At the time of the Civil War there were no general hospitals in North Carolina; nonetheless, Charlotte increasingly found itself as a final transportation stop for wounded soldiers from battlefields near and far. To accommodate the pressing need to care for those soldiers, a Confederate hospital was eventually built, and Charlotte's citizens gained their first hands-on experience with large-scale patient care.
A few years later, in 1876, the women of St. Peter's Protestant Episcopal Church combined energies to open the state's first civilian hospital, Charlotte Home and Hospital. Located in the area we now call Fourth Ward, the hospital operated under the leadership of a woman named Jane Wilkes. Wilkes had been a caregiver at the city's Confederate military hospital.
The facility later changed its name to St. Peter's Hospital, and that hospital continued to operate through October of 1940, when it was succeeded by a newly-built facility in Dilworth called Charlotte Memorial Hospital. The connection to St. Peter's is still honored today, as the wooden altar and stained glass windows used in the chapel at Carolinas Medical Center were donated from the old St. Peter's.
Shortly after its formation, Charlotte Memorial Hospital took on a special role in the medical history of World War II. Dr. Paul Sanger, a thoracic surgeon, alerted the U.S. Army's chief of staff that Charlotte was home to an outstanding group of specialists who were eager to make a contribution to the war effort. Sanger's idea was well-received and Charlotte Memorial was invited to organize a unit for overseas service called the 38th Evacuation Hospital. It was the first such unit in the country not associated with a medical school.
With deployments in London, North Africa and Italy the medical staff of the 38th Evacuation Hospital distinguished itself in Europe. In the meantime, Charlotte Memorial struggled at home from a variety of financial and governance problems. In response, one of Charlotte's most influential business leaders stepped up to assist. Hospital board member Rush S. Dickson, who led the Ruddick Corporation (which now operates Harris Teeter and other businesses), solicited additional financial support from local corporations and individual philanthropists.
Dickson lobbied city and county officials for more adequate reimbursement for emergency and indigent patients. While also starting a campaign to strengthen the hospital's commitment to education. He believed that a strong teaching component was essential to attracting quality personnel, maintaining high standards of care and sustaining a positive reputation.
An ongoing fear of political influence in hospital operations prompted Dickson to work with a respected attorney, Fred Bryan Helms (known locally as "Judge Helms"), to resolve the problem of "ownership." Related legislation was formulated, and in 1943 the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority was organized under the North Carolina Hospital Authorities Act. This act provided more efficient and effective oversight mechanisms. It set out the ground rules for constructing new facilities, borrowing money and managing day-to-day operations. In addition, Authority status provided the hospital with a clearer legal and financial framework for treating patients who could not afford to pay for services.
In 1960, the Hospital Authority assumed a role in community desegregation by accepting operational responsibility for Good Samaritan Hospital. At that time, Good Samaritan was the only regional hospital that admitted black patients for treatments other than emergencies.
At the request of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, which had operated Good Samaritan, the Hospital Authority bought, renovated and expanded Good Samaritan, which was located on the site where the Carolina Panthers' stadium now sits. The renovated facility, re-named Charlotte Community Hospital, opened its doors to white patients in 1963 and operated approximately 20 more years before being closed.
In the meantime Charlotte Memorial Hospital was continuing to expand, having adopted an official policy of de-segregation in 1963.
In July of 1982 the now familiar Tree of Life logo was introduced at Charlotte Memorial, providing a graphic symbol of hope and rejuvenation whose roots extend back to Biblical times. The logo has since been modernized, but still incorporates nine branches that symbolically represent courage, wisdom, kindness, humility, gentleness, loyalty, prudence, generosity and justice.
In March of 1990, Charlotte Memorial Hospital changed its name to Carolinas Medical Center (CMC), an update that acknowledged steady growth in the number and scope of available services. In particular, the change was intended to reflect the hospital's expanding role in medical education. The facility had just been designated as an "Academic Medical Center Teaching Hospital" by the state of North Carolina.
Currently, CMC is one of only five hospitals in North Carolina to have that designation. The education program grew in size and prestige over the years, and now encompasses more than 250 residents and fellows pursuing advanced training in a wide variety of medical specialties.
In 1996 the Authority initiated another name change, to reflect growth patterns not directly connected to the CMC campus, and started doing business as Carolinas HealthCare System. CHS has since grown into one of the leading healthcare systems in the Southeast and one of the largest public systems in the country. The budgeted net operating revenue for the CHS total enterprise now surpasses $7 billion annually. In addition, CHS encompasses some 800 care locations and more than 7,400 licensed beds in two states, including more than three dozen hospitals.
Levine Children's Hospital opened to patients in December 2007. The hospital was built with the aid of more than $65 million in community philanthropy and is one of the most comprehensive facilities of its kind in the country, offering care in more than 30 specialties. Starting in 2010, several charitable organizations joined forces to provide major endowment funding for the "Carolinas Kids Cancer Research Coalition." Coalition funding supports Phase I and Phase II clinical trials at the children's hospital.
In October 2010, CHS announced the formation of Levine Cancer Institute as part of a 10-year, $500 million investment to enhance cancer treatment and research at CHS-affiliated hospitals. A primary goal of the Institute, which received $20 million in start-up funds from the Leon Levine Foundation, is to develop and share strategies and best practices on a System-wide basis.
Another educational milestone was achieved in October 2010 when CMC was formally designated as the Charlotte Campus of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. CMC hosts third and fourth-year UNC medical students, with plans to increase enrollment in future years to help address the state's physician shortage.