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DCH Health System History

Under local ownership and leadership for more than 90 years, the DCH Health System has continually evolved to offer advanced caring to West Alabama.

As the community grew and as medicine developed new procedures, a small hospital expanded its services and service area to become a regional medical center. Today, the DCH Health System operates DCH Regional Medical Center, Northport Medical Center and Fayette Medical Center

In 1916, Tuscaloosa entered its centennial year with a population of 10,500, more than twice the population the city could claim when it entered the 20th century. It was in that year Tuscaloosa took the first step toward providing for the health care needs of its citizens. It was also in that year that the first steps were taken that would eventually transform a small clinic into the DCH Health System.

The 12-bed Druid City Infirmary, funded by a bond issue and public subscriptions, opened in 1916 on Broad Street, now known as University Boulevard. Tuscaloosa civic and business leaders knew within four years that the humble clinic was insufficient to serve the needs of Tuscaloosa and Northport, and a committee was appointed by the Tuscaloosa County Medical Association, the Board of Trade and the Rotary Club to study the alternatives for improving health care for Tuscaloosa. Committee Chairman Samuel F. Clabaugh reported that it would cost a staggering $100,000 to build and equip a modern hospital.

The community responded to the challenge. Under the slogan "For Humanity Here at Home," the committee raised the funds for the new hospital through a $50,000 bond issue matched by another $50,000 in public subscriptions. University of Alabama President George Denny, who wanted to help the community effort and provide better care for University students, donated Lawn State, where the Russell Student Health Center now stands, for the new hospital. As excavation began in March 1922 on the site at the edge of the University campus, the committee chose the name Druid City Hospital for the new facility. This name, selected from among suggestions from the community, would retain Tuscaloosa's distinctive nickname and the name of the infirmary that preceded it.

The opening of Druid City Hospital on March 25, 1923, was heralded by the Tuscaloosa News "as the greatest achievement from a humanitarian viewpoint accomplished by the present generation," an achievement that was not without some "personal sacrifice." The time for sacrifice was not yet over; the board saw an immediate need for an additional $25,000 to equip the 50-bed hospital. The community met the challenge within a week.

Druid City Hospital expanded to 80 beds to meet the health care needs of the growing city. But by World War II, it was obvious that the city had outgrown its modest hospital, just as it had outgrown its infirmary two decades before. Joseph Allen Duckworth, president of the private nonprofit corporation that operated the hospital, challenged the "new generation to put up as did the founders" to bring to Tuscaloosa and Northport the quality health care they deserved.

The first step toward finding new alternatives to the county's health care needs required restructuring the hospital's board. The private, nonprofit board that had operated the hospital since it opened could not raise funds needed to keep a hospital abreast of a growing city, so the board turned over its assets to the city and county governing boards in 1946. Government officials later that year leased a portion of Northington General Hospital, a temporary Army hospital that closed at the end of World War II. The Northington complex, where University Mall now stands, would serve as a temporary home for Druid City Hospital until a new hospital could be financed and constructed.

Tuscaloosa County residents responded to this new challenge by imposing on themselves a 1 cent sales tax to finance the construction of a new hospital. The legislation that established the sales tax also created a nine-member board of directors for the hospital, with members appointed by area governing bodies and the county medical society. This tax was revoked when the hospital opened in 1952. The current tax is divided among several county entities, including local governments and school boards and the hospital.

Tuscaloosa residents, now numbering well over 50,000, anxiously followed the construction of the hospital throughout the early 1950s. In December 1952, Tuscaloosa County received an early but long-awaited Christmas present- Druid City Hospital employees and community volunteers moved 77 patients from the Northington location to the new hospital on University Boulevard. Unlike many presents, this one was paid for. The sales tax revenue, combined with federal funds available through the Hill-Burton Act, provided the more than $3 million needed to construct the new Druid City Hospital.

The new 240-bed hospital, so progressive it earned coverage in Modern Hospital and Life magazines, featured piped-in oxygen at every bedside, four major operating rooms and the state's first surgical recovery room. DCH continued to grow to keep pace with its evolving role as a regional medical center serving a seven-county area of more than 220,000 persons. Additions from 1958 to 1976 brought DCH to 496 beds, and the opening of a five-story wing in 1976 made DCH the state's third largest hospital. As a regional medical center, DCH attracted physician specialists and constructed specialty units, including an intensive care nursery, coronary and intensive care units, subintensive care units, open-heart surgery, an orthopedic unit and a pediatric unit.

DCH Regional Medical Center continues its evolution as West Alabama's health care leader by serving as the foundation of the DCH Health System, a regional health care system. This system has grown from serving the Tuscaloosa and Northport areas to serving the entire West Alabama region.

In the 1980s, expansion occurred off the campus of DCH Regional Medical Center when the DCH Health System became affiliated with Fayette Medical Center in Fayette, Ala. This partnership, which began in 1984, further offered residents in West Alabama the best possible health care. Specialty clinics offered at the Fayette Medical Center include oncology, cardiology, urology, neurology, orthopedics, ophthalmology and plastic surgery. The facility also has a 122 bed nursing care facility that has been officially accredited and licensed for intermediate and skilled nursing care.

The 1990s brought more expansion when Northport Medical Center became part of the DCH Health System in 1992. Northport Medical Center was already a full-service community hospital that offered diverse and up-to-date services when it became part of the system. Today, the facility is home to services such as the DCH SportsMedicine program, Women's Pavilion and the North Harbor Pavilion, which offers psychiatric services for adults and geriatric patients.

The history of the DCH Health System is not the history of a building or a health care system. It is the story of a community's continuing response to provide for itself one of the most important commodities a community can offer - health care.