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Humble Beginnings

The hospital is the waking reality of "the dream of many made possible by the intensive efforts of a few and the generosity of all," wrote the Sarasota Herald (Nov. 2, 1925) to announce the opening of the first modern hospital in Sarasota County.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital opening in 1925 - history

In tracing the history of Sarasota Memorial Hospital, we find that it was, and is, an institution constantly growing and changing to meet the community’s health care needs. From simple canvas tents to the burgeoning modern campus we have today, Sarasota Memorial Hospital owes its reputation, success and very existence to the efforts of its champions through eight decades.

In 1921, faced with a growing need for organized health care, residents of Sarasota began raising funds to build a hospital. Local residents, especially women, worked tirelessly until the money was raised to begin construction. While the women conducted their yearlong fund-raising campaign, a "tent hospital" and a temporary six-bed facility treated patients and emergency cases. It was said that no businessman dared to venture down Main Street without first pulling his pockets inside out, thereby making a public statement that he had no more to give for the hospital.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital in 1925 - history main building

On Nov. 2, 1925, the 32-bed Sarasota Hospital opened on Hawthorne Street. It cost $40,000 to build and was operated by the Sarasota County Welfare Association.

The following years brought several changes to the new facility. A school for nurses was established in 1926. At that time, the hospital only had 10 employees to work all three shifts In 1927, construction on a hospital annex began. It was completed later that year and, since the annex moved the hospital into the city limits, the facility was turned over to the City of Sarasota and was renamed Sarasota Municipal Hospital.

With the onset of the Great Depression, Sarasota experienced a period of economic trouble during which few improvements were made to the hospital. However, when the economy rebounded, the hospital would once again start to grow. By the 1930s, Sarasota Municipal Hospital had expanded to 100 beds, a nurses’ home, garage, operating room and an annex which accommodated patient overflow.

Sarasota Memorial Doctors in 1930 - history

The 1940s saw still more changes. By 1946, other improvements included a surgical suite, enlarged garage, a kitchen and dining room, a new concrete block wing and the first air-conditioning unit. In 1948, an Auxiliary was formed to provide extra services and badly needed equipment. One hundred women made up the first group of Auxilians and would help to renovate the children’s ward and nurses’ home.

In 1949, an Enabling Act was passed by the Florida Legislature that created a special hospital district. Following on the heels of that act, the Hospital Board was formed. Nine local residents were appointed by the governor to serve on the new board. The community hospital’s long-standing public, not-for-profit mission was not only reaffirmed; it was grounded in state law. And its policy makers were now accountable to those who benefited from the hospital’s mission — the residents of Sarasota County.

Post War Shifts

75 Years of Community Service
In 1950, Don Laurent began a 25-year career as an administrator of Sarasota Municipal Hospital. In that year there were fewer than 75 employees and 30 physicians. The original hospital, which had been structured like a house, was slowly being converted to medical uses. A kitchen became a laboratory, a broom closet a dark room, and outside wooden stairs led to the operating room.

A constant resident of the hospital during this time was a large black cat named Casper. It was rumored that Casper was welcomed because he kept other unwanted, four-legged creatures at bay. In later years, Casper’s descendants would still be spotted around the hospital.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH) was formed in 1952 and the hospital received its first of many accreditations two years later. That began a relationship with the independent, national organization that would objectively rate how Sarasota Memorial manages and delivers health care, and provide a benchmark for improving services. In 1953, the nurses’ home was converted for hospital use, increasing the number of beds to 125.

In 1954, Sarasota Municipal Hospital was deeded to the Sarasota County Public Hospital Board and renamed Sarasota Memorial Hospital in honor of the veterans from both world wars.

On October 16, 1955, dedication ceremonies were held for the new south wing of the five-story Sarasota Memorial Hospital, which now boasted 225 beds, including those in the old hospital. The facility had the distinction of being one of the few fully air-conditioned hospitals in the South. During the 1950s, services would expand to include food service, a blood bank, tumor clinic, physical therapy, obstetrics, pediatric and psychiatric units.

Despite extensive growth, the hospital simply could not keep up with the demand for health care. By 1956, the front steps were routinely marked with "no vacancy" signs and hospital corridors were filled with patients. Near the end of the decade, a new five-story wing was built and in use.

Techhnological and Economic Evolution
Technological and economic revolutions in the 1960s brought a new perspective to health care. An infusion of dollars from medical insurance coverage and government entitlement programs fueled the hospital’s new ventures, including the move into the computer age with the addition of an IBM Ramac system in 1962. The hospital’s childcare center for employees’ children was a first in the state; it would be 20 years before other hospitals would routinely provide this service.

Nurse at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in 1960 - history

In 1964, the Century Club began with 20 members who each pledged $100 a year to purchase unbudgeted equipment for the hospital. Throughout the 1960s the hospital continued to expand with such new services as ambulant care and cardiac intensive care. The Retter wing was completed in 1969 and made possible through a $1 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. Earl Retter. It housed 92 beds, a medical library and conference room. The hospital’s Chiller Building was also built during this decade. Amid this booming growth, the hospital’s original 32-bed building was razed.

In the 1970s, Sarasota Memorial continued adding new services, including cardiac catheterization, ambulatory outpatient care, round-the-clock food services and the EMI brain scanner. The East Tower was completed in 1976 and allowed patients to be transported to or from the hospital by helicopter. The Sarasota Memorial Hospital Foundation was also founded in this decade, raising more than $1 million in pledges and gifts in its first year. A hospital employee since 1958, H.J. Floyd was named Executive Director in 1975. During his 10 years in this role, he helped lead the hospital into an age where technology was changing every day.

The 1980s brought two new perspectives as the country focused on wellness and for-profit hospital companies defined health care as a competitive marketplace. Sarasota Memorial responded by stretching its traditional mission and campus to include new psychiatric and geriatric facilities. A new Open Heart Surgery Center opened in 1983 and reached the 100-patient mark within four months. The Waldemere Tower opened, followed by the Cape Outpatient Surgery Center, and Lakeside Pavilion (for mental health care) pushing the hospital’s bed capacity to 825. An MRI unit was purchased, a second heart cath lab was built and laser surgery was initiated.

In 1985, Philip Beauchamp replaced the retiring Jack Floyd and became president and CEO of Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Beauchamp emphasized strategic planning, upgrading services and increasing patient comfort levels. Alliances and collaboration with other providers brought financial stability and increased purchasing power to the hospital as the staff turned its attention to delivering care as a component of guest relations. Prepping for the 21st Century.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital in the 1980s - history aerial

In 1992, Michael Covert became the next president and CEO of Sarasota Memorial Hospital, bringing a new vision and energies to lead the hospital into the new millennium. Sarasota Memorial Hospital has evolved into an extensive, integrated health care system under his direction. The Critical Care Center opened in 1993, as one of the most technologically advanced centers of its kind in the Southeast. Scores of nursing and allied health care students study here. Services for women and children have been a particular focus in recent years, with the addition of The Breast Health Center, expanded perinatal and neonatal services, and an early intervention program for infants and young children with developmental delays.

1997 the area of computerized medical records begins as CareVision records software begins running on a patient care unit. It is the first of the patient care application in the United States. It is also among the first hospitals in the world to convert its imaging services to an electronic digital format, increasing the speed and accuracy of results for physicians and patients. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates nominates Sarasota Memorial for a Computerworld Smithsonian Award, which recognizes the innovative use of information technology.

1998 Jo Mills Reis/Urgent Care Center opens to offer family friendly care in an atmosphere less stressful than traditional Emergency Rooms.

In 1999 Sarasota Memorial becomes one of the first hospitals in the nation to use a minimally invasive robot device, called Zeus, in heart surgery. Sarasota Memorial is also the first hospital in Florida to use ASESOP robots in laparascopic procedures. Sarasota Memorial is also one of the first hospitals in the state to use Photodynamic nonthermal laser light to treat esophageal cancer, certain lung cancers and Barrett’s Esophagus under an FDA clinical trial.

The year 2000 brought several exciting events! Duncan Finlay, M.D. was named President and Chief Executive Officer. Dr. Finlay joined Sarasota Memorial Hospital as a physician in 1972. In 1988, he was named chief of staff. By 1996 he was appointed vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer continuing on in 2000 to become the hospital’s CEO. November, 2000 marked Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s 75th anniversary.

SMH history from 2002 through 2008

In 2002, the hospital completes a renovation and expansion that triples the size of Radiology services.

Sarasota Memorial is honored with the Florida Governor’s Sterling Award for Performance Excellence. The award is modeled after the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge Award. Solucient names the Heart & Vascular Institute as one of the Top 100 Cardiovascular Hospitals.

Keeping vigilant in a post 9-11 world, Sarasota Memorial participates in a multiple-casualty disaster drill – the first of its kind in the region. From here forward, an exercise conducted on a regular basis to keep the hospital well prepared.

2003 brings the hospital its first four-year Magnet designation, the nursing profession’s highest honor. We win a Press Ganey story award, a national honor given to hospitals demonstrating exceptional customer service and outstanding dedication to quality care. Money Magazine names Sarasota Memorial one of the nation’s top hospitals for treatment of congestive heart failure and interventional cardiology procedures.

Dale Beachey retires as CFO after 34 years of service to Sarasota Memorial, while a new physician liaison program is developed to help improve customer service to area physicians, facilitate referrals, and develop new relationships with local doctors.

Sarasota Memorial is the first and only health care provider to offer digital mammography in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte Counties.

In 2004, US News & World Report names Sarasota Memorial one of America’s Best Hospitals in seven specialties: heart/heart surgery, orthopedics, digestive disorders, cancer care, urology, geriatrics, and Ear, Nose & Throat.

The hospital becomes one of a select few in Florida to offer Neurointerventional Radiology, a specialty to diagnose and treat disorders of the blood vessels of the spine, head and neck. Sarasota Memorial also adds a Bariatric surgery program, giving patients an innovative new surgical option for battling morbid obesity.

In the latter half of 2004, the hospital prepares for, and thankfully dodges the devastating effects of a record four hurricanes that hit Florida in one season.

2005 sees the retirement of CEO Duncan Finlay, MD. After 33 years with the hospital, Dr. Finlay leaves a legacy of excellence, relationship-building and unprecedented achievement for Sarasota Memorial.

Gwen MacKenzie, RN, MN, MHSA, is appointed president and CEO of Sarasota Memorial Health Care System. She formerly headed up the Detroit Medical Center, a nine-hospital, 2,000-bed, 13,000-employee non-profit health system in Michigan.

US News & World Report again names Sarasota Memorial one of America’s Best Hospitals in seven specialties. The hospital is accredited as a Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission, receiving its “Gold Seal of Approval” as a Neuroscience Center of Excellence. The American College of Surgeon’s Commission on Cancer gives its highest level of accreditation to our Institute for Cancer Care. And for the fourth consecutive year, Solucient names us a top 100 cardiovascular hospital.

Advancing the cause of medical research, Sarasota Memorial becomes one of the first non-academic hospitals in the nation to actively conduct clinical research in several specialties. The hospital also brings in FSU College of Medicine clinical training for 3rd and 4th year students.

The hospital opens a new, state-of-the-art Emergency Care Center (ECC) wing.

2006 puts newborns at the forefront with the arrival of a new Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) Ambulance. As other hospitals close the door on labor and delivery services to save money, Sarasota Memorial is the only provider of obstetrical care in Sarasota County.

SAM joins the hospital as the ‘star’ of our new Patient Simulation Lab. The “Safety Advocate Module” is a realistic high-tech mannequin used for medical training.

Sarasota Memorial debuts its cutting edge cardiac catheterization suite and opens a new ECC triage area featuring a unique soothing design to promote healing.

Once again recognized by US News & World Report as one of America’s Best Hospitals, we are also named a CareScience™ Select Practice National Quality Leader. Only one percent of hospitals nationwide receive this honor for demonstrating superior clinical outcomes and exceptional efficiency in patient care.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital opens Gulf Gate Urgent Care - history

In 2007 Advance for Nurses magazine rates us a top hospital in its first Reader’s Choice survey of Florida RNs.

We open our second Walk-In Medical Center in the Gulf Gate area, on US 41 just north of Stickney Point Road.

The Institute for Advanced Medicine opens, offering a multitude of outpatient services and a central location for the latest in the specialized field of neuroscience. The new facility also houses the hospital’s new dual-source high-definition CT scanner and Healthplex, the area’s first medically oriented fitness center.

Efforts to become more environmentally responsible are led by the newly organized hospital Green Team.

A long-range plan for major renovations to the main hospital campus begins with the demolition of the 1960s era Kennedy-White building.

Accolades this year include the 2007 VHA Leadership Award for Clinical Excellence, the American Stroke Association’s ‘Get with the Guidelines’ Stroke Silver Performance Achievement Award, and our fourth consecutive year rated by US News & World Report as one of America’s Best Hospitals.

Sarasota Memorial kicks off 2008 by kicking the habit, as it becomes a system-wide tobacco-free campus.

An ambitious 30-minute wait-time promise, expanded from the ECC to both Walk-In Centers, is proving successful with 95 percent compliance.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital opens Heritage Harbour - history 2008

The hospital ramps up expansion plans with two groundbreaking ceremonies: one for its new freestanding Emergency Room in North Port, which will serve a growing south Sarasota County; the other serving northern Sarasota and East Manatee County with a new care center at Heritage Harbour. Both facilities will offer a wide array of outpatient services, providing residents with more choices for medical care.

At the Institute for Advanced Medicine, the Cardiac Disease Assessment Center opens, providing advanced testing to detect early warning signs of cardiovascular disease with the goal of preventing heart disease, the number one killer of Americans today. names Sarasota Memorial as one of ‘America’s Safest Hospitals’ and again we make US News & World Report’s short list of ‘America’s Best Hospitals.” The hospital earns another prestigious four-year Magnet designation from the American Nurses Credential Center and for the 11th consecutive year, we are also named Consumer Choice Award Winner for the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice metropolitan area by the National Research Corporation, an independent health care performance measurement company.

Work begins on the first phase of a multi-year, comprehensive renovation project, starting with the construction of a new central energy plant to replace the hospital’s 1960s-era facility. Plans also move forward on the construction of a bed tower to replace aging wings of the hospital.

North Port

In 2009, Sarasota Memorial opens opens its new, long-awaited freestanding Emergency Room and Health Care Center in North Port, above. The $20 million, 26,500 square-foot center provides convenient services to the residents of North Port as well as surrounding communities. SMHCS also opens an outpatient care center in eastern Manatee County's Heritage Harbour community. The facility is home to an array of Sarasota Memorial’s ambulatory services and an urgent care center. A Pain Care Clinic also is available at the center.

That same year, Joint Commission officials conduct an unannounced, top-to-bottom survey of Sarasota Memorial before granting the hospital continuing, full accreditation — the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping “Seal of Approval” for hospitals.

In 2010, SMHCS was recognized by Cleverley and Associates, a leading health care consulting firm, for taking care of our community in the most financially responsible, high-quality and cost-efficient manner. In its annual study of more than 2,700 U.S. hospitals, Cleverly named SMH a top-ranked Community Value Provider.

Also that year, a government study of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia patients places SMH’s readmission rates among the lowest in the entire U.S. and virtually the lowest in Florida. Mortality rates also were below national averages. Our successful efforts to keep patients out of the hospital led to a mention in U.S. News’ “America’s Best Hospitals” magazine.

Work continues on a comprehensive plan to update aging facilities, with construction on the new nine-story Courtyard Tower under way, scheduled for completion in 2013. A state-of-the-art new Minimally Invasive and Women’s surgical center also is part of the plan.

Today, because of the guidance of past and present administrators and dedicated board members, the hospital has positioned itself to meet future, as well as current, health care needs of the Sarasota community. The values and commitment of its founders reflect in the respect Sarasota Memorial Hospital commands in the health care industry and echo through this enduring, vital partnership with our community.

In 2011, Sarasota Memorial unveils four new integrated operating rooms dedicated to minimally invasive and women’s surgery. Each room features flat panel, high-definition monitors mounted to the walls and ceiling; in-suite imaging capabilities that provide immediate access to radiologic or pathologic data; and the most advanced minimally invasive surgical tools available to operate through small holes (endoscopically/laparoscopically) rather than large incisions.



In 2012,  Sarasota Memorial announces a strategic collaboration with Columbia University Medical Center to make heart care even better for those living in Southwest Florida. The affiliation gives SMH and its physicians 24/7 access to the cardiac surgery faculty and researchers at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons medical school for case consultation, as well as the latest teaching, research initiatives and clinical trials under way in the academic setting. As part of the initiative, Sarasota Memorial launches a new Valve Clinic to  evaluate and manage patients with severe aortic stenosis and identify those eligible for minimally invasive Transcatheter Aortic Valve replacement (TAVR).

Sarasota Memorial's New Courtyard TowerIn 2013, we open our new nine-story Courtyard Tower, the centerpiece of a multi-year campus improvement project. The new tower includes Cardiac and Orthopedic Units, an expanded Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and spacious Labor & Delivery and Mother/Baby suites. Designed to enhance patient, physician and staff satisfaction, improve safety and meet the community’s changing health needs, the facility replaces some of the oldest areas of the hospital.   The project also includes a completely re-designed entryway to help patients get to the care they need, quickly and efficiently. Perhaps most importantly from the patient’s point of view, most of the Courtyard Tower’s rooms are private and feature the most advanced, patient-friendly, patient safe design amenities. Thousands of community members and staff tour the new facility during the grand opening event. 

The organization also opens its fourth urgent care center — and first in Venice — in the fall of 2013. Centrally located on the Venice Bypass, the urgent care center is staffed by Sarasota Memorial’s board certified emergency, family and internal medicine physicians. Separate but in the same facility, an outpatient imaging center and lab are also located in the first floor of the building. The second floor is dedicated to physician offices. 


In 2014, Sarasota Memorial succeeds in achieving Magnet® designation for the third time, a rigorous challenge accomplished by just 1 percent of the nation’s hospitals, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). 

Widely accepted as the gold standard of patient care, Magnet status is a 4-year designation given sparingly to hospitals that demonstrate excellence and professionalism in nursing. Less than 400 hospitals worldwide have earned the quality designation, and just 1 percent have been designated three times since recognition was first bestowed in 1994. 

Sarasota Memorial opens its fifth urgent care center, offering residents on either side of I-75 along the Bee Ridge corridor and beyond a more convenient and less costly place to seek care for immediate health concerns and minor emergencies. 

Bee Ridge Urgent Care Center Opening

The hospital earns another prestigious honor, earning on a spot on Becker's "150 Great Places to Work in Healthcare" list for 2014.


On May 1, 2015, Sarasota Memorial receives designation from the Florida Department of Health as a provisional Level II Trauma Center, and begins seeing trauma patients that very day. The hospital is the only trauma program in Sarasota County. 

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