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Submitter/Author: Tom Barlett
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1736: Charity Hospital Ambulance Service, New Orleans
Charity Hospital was first called the L’Hôpital des Pauvres de la Charité which in French denoted “Hospital for the Poor.” The first facility was built on Bienville St. at Chartres Street in the French Quarter in 1736. Thus, Charity became the second oldest continually operating public hospital in the United States with only Belleview Hospital in New York City being older having been founded a month earlier in 1736. Charity Hospital then quickly outgrew its original facility, and a second hospital was built on Basin Street in 1743 with a third hospital being completed by 1785 which was destroyed by fire in 1809 forcing the institution to be housed in temporary large residences.
18th and early 19th century records are not exactly clear exactly when Charity Hospital began operating its own ambulances. It was common in that era for regular horse-drawn wagons and undertaker carriages to be sometimes used to transport the sick and injured. But is believed that since Belleview Hospital started operating ambulances soon after it opened, then Charity Hospital most likely followed suit. By the mid-19th Century, Charity Hospital was operating horse drawn ambulances and later became known as the Charity Hospital Ambulance Corps. A forth hospital was then built at the edge of the city on Canal Street at a site when the Fairmont Hotel is currently located. The hospital was completed in 1815 but was criticized as inadequate to meet the growing cities population needs. In 1832, a fifth hospital was finally built within a block bordered by Girod, Gravier, St. Mary, and Common Streets just south of French Quarter. It was then that the Sisters of Charity would assume administration of the hospital.
In 1911, the hospital began replacing its horse drawn ambulances with motorized vehicles which featured an improved patient loading stretcher and improved seating for the physician who rode with the driver and attended to the patient.
In 1939, with the city growing at a rapid rate, a sixth hospital was finally constructed on Tulane Avenue and was located just southwest of the French Quarter. At the time of completion, it was the second largest hospital in the United States featuring 2,680 beds
During World War II, Charity took delivery on three red 1939 Packard ambulance vehicles that featured a portable oxygen tank along with improved stretcher capabilities and comfort. No new manufactured ambulances were available for civilian purchase during World War II because all automotive manufacturing plants had retooled for the war effort and only manufactured ambulances for the Department of Defense.
In the 50’s and 60’s the hospital continued to operate red automotive chassis ambulances similar to those of the 40’s. In the 60’s the service began to operate red panel trucks and later station wagon style ambulances, which featured a medical intern riding aboard.
By the early 70’s the service had changed to red Chevrolet low-roof suburban vehicles that featured an oxygen unit, ambu-bag, air splints, backboards, suction unit and a modern “jump kit.” A driver and often a medical school student who was trained in advanced first aid, CPR and were called “externs” staffed the ambulances. Soon after, the service starting hiring its first basic EMT’s with some of the “externs” also completing such training. By this time, Charity Hospital Ambulance Service was providing back-up ambulance response for the then New Orleans Police Department’s Emergency Units (ambulances), the New Orleans Fire Department’s Emergency Unit (ambulance) which served the French Quarter and the New Orleans Health Corporation (NEHC) (a 100% Federal Funded “Model City” inner city health clinic) which existed in the early 70’s and predated the later follow-on New Orleans Health Department’s EMS in the early 80’s.
In the latter 70’s, when State of Louisiana mandatory ambulance vehicle, equipment and training standards fully took effect, Charity Hospital Ambulance Service took delivery on several 54” raised roof suburban’s that featured a full array of basic life support equipment and was staffed with basic EMT’s. The service also took delivery on a Type III modular ambulance that was equipped with advanced life support capabilities and paramedics who had graduated from the Tulane University School of Medicine Paramedic Training Program. In the early 80’s the hospital finally ceased its over two century old emergency ambulance service when the City of New Orleans Health Department (NOHD) assumed responsibility for citywide 911 coverage, which later became known New Orleans EMS. Charity Hospital was severely damaged by floodwaters immediately following the onset of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 and has remained closed since that time. It is anticipated that a new Charity Hospital facility will be built or the old historic structure totally remodeled in following years.
Keywords: Charity Hospital, Atlanta
Last Revision Date: 8/17/10 - 6:05 PM