the hospital staff as well as other advancements, including new facilities for psychiatric patients.
In 1947, Dr. Myers changed the hospital’s name to Indianapolis General Hospital, and in 1951 he was instrumental in creating the Health & Hospital Corporation to govern the hospital and remove it from political influences.
World War II took a toll on the hospital, as about half of its active staff was called to military duty. New construction did not begin again until the 1960s, when the hospital undertook a $16 million expansion to increase bed capacity and introduce new services. In 1969, General Hospital entered into a formal agreement with Indiana University allowing faculty of the school to have joint appointments with the hospital as well.
Renamed Wishard Memorial Hospital in 1975, more innovations followed with the opening of Indiana’s first trauma center in 1992 (which remains only one of three adult Level I trauma centers in the state) and the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center, one of only 58 adult burn centers in the nation verified by the American College of Surgeons and the American Burn Association, in 2003.
In 2009, it was determined that a replacement facility needed to be built. Fortunately, Marion County voters agreed – a referendum to construct a new hospital just west of the original 10th Street location received 85 percent voter approval. Construction began in 2010, and in 2011 Sidney and Lois Eskenazi donated $40 million for the new hospital, for which it was renamed.
The Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital and Eskenazi Health campus opened in December 2013. Today, Eskenazi Health provides care in nearly 1 million outpatient visits per year at facilities both on and off the main campus, including at 10 Eskenazi Health Center sites. While Indiana’s oldest and largest public health care system has continued to innovate, its ongoing purpose and guiding principle remains the same: caring for all of the people of Marion County.