February 26, 2020
It’s amazing to think about all of the ways that St. Mary’s Hospital for Children has been able to provide a continuum of care to children and young adults with special needs and life-limiting conditions for the past 150 years. Whether they face the challenges of premature birth, serious injury or illness, physical impairment, genetic disorders, or chronic conditions, St. Mary’s works to comfort, care and heal.
With the same commitment that our founders, the Sisters of St. Mary, had when established a free hospital for sick and needy children in 1870, we now treat more than 4,000 children each day in our in-patient facilities and through our home care programs.
To celebrate all the lives that St. Mary’s Hospital for Children has touched and comforted, we have documented a history of the facility and many amazing accomplishments that have been achieved within these walls over the past 150 years.
St. Mary’s Early Years
Founded in 1870 in Manhattan by The Sisters of the Community of St. Mary, the then 15-bed St. Mary’s was New York City’s first hospital for acutely ill children. The Sisters of the Community of St. Mary had an idea to establish a facility to provide free care for sick and needy children, it was then called, St. Mary’s Free Hospital for Children. The hospital was considered a success, and in response to the needs of the community, two houses were rented in 1873, allowing St. Mary’s to increase the number of patients that could be served.
In 1880 the first new building for the St. Mary’s Free Hospital for Children was constructed. In those early years, many of the staff members and volunteers were not formally trained, and it wasn’t until 1900 that the first training program for registered nurses was created.
In 1908, after the construction of a new St. Mary’s facility was completed, a circus under the direction of Dexter Fellowes visited the hospital to celebrate the grand opening and surprised the children with a baby elephant, named Abe Lincoln, leading the procession into the hospital.
St. Mary’s Hospital for Children moves to Bayside
In 1951, St. Mary’s was expanding quickly and the flagship facility was moved to a nine acre campus in Queens where it currently operates a 124-bed inpatient program. St. Mary’s Hospital for Children has continued to expand services and in 1960, St. Mary’s added the Department of Therapy and Rehabilitation Medicine for children who have suffered an injury or have a disability that affects their motor skills. The dynamic program was designed to help children with mobility issues learn how to do basic tasks, as well as build strength so that they can do more on their own and be more independent.
In 1975, St. Mary’s began treating children with severe asthma through its Asthma Division. That year, Dr. Burton Grebin, who was responsible for the expansion of St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and oversaw the many expansions of the building and the hospital’s services, was also named Medical Director and eventually became President and CEO. Dr. Grebin served St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and its patients for 36 years before sadly passing away in 2010.
The Birth Defects and Genetic Disease Center was established in 1976 as the largest and most experienced of its kind in New York City. Located a floor above the Family Birth Center, it was created to provide families with newborns who need additional care access to the facilities that infants need.
In 1983, St. Mary’s Hospital for Children opened the Long-Term Home Healthcare Program for children who need long-term home-based care. With these services, children who are well enough to live at home but still need specialized care for their conditions are able to meet with in-home care providers. Healthcare professionals work with each patient to help them gain more independence and learn new skills. They also work with the parents to teach them what they should do to help their children thrive. In 1985, these services were expanded from 50 to 150 patients at any given time. In 1989, the program was further expanded to serve 450 children in the Suffolk, New York City, Nassau, and Westchester counties.
St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital recognized the special needs that terminally ill patients have, and in 1984 the Palliative Care Center was constructed for patients and their families. Through the center, St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital has been able to provide pain relief to children and emotional support to family members during this difficult time.
After being under the care of St. Mary’s, many patients are able to return to their home but still need to be evaluated so St. Mary’s implemented the Medical and Social Day Care program in 1986. This program provides outpatient developmental evaluations and ongoing multi-disciplinary therapies to patients.
In 1987, St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital became affiliated with the Friedman Rehabilitation Institute for Children, located in Ossining, Westchester. In 1997, the Friedman Rehabilitation Institute was renamed to St. Mary’s Rehabilitative Center for Children.
The hospital underwent several renovations and expanded its service offerings with 1990 as the year that St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital’s ancillary and support areas were renovated. The following year, in 1991, the chapel was renovated to provide loved ones a place to find comfort. In the same year, the long-term patient facility was approved as a home for children and families with AIDS.
The year of 1994 marked a huge growth in the programs offered at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital. St. Mary’s received authorization from the New York State Department of Health to provide a Traumatic Brain Injury and Recovery program to patients. Additionally, the Case Management Program was initiated and St. Mary’s became licensed by the New York State Department of Health to provide early intervention evaluations on behalf of the state. In addition, the Vehicular Access to Neighborhoods (V.A.N.), a program to provide service to families and children living in neighborhoods that are difficult to reach, was begun.
Recent Years at St. Mary’s
In 1999, Dr. Edwin Simpser joined St. Mary’s as the Chief Medical Officer. As a practicing pediatrician and pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. Simpser is a long-time advocate for children with complex medical conditions. After assuming the position as President and Chief Executive Officer at St. Mary’s, Dr. Simpser shaped the strategic direction of St. Mary’s so that we can continue to meet the needs of New York’s medically fragile children. His leadership was pivotal during the construction of our new Children’s Pavilion as well as the development of the Center for Feeding Disorders and St. Mary’s Home Care, a Certified Home Health Agency for children and young adults.
Recent years at St. Mary’s have been filled with progress, with 2002 marking the opening of the Center for Pediatric Feeding Disorders, the only interdisciplinary feeding program in New York State that helps diagnose and treat feeding disorders. Very quickly, the program earned a reputation among families and referring physicians for successfully treating children whose families came to St. Mary’s as their “last hope.” To date, the Center has evaluated over a thousand children since we’ve opened our doors and serviced over 500 children in both our day patient and outpatient programs.
In 2010, the groundbreaking for a new pavilion commenced, and the state-of-the-art, total-healing center was completed in 2012, making it the only pediatric, post-acute facility in New York City. This total-healing environment for both patients and their families features patient neighborhoods, treatment rooms and the Dr. Burton Grebin rehabilitation center. An aquatic program, respiratory program, and neuro-rehab program have all recently been launched. One of the most recent additions to our program offerings is the Locomotor Training Program, begun in 2017 to provide rehabilitation to children with spinal cord injuries.
In 2019, St. Mary’s completed a 10,000 square-foot expansion of the hospital’s pediatric facilities. The completion of this project provided 27 vent-equipped beds in a total-healing environment to address the critical shortage of ventilator equipped beds so our city’s sickest children—and their families—can breathe easier. Also, in 2019, St. Mary’s was recognized as a Center of Excellence by the Passy Muir Centers of Excellence Program, for its dedication to providing independence, dignity and enhanced quality of life to children who are tracheostomy dependent.
St. Mary’s Hospital for Children has been serving the communities in New York City and surrounding areas for 150 years. Our hospital has seen tremendous growth, yet we’re still committed to giving the same loving personalized care to children that the sisters of St. Mary’s provided in the 1870s. At St. Mary’s, we’re pleased to be able to share this moment in time with our current patients, future patients, and their families. We’re proud of our accomplishments and look forward to celebrating another 150 years of saving lives, providing comfort, and improving the quality of children’s lives.