On Nov. 2, 1925, the 32-bed Sarasota Hospital opened its doors.
Ninety-five years later, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System is a thriving regional medical center, with a network of outpatient and urgent care centers, a physician practice group, a Skilled Nursing and Rehab Center, a behavioral health hospital and plans under way to open a new hospital in Venice. With 7,000 staff, it’s also one of the region’s largest employers.
Throughout its evolution over 9 decades, Sarasota Memorial has remained committed to its community mission, serving as Sarasota County’s healthcare safety net while offering the most innovative and effective healthcare.
As a community hospital, our greatest strength comes from the community we serve and our greatest pride comes from that service. And as we celebrate 95 years of providing healthcare to the people of Sarasota County, we also celebrate and give thanks for the support you have shown us — support that has enabled us to grow and flourish and thrive right alongside this community.
Here’s a look back at 95 years of hospital history:
1921 — Faced with a growing need for organized healthcare, Sarasota residents began raising funds to build a hospital. Local citizens, especially women, worked tirelessly until the money was raised to begin construction. During the fundraising campaign, a tent hospital and a temporary 6-bed facility treated patients and emergency cases.
1925 — The new hospital opens in November with 32 beds. Cost: $40,000 for construction and equipment. (Compare that to the $255 million cost to build Sarasota Memorial’s new hospital in Venice, Fla., which is slated to open in the fall of 2021.) Many local citizens and businesses contributed to the original hospital, starting a long tradition of philanthropy supporting the organization.
1926 — The hospital has 10 to 15 employees who work all 3 shifts. There are about a dozen medical staff members (compared to the 1,400-plus providers on the medical staff today). By 1930, the hospital, which had been turned over to the city and renamed Sarasota Municipal Hospital, had 100 beds, a nurses' home, garage, operating room and a new annex to accommodate patient overflow. (Today, the hospital has 839 beds across the main campus.)
1932 — Sarasota County’s population is 12,440. In the summer, the hospital serves only 1 patient at a time, yet in peak season, there are no beds available.
1945 — The hospital plans a fundraising drive for a $14,000 annex to enlarge the operating room, delivery room and kitchen, and to open a separate patient entrance to the African-American ward, which is reached by going through the OR.
1946 — Army barracks from Venice are transported to the hospital for use as an 18-bed unit.
1949 — The Florida Legislature creates the Sarasota County Public Hospital District. Later, the 9-member elected Hospital Board is formed.
1951 — The hospital opens its first nurse training school. Applicants must have a high school education and be 18 to 45 years old.
1954 — The hospital is renamed Sarasota Memorial, in honor of World War I and II veterans.
1955 — The new south wing opens, and now with 225 beds, Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) is one of the few fully air-conditioned hospitals in the southeastern U.S.
1962 — A new era of data processing begins with the introduction of the first computer, the IBM 305 RAMAC, which was installed in SMH’s Business Department.
1966 — The hospital is integrated in compliance with civil rights regulations to participate in the new Medicare program.
1972 — SMH opens its new 10-story east wing but faces a near-crisis bed shortage, despite having almost 600 beds. This same year, the first patient flight from SMH’s helicopter pad takes place.
1975 — The hospital purchases an EMI Scanner X-ray system for $400,000. It is considered the most significant development in its field since the 1895 discovery of X-rays.
1976 — The philanthropic organization now known as Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation is established.
1984 — The hospital’s Waldemere Tower opens.
1985 — SMH’s outpatient Cape Surgery Center opens with a $1 million donation from the Henry Cape bequest as a memorial to his wife, Helen.
1988 —SMH’s Child Care Center breaks ground on Hyde Park Street. In 1992, Child Care II opens on Tuttle Avenue. Both centers were made possible thanks to contributions from our volunteers.
1990 — The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) receives Level III designation, the state’s highest.
1992 — The program now known as the Community Specialty Clinic opens, providing care to the county’s uninsured and underinsured. It remains the only clinic of its kind in Sarasota County.
1993 — The hospital’s Critical Care Center opens.
1994 — Sarasota Memorial’s First Physicians Group (FPG) is established with a handful of physicians. (Today, FPG is a major physician network with more than 230 providers.)
1997 — Electronic medical records launch at SMH, an early adopter of the technology.
2000 — SMH opens new outpatient care centers on University Parkway and at Blackburn Point.
2004 — SMH is named “Hospital of the Year” by the Microsoft Healthcare Users Group for its use of electronic records and physician order entry technology.
2006 — Sarasota Memorial becomes the first Florida hospital to acquire the da Vinci robotic surgical system (we now have 4 da Vinci robots performing minimally invasive procedures) and opens its first urgent care center, which is located on University Parkway.
2007-2009 — Sarasota Memorial opens HealthFit and the Institute for Advanced Medicine (now named the Health Care Center at Clark Road); a second urgent care center (Stickney Point); the Heritage Harbour outpatient and urgent care center; and the outpatient care center and ER in North Port (one of Florida's first freestanding ERs).
2013 — The new Courtyard Tower is finished; thousands of people tour the 9-story building on opening day. SMH also opens its fourth urgent care center (Venice).
2014-2016 — Sarasota Memorial opens its fifth and sixth urgent care centers (Bee Ridge Road and St. Armands Circle). The state designates SMH a Level II Trauma Center, the only one in Sarasota County.
2017 — SMH welcomes patients to the new Rehabilitation Pavilion on the main campus. Later that year, the hospital partners with Florida State University’s College of Medicine to launch an Internal Medicine Residency Program and open an internal medicine practice in Newtown. More recently, SMH and FSU have partnered on an Emergency Medicine Residency Program and Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program.
2019 — SMH breaks ground on Sarasota Memorial Hospital-Venice and its 8-story Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute oncology tower on the main campus.
2020 — SMH remains the only hospital in Florida to earn CMS’s highest 5-star rating for quality in every reporting period since the federal agency’s rating system began in 2016.
Hospital teams begin developing protocols in response to the global spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) early in the year. On March 12, SMH confirms its first COVID-positive inpatient and over the following 7 months, treats more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients. In-house testing for the virus launches in April. SMH also becomes a research site for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, launching clinical trials of the antiviral drug remdesivir, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ REGN-COV2 dual-action antibody cocktail, and convalescent plasma.
In October, the Brian and Sheila Jellison Family Foundation donates $25 million to the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation to help improve cancer care in our community.
Many thanks go to all of the staff, Board members, physicians, volunteers and community members over the last 95 years who have helped make Sarasota Memorial the nationally recognized hospital that it is today!