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Baptist Hospital celebrates 70 years

Baptist Hospital is celebrating its 70th anniversary of serving the Pensacola area this month, with several low-key events in-house because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1951, “An American in Paris” won the Oscar for best Picture; “Too Young” by Nat King Cole” topped the music charts. Gas averaged 27 cents per gallon, and a new home was about $9,000.

Baptist Hospital began operations, after delays that stretched back to World War II.

“Seventy years ago, when they opened the doors, there was no polio vaccine; a gall bladder surgical patient would stay here over a week — so would a mom delivering a baby,” said Baptist President and CEO Mark Faulkner. “Obviously, times have changed now; it is a different world. But what’s not different, I suppose, is just keeping the patient at the center, in terms of why we’re here and here to serve the entire community.”

While born out of local churches that raised money to build a hospital, Faulkner says Baptist has never been affiliated with any religious denomination, per se. But that said, it’s still a faith-based organization.

“Christian values guided us then [and] guide us now, in terms of how we make decisions, and what ultimately what we’re trying to accomplish here as an organization,” Faulkner said. “It’s about treating the whole person — physically, mentally, and even spiritually. There are aspects of healing that involve all three of those.”

Those values and Baptist’s decision-making structure has been getting a new challenge for the past year and a half, in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Faulkner believes they and the community as a whole have performed “remarkably well,” being no stranger to adversity, as mentioned earlier in this story.

“Originally, when they were planning to build this first Baptist Hospital, they were interrupted by World War II; they stuck to their vision, and ultimately opened its doors in 1951,” said Faulkner. “Likewise, we’ve been dealing with some adversity with hurricanes and the pandemic and others, but we have remained on course, on schedule, with this replacement campus.”

Ground was broken almost a year ago on the new Baptist Hospital, which will be located near the intersection of Brent Lane and I-110, with completion expected in the fall of 2023. Faulkner says the work is going well and on schedule despite the wetter-than-usual summer.

“Ten-story hospital with a six-story multi-specialty health center attached to it; and also a freestanding behavioral health unit,” he said. “We’ve got great partners, using a lot of local vendors and local employees. Probably if you drive by, you’ll notice the progress that’s underway.”

Aside from COVID-19, another major challenge for Baptist — and for other hospitals as well — is an aging population.

“As we look at the services we offer — the mix of critical-care beds and med [surgical] beds, outpatient campuses, the rapid evolution of technology, yeah — we are certainly seeing medicine evolve to meet the growing demands, and we’re situating this campus to be flexible and adaptive,” Faulkner said.”

Another major asset for Baptist — and its patients — is the partnership between the hospital and the Mayo Clinic, which began in 2013. Those being treated can access their doctors here, and — if needed — be connected with a counterpart at physician at Mayo.

“Our clinicians have access to all the latest technology; all the latest clinical advances that Mayo knows,” said Faulkner. “And even during the pandemic, the Mayo Clinic was there and we were there with the Mayo Clinic — especially in [the pandemic’s] early days — that I think absolutely led to lives saved.”

As the clock ticks down to the opening of the new Baptist Hospital, Faulkner said the past will always be connected with the future.

“In 1951, I think there was just excitement about something new: modern health care delivery in the community, said Faulkner. “I guess history’s somewhat repeating itself as we plan for the future and the excitement about this new campus in the fall of 2023. We are so looking forward to that special day.”

Unlike the 60th anniversary blowout, Baptist is planning, because of the pandemic, a series of low-key, in-house activities for the 70th.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.