CRMC History

A History of Healing

Time Travel

Time travel. Think it's impossible? Well, maybe so. But just for a moment, imagine being the pilot of your very own time machine. Your first journey to the past takes you to the tiny, recently incorporated city of Punta Gorda, Fla., in the year 1887. Medical care is certainly not what we are used to in the new millennium. One doctor provides the entire city's health care. Still, the city is so tiny that the doctor must also operate a combined drugstore and tackle shop to make a profitable living.

Growing Up

Now, travel forward 50 years to the year 1937. The population of Punta Gorda has grown to 3,500, but by today's standards, health care remains antiquated. Most medical care is provided in the home by general practitioners. Residents requiring hospital care must travel to Fort Myers, Arcadia and even Tampa. It is during this year that the quest for a hospital in Punta Gorda began. Fasten your seat belt. Our journey has gotten under way…

The Quest for Quality Health Care Close to Home

The year is 1938. Dr. Walter B. Clement, a local physician, begins to champion the idea of building a hospital in Punta Gorda. Years later, some of those closely involved with the building of the hospital will claim that the facility would not have been built -- at least not as soon as it was -- without the perseverance of Dr. Clement.

If you pick up the Punta Gorda Herald during your "visit" to 1938, you're likely to find some mention of the need for a hospital, as columnist and future board member Leo Wotitzky writes about the subject often. He records the breaking news as the Punta Gorda Rotary Club pays $100 for a set of construction plans and the County Commission begins to investigate ways to finance the project. A $20,000 bond issue to build a hospital is placed on the November 1938 ballot. However, this is the depression era and for many residents, money is tight. Fearing the thought of additional taxes, the majority of residents vote "no" on the measure. A hospital in Punta Gorda will have to wait.

Detours Can't Derail the Dream

We're now in the year 1945. Although the hospital bond issue was voted down and World War II has been waged, the idea of building a hospital in Punta Gorda is not forgotten. In 1940, Mr. Wotitzky and Dr. Clement convince the Punta Gorda Rotary Club members to advocate construction of a hospital, keeping the dream alive. After World War II, a hospital stock company forms and shares are sold for $100 each. A fund-raising campaign is launched and construction begins--then halts--as funds are quickly exhausted.

In order to jump-start the project the stock company converts to a nonprofit private corporation known as the Charlotte Hospital Association, Inc. The Punta Gorda Herald quotes Charles S. Steele, chairman of a special hospital fund-raising committee, as saying, "We feel that the problem [of funding] will be greatly simplified when the corporation is made nonprofit so contributions may be deducted from income taxes."

It seems he is right, as fundraising for the hospital quickly becomes a community-wide effort. You may be surprised to discover that nearly every resident is taking part in making the dream of a Punta Gorda hospital become a reality. In addition to private donations, funds are raised through community events such as dances, fish frys, bake sales, teas, jewelry sales, watermelon cuttings and plays.

The Big Day Arrives

It's August 17, 1947. Can you feel the excitement? It's opening day, and the entire community is invited to inspect the long-awaited Charlotte Hospital! Built and equipped for $80,000, the hospital houses eight private rooms, one four-bed children's ward and a pair of two-bed wards for a total of 16 beds. On Monday, August 18, 1947, the first patient, Gussie (Peeples) Baker is admitted for a tonsillectomy. A total of ten patients are admitted during this first week.

A 'momentous event'

Wotitzky writes in his column, "Probably there are few people who do not recognize that the opening of Charlotte Hospital Monday, and its immediate and enthusiastic acceptance, is one of the most momentous events in the history of this county." Within two years, the first hospital Auxiliary (volunteer organization) is formed, and Charlotte Hospital expands to include 22 beds and six bassinets. During its first year, the Auxiliary makes hundreds of patient gowns (by hand!), provides flowers for patient trays, landscapes the grounds and raises funds for window screens and kitchen equipment.

Charting Our Progress

During the next three decades, Charlotte Hospital expands and changes dramatically. Let's journey through each decade and observe its progress.

1950s

It's 1956 and Charlotte Hospital is ready for its first major expansion. A new South wing is connected to the main building by a walkway, increasing the patient capacity to 38 adult beds, four bassinets and two pediatric beds. In 1959 the hospital changes its name to Charlotte Community Hospital to better identify itself as a facility dedicated to serving the entire community.

1960s

We find that 1963 is an exciting year for Charlotte Community Hospital. The facility becomes the first hospital in Charlotte County to receive accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAHO). And the physical expansion continues… the North wing is opened, increasing bed capacity to 75, and the Auxiliary donates a chapel, gift shop and snack area.

In 1965 the hospital adds a 13-bed intensive care unit, a new laboratory and a 60-bed extended care facility. Then Executive Director Robert Bruce boasts that the new intensive care unit is the only one of its design and size for a hospital of this size in the United States. In 1966 the hospital name is changed to Medical Center Hospital. Bruce says the change is being made because "we are serving an area, not just one county."

1969 brings the hospital's biggest change to date. The Board of Directors of Charlotte Hospital Association, Inc., gives the facility to Sunbelt Adventist Health System. The hospital remains nonprofit and Sunbelt assumes ownership and management of the now 148-bed hospital.

1970s

In 1974 a new three-story addition is built, expanding patient capacity to 156. The following year a new kitchen and cafeteria are completed. The year 1977 brings a significant expansion in the hospital's diagnostic capabilities with the acquisition of an ultrasound unit and CT scanner. Outpatient surgery becomes available in 1978.

1980s

During the 1980s, Medical Center Hospital launches a $3 million renovation project. Renovations include the construction of an administrative wing and complete refurbishment of the Laboratory and Emergency Department. In 1985 the Wellness Center is opened, and in 1987 Riverside Behavioral Center opens its doors. In 1990 Sunbelt purchases Home Health Services of Charlotte and later adds a Lee County office.

The mid to late 1980s are characterized by the launching of the hospital's cardiac program. In the spring of 1985, the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center is opened. In February 1986, two cardiologists perform the first cardiac catheterization. A modular cardiac catheterization unit is utilized until March 1989, when the first in-house cath lab is opened. The hospital's open-heart surgery program is also launched in 1989, and Andre Vasu, M.D., cardiovascular surgeon, is the hospital's first cardiac surgeon.

The cardiac program continues to expand in the early 1990s as cardiologists perform the first balloon angioplasty, atherectomy and stent procedures at the hospital.

Back to the Future

In December 1994, Health Management Associates (HMA) assumes ownership of Medical Center Hospital and the name changes to Charlotte Regional Medical Center. Then Executive Director Bill Heburn comments, "Our new name will reflect our new emphasis as a regional tertiary care center to better serve all of southwest Florida."

Since HMA assumed management of the hospital, the facility has been undergoing major renovations. Nearly all areas of the hospital campus have received a face-lift. We believe this has greatly enhanced our appearance and increased the comfort level of our patients.

Strides continue to be made in the medical care we provide. Our comprehensive cardiac care program remains a thriving one. We have earned Top 100 Hospital distinction from the Solucient firm for the cardiac and stroke services we provide, and have been recognized by another national ratings firm as well for our cardiac care, pulmonary services, and neuroscience (stroke) services. Our commitment to our community is evident in many other areas as well.

Much has changed over the past half-century. However, our past and our future have one thing in common: Our commitment to providing you with quality health care administered by a caring staff. The journey continues.