CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A lot has changed at Saint Francis Hospital since it opened in a remodeled house on Laidley Street a century ago.
The Catholic hospital, then with about 30 beds, is now a 155-bed hospital with a one-day surgery center, pain relief center and the area's only hyperbaric oxygen treatment facility, just to name a few of its features.
But despite the changes, longtime staff members say the hospital's culture and mission have stayed the same since the sisters of St. Francis from New York started the hospital in 1913.
"The one thing that I've always been impressed with [at] this place is the focus it's had on the patients," said Dan Lauffer, chief operating officer at Thomas Health System, Saint Francis' parent company. "That's a culture that was actually begun and started by the sisters. I think that's something that was here when I got here in 1996 and remains today."
The hospital celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
West Virginia's Roman Catholic bishop, Father Patrick Donahue, founded the hospital in 1913 at an estate at 333 Laidley St., where it remains today.
The sisters arrived from New York to manage the hospital Dec. 13, 1913, and the hospital opened Jan. 15, 1914.
In 1921, the sisters of St. Francis were recalled to Williamson and replaced with five nuns from the sisters of St. Joseph of Wheeling, who owned it until 1995.
That year, the sisters sold Saint Francis to hospital chain Columbia-HCA. In 2006, Columbia-HCA sold the hospital to LifePoint Hospitals Inc. as part of a larger deal involving four hospitals in two states. A few months later in early 2007, Lifepoint sold it to Thomas Health System, which also owns Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston. Thomas Health System continues to own it today.
Ownership may change, Lauffer said, but the way the hospital treats its patients hasn't.
"People in board rooms elsewhere can make decisions about selling us or buying us," Lauffer said. "The one thing that the employees can do every day that matters, that they have control over, is how we treat our patients."
The culture of the hospital has stayed the same, said sister Virginia "Ginny" Yeager, the director of pastoral care.
"That sense of care, wanting to offer health care in a manner that reflects Jesus Christ's mission and the way he was with people, those things have never changed," Yeager said.
Lauffer recalled a favorite story about the hospital staff helping to go the extra mile for a patient.
An emergency room doctor took his shoes off and gave them to a patient who needed them more than he did, Lauffer said.
It was a snowy night and the patient, a homeless man wearing a pair of too-small shoes he had been given, showed up in the emergency room with foot pain and a myriad of other problems.
When the patient left, the doctor realized he had forgotten to consider that the man's shoe size could have been causing him problems.
The doctor walked outside to find him and found out he typically wore the same size shoes the doctor was wearing, but was using a smaller pair. The doctor gave the man his own shoes and walked back into the ER shoeless.
"Our nurses were saying what happened and he said, 'I gave my shoes to the guy we just discharged because I forgot to ask him what size shoes he wore and I figured he needed them more than I did,'" Lauffer said. "That was an email I got the very next day. Our nurses were just absolutely blown away by his generosity. That's kind of been the mission here for a long, long time."
As a Catholic hospital, the facility attracts staff members who see health care not only as a job, but as a way to fulfill a call to care for the sick.
That's the way Maria Rendinell, an associate administrator for the hospital, has viewed her job since she started at Saint Francis in 1984.
"I truly believe that health care is a ministry," said Rendinell, who is Catholic. "I feel that in any capacity that you work in health care, you're ministering to the sick.
"You can be paid for that but there's no better paycheck than the gratitude and when you go home at the end of the day you know that you've done something good for people," she said.
Rendinell came to Charleston from Youngstown, Ohio, and worked as a licensed practical nurse throughout the city before going to nursing school, she said.
Something was different about Saint Francis, she said.
"It was just a feeling that I felt like I was at home," Rendinell said. "I knew after I went to nursing school and came back as a [registered nurse] that I wanted to work here."
When Rendinell's husband developed lung cancer at an early age, he was diagnosed and treated at Saint Francis. He ultimately died there, too. He didn't want to die in their home, she said.
"For me, he kind of did die in my home because this is my home too," Rendinell said. "That's not necessarily a happy memory but it's a memory that keeps this as part of my family."
Mary Williams, director of volunteer services, has worked at Saint Francis for 32 years.
Williams' mother, who was a Saint Francis volunteer, encouraged her to work for the hospital. Now Williams has come to love the hospital, just as her mother did.
To her, the volunteers and the staff are like family.
"We're small enough in numbers that we get to know each other but they're still big enough to provide the care for our patients," Williams said.