The story of Mercy Medical Center really begins in Ireland in 1831 with the founding of the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin by Catherine A. McAuley. The work of Sister Catherine and the Sisters of Mercy was caring for the city's poor, especially women and children, in the Houses of Mercy.
In a few years, their charitable work spread throughout the British Isles, the continent and, in mid-nineteenth century, to the cities and factory and mining towns of the United States. In the U.S., the Sisters cared for poor immigrants and anyone too destitute to pay for medical care.
Their good works were so well known by 1890 that civic leaders of Sioux City that year invited the Sisters to establish a hospital that was not to be associated in any way with city government. Mother Mary Agatha Murphy, a native of Ireland, wasted no time snatching up a large Victorian house at the corner of 28th and Jennings Streets for the princely sum (back then) of $12,999. That house, built by John Pierce, a prosperous Sioux City businessman, was the inauspicious beginning of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, which would much later become Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City.
In the summer of 1890, the Sisters moved 20 patients to another building built by Pierce at 21st Street and what is now Court Street. The Pierces left most of the furnishings behind for the Sisters, along with many of their belongings-including a horse and buggy and a cow. Later that year, the Sisters built a three-story brick hospital at the site at a cost of $20,000. It became Sioux City's first building constructed as a hospital. At the time, those who cared for the sick often contracted communicable diseases. As a result, many of the Sisters died young from infectious diseases.
A list of St. Joseph's patient "complaints" included acute catarrh, cable car and horse accidents, "nervous prostration" and typhoid fever. In 1893, after a tornado in Pomeroy, a central Iowa town, the injured were transported by train to the hospital--prefiguring Mercy's Air Care by almost a century.
The early Sisters not only cared for the sick, they grew vegetables for the hospital's kitchen, milked the cow for fresh milk and grew and cut flowers for hospital rooms.
The philosophy of the Sisters of Mercy in Sioux City is summed up in their statement from the late 19th century: "Any poor person who cannot afford the heavy expense of sickness will be tenderly cared for in the Sisters' hospital free of any charge. If he should happen to die and have no friends he will be decently buried at the Sisters' expense and...[ending on a somewhat ghoulish note] no dissecting room will ever see his bones."
In the late 1890's, the income from hospital charges-- $6 a week for a double room, $10 for a private-was inadequate to cover expenses. To raise money, several Sioux City women formed the Mercy Hospital Association, the forerunner of today's Mercy Auxiliary.
In 1902, the Sisters opened St. Joseph's School of Nursing. With the number of patients averaging 100 a month, student nurses went to work immediately in the hospital-learning on the job. Under the Sisters, the hospital grew and advanced in technology. Early 20th century medical equipment seems primitive to us moderns, but St. Joseph's was credited with several firsts for Iowa, including an X-ray machine in 1910. A year later, a major addition doubled the hospital's capacity so that it could care for 200 patients. The addition was timely with major population growth in Sioux City-and three devastating fires in the decade that resulted in hundreds treated at St. Joseph's.
In 1924, the hospital recorded 4,000 admissions and 15,000 visitors. The ever-enterprising Sisters, seeing the need for more space, added five more stories. The new addition housed many advances in medical technology, including a new treatment for cancer called "deep therapy" and a high tech marvel of the time that may seem hopelessly quaint to us: a blanket warmer for each floor.
In the 1920s, relatives and friends of a patient undergoing surgery could watch the operation from behind a partition. This protected them from ether fumes-and protected surgeons from onlookers who had been known to interfere with the surgery by grabbing the doctor's hands.
In the 1930s, St. Joseph's continued to grow and expand to meet the needs of Sioux City residents. In that decade, the Sisters established western Iowa's first physical therapy unit that included a Hubbard Tank used to treat polio victims.
In the forties, St. Joseph's opened the first outpatient and emergency department and later the first blood bank in the hospital's lab. Other advancements included Schools of Medical Technology and Radiotechnology and a new five-story wing that added 100 beds to the hospital's existing 200. Polio claimed the life of the first Sioux City resident in 1946, a seven year old. Fifteen cases were admitted during September alone that year. In 1952, polio in Sioux City had reached epidemic status. Proportionally, Sioux City was hit harder by the crippling disease than anywhere else in the country, with 952 cases reported in 1952 alone. Fortunately, a new addition had been built that same year, bringing the total number of beds to 400, and the hospital was able to care for the large number of polio patients. Nine of the city's 11 iron lungs were also housed at St. Joseph's. With the additional beds, St. Joseph's became one of the largest hospitals in the Midwest. The project's total cost was $4,563,000. One major improvement: Each patient room now had its own bathroom.
Polio struck a disproportionate number of Sioux City children. As a result, many celebrities from the world of sports and entertainment stopped by the polio ward to cheer up the young patients. Among them were former heavy weight champ Jack Dempsey, the movies' singing cowboy Gene Autry and comedian Bob Hope. During the polio years, St. Joseph's added Iowa's first cancer center and a 39-bed psychiatric unit. In the 1960's, the hospital introduced EKG monitors and defibrillators to Sioux City. These were the first steps in its becoming one of the state's most complete coronary care units by 1965. That same year, the X-ray department installed an image intensifier, a nuclear scanner and a laminograph.
In the early seventies, St. Joseph's and St. Vincent, a hospital operated by the Benedictine Sisters at 6th and Jennings Streets in Sioux City, joined forces to begin the city's first hospital-based ambulance service. In 1974, St. Joseph's added a zeroradiograph, an instrument for the early detection of breast cancer. In January 1977, the city's two Catholic hospitals announced that they would merge and form one institution, Marian Health Center. The name was chosen from among 200 entries submitted by employees of the hospitals. Later that year, the two hospitals established the first cardiac catheterization lab, paving the way for Dr. Ted Roman in 1978 to perform the city's first open heart surgery in the St. Joseph's unit. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1979 for a new $28 million hospital adjacent to St. Vincent's, the present site of Mercy Medical Center.
St. Vincent's brought many services to the merger, including a renal dialysis unit and a school of nursing, located at the rear of the new Marian Health Center building. The school offered a three-year program and graduated about 25 nurses a year. St. Vincent's 40-bed chemical dependency unit was the first adult treatment center in the area for alcohol and drug addiction.
Patients, equipment and clinical departments began moving into the new building in August 1982. A month later, ambulance crews transported the last patients to the new building. Staff of both hospitals reacted to the change with mixed emotions. "It was a tremendous thing," one nurse said. "But moving day was also sad and many people cried."
Over the decades, Marian Health expanded and grew steadily in its healing ministry to Sioux City and the surrounding area. Innovations and medical firsts for the region included the first magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, unit and the area's first air ambulance service, Marian Air Care, later to become today's Mercy Air Care, or MAC for short.
Perhaps the greatest test of Marian Health Center's mettle came on July 19, 1989 when United Airlines Flight 232 crashed during an emergency landing at the Sioux City Airport. Many of the 184 surviving passengers and crew were treated at Marian Health-and the rest of the world learned about the Sioux City hospital. National and international news media praised Marian Health's physicians and staff for their heroic response to the tragedy. In September 1991, the production crew of a TV movie on the crash spent several days filming scenes depicting patient care on location at Marian. Several scenes at the hospital included leading man Charlton Heston, who played Flight 232 Captain Al Haynes.
In the summer of 1999, Marian Health Center changed its name to Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, the new title in honor of the Sisters of Mercy. The following May, the hospital became part of Trinity Health. Trinity Health is sponsored by the Catholic Health Ministries which was created by the Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit and the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross.
In other advances during this period, Mercy added a Total Joint Care Center and a Comprehensive Stroke Center, both of which have been nationally recognized for excellent clinical outcomes. The most ambitious project of the new century, though, was the construction of a $20 million, state-of-the-art Mercy Heart Center. The new facility expanded and enhanced Mercy's already excellent cardiovascular services. The Mercy Heart Center was dedicated on Nov. 19, 2003 in a community ceremony. In remarks at the dedication, Mercy CEO Peter Makowski said, "Mercy is committed to making advanced cardiac care available to all residents of Siouxland-this is our pledge and promise."
Mercy did not disappoint. In the ensuing years, its cardiovascular services earned a number of national excellence awards and No. 1 state rankings. These include excellence awards for vascular surgery, cardiac care and coronary intervention. Several national sources have also recognized other services at Mercy for excellence, including total joint replacement and general surgery.
What began with the Sisters of Mercy planting a tiny mustard seed in an old Sioux City house has grown into a towering tree with far-reaching branches. Today, Mercy is a regional medical center serving a 33-county area in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. It owns or manages four rural hospitals and operates 30 family practice clinics in Iowa or Nebraska, along with 9 specialty clinics.
Mercy Medical Center continues to offer a range of services that make it a leading healthcare provider in the region and nation. These include rehabilitation, a family birth center, behavioral care, wound, and stroke centers and the only Level II trauma center in the region, as well as the only air ambulance service.
Despite growth and success across three centuries, Mercy takes modest pride in living the values of the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, who perhaps best summed up her Sisters' philosophy by saying, "To the poor, always show great tenderness." Inspired by the example of Sister Catherine McAuley, Mercy's philosophy statement reads, in part, "In our works, we affirm the dignity and value of every person...we embrace the opportunity to extend compassionate service, especially to the suffering, the lonely, the marginal and the poor. We pledge ourselves to these values and beliefs...."