More than 120 Years of Quality Care
Sentara Healthcare started small and simply in 1888 as the 25-bed Retreat for the Sick in Norfolk, Virginia. The staff’s mission was to provide the best medical care possible, and as they did, word spread about the dedicated, effective care provided in the hospital, just one of 200 in the country at the time.
The forerunner to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, the 25-bed Retreat for the Sick, opened on June 1, 1888 in downtown Norfolk. At the time there were fewer than 200 hospitals in the entire United States.
As the years passed, new hospitals opened in Hampton Roads, including what would become Sentara Leigh Hospital in 1903 (then Sarah Leigh Hospital) and what would become Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center (then Bell Hospital) in 1925.
Meanwhile, future Sentara member hospitals in the Blue Ridge region began making history. In 1903, Martha Jefferson Hospital (then the Martha Jefferson Sanatorium) was founded by seven Charlottesville physicians; the new 25-bed hospital opened its doors one year later. Rockingham Memorial Hospital opened in Harrisonburg in 1912, in conjunction with the RMH Training School for Nurses (later renamed the RMH School of Nursing).
Advances in techniques, concepts and training were gradually introduced over the years, such as the method of departmentalization in 1926, which meant that the more than 40 physicians on staff at the then “Norfolk Protestant Hospital” (Sentara Norfolk General) could specialize in specific conditions instead of being overwhelmed with all aspects of care. In 1946, the Leigh Memorial Hospital School of Practical Nursing became the first program in the United States co-sponsored by vocational education and conducted entirely in a hospital. Martha Jefferson Hospital also reorganized in 1929, moving into a new state-of-the-art hospital building in downtown Charlottesville and transitioning to a not-for-profit community hospital.
On December 28, 1982, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital gained worldwide fame when America's first in-vitro baby was born.
Many changes occurred during the next three decades, as hospitals opened or merged with others to continue building what would become Sentara. In 1937, Rockingham Memorial Hospital opened a new pediatric wing and modern operating room, becoming the fifth largest hospital in Virginia. The original Louise Obici Memorial Hospital in Suffolk was dedicated in 1951; Norfolk General doubled its capacity to 475 beds seven years later; “Dixie Hospital” (Sentara CarePlex) relocated to Victoria Boulevard in 1959, and “General Hospital of Virginia Beach” started to serve patients two years after, when Williamsburg Community Hospital also replaced the aging Bell Hospital.
A major accomplishment was achieved in 1967 when doctors at Norfolk General performed the first open-heart surgery in the region.
At the same time, in Northern Virginia, the Potomac Hospital Corporation was being formed to support the development of a new community hospital in Prince William County. Potomac Hospital (later named Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center), officially opened in November of 1972.
In 1972, Norfolk General and Leigh Memorial Hospital merged and opened the state’s first free-standing ambulatory surgical center, and Dixie Hospital was renamed Hampton General Hospital. Bayside Hospital opened in 1975, and in 1981, Elizabeth Carr, America’s first in-vitro baby, brought international attention to Norfolk General Hospital, her birth place.
The ’80s continued to be a time of rapid change and growth, as the Nightingale air ambulance, home healthcare, nursing homes and urgent care were added to Medical Center Hospitals (the merged Norfolk General and Leigh); Optima HMO Health Plan was introduced; and the system was officially named Sentara.
The introduction of the one name for multiple care centers paved the way for the Hampton Roads community, and eventually many Virginians and North Carolinians, to embrace “Sentara” as synonymous with patient-centered medical care available to all for a lifetime.
In recent years, Sentara has continued to grow, welcoming three new hospitals from across the state of Virginia: RMH Healthcare and Martha Jefferson Hospital in the Blue Ridge region in 2011 and Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center (formerly Potomac Hospital) in 2009. The new member hospitals all share a common history of providing quality and compassionate care for the communities they serve.
Year by year, decade by decade, our history, available in detail here, shows our commitment to growth, innovation and results.