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Published on April 29, 2016

St. Vincent HealthCare celebrates its 100th anniversary

Article by Charlie Patton, Florida Times-Union
Photos by Will Dickey, Florida Times-Union

Althea Whitehead arrived on the Riverside campus of St. Vincent’s Medical Center 34 years ago wanting to become a maternity nurse.

She approached Sister Julie Lawrence, the hospital’s director of women’s services. Lawrence told Whitehead to get some general nursing experience first.

“She told me to get the basics and then come back,” Whitehead remembered.

But Whitehead was persistent.

“That’s my passion,” she told Lawrence.

Today Whitehead is director of women’s services for the entire St. Vincent’s HealthCare system, which includes St. Vincent’s Riverside, St. Vincent’s Southside and St. Vincent’s Clay County. Lawrence, who first came to St. Vincent’s in 1954, left in 1957, returned in 1975 and left for the last time in 1984, works as a volunteer at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y.

Whitehead and Lawrence enjoyed a reunion Friday, two of an estimated 3,000 people who came to the Riverside campus to wear purple T-shirts, eat barbecue and reminisce as they celebrated St. Vincent’s 100th anniversary. There were also celebrations on the Southside and Clay County campuses

For Whitehead and Lawrence, it was a chance to renew an old friendship, launched after Lawrence relented and allowed the inexperience Whitehead to work in women’s services.

“I’m so glad she took a chance on me,” Whitehead said. “She kept me rooted at St. Vincent’s.”

“It was something good I did,” Lawrence said. “She became a very fine nurse.”

The actual 100th anniversary will be Sunday. On May 1, 1916, the Catholic Daughters of Charity took over operations of what was then called the DeSoto Sanitorium, which was located at 5th Street and Boulevard in Springfield. In 1928, the renamed St. Vincent’s Hospital moved to its current location at Riverside Avenue and Barrs Street (renamed Shircliff Way from Riverside to the St. Johns River in 2007).

It became St. Vincent’s Medical Center in 1972 and St. Vincent’s Riverside in 2012 when St. Luke’s Hospital, which St. Vincent’s HealthCare acquired in 2005, was renamed St. Vincent’s Southside. St. Luke’s was the oldest hospital in Florida, having been founded in a rented two-room building in 1873. In 2013 St. Vincent’s Clay County opened.

In Riverside what started as a 200 bed hospital in 1928 is today a sprawling 528 bed medical complex which covers two blocks between Stockton and King streets and many doctors’ offices and four parking garages. The campus also includes St. Catherine Laboure Manor, a 240 bed nursing facility.

In 2014, the last members of the Daughters of Charity left St. Vincent’s after 98 years of service.

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