Ann Hammack, continuing medical education coordinator, has worked at the hospital since 1967. She was part of one of the last graduating classes to go through the Saint Francis nursing school before it closed in 1961.
"There was never any question except I would go to Saint Francis [for nursing school]," Hammack said. "I had aunts that went here as well."
There were eight women in her graduating class and Hammack says they were like sisters. Over all these years, that family atmosphere hasn't changed, she said.
"It is a family," Hammack said. "That's the way we were in nursing school ... It's been that way as a nurse and also with the other employees."
A spirit of healing
The sisters may not own the hospital anymore, but faith is still a major component of the hospital's care.
There are three certified chaplains, including Yeager.
Each morning starts with a prayer over the loud speaker. A chapel provides a place for patients and family to pray or leave their prayer requests.
Catholic hospitals take very seriously their focus on patients' spiritual care, Yeager said.
"Whenever someone is sick ... if you just even get a cold, everything's affected-- how you relate to people, how you feel about yourself that day, whatever," Yeager said. "Those are spiritual issues for people, so you can imagine people in a hospital setting also being affected at a deeper level than just a cold that day."
Even those who are not Catholic notice the difference, Rendinell said.
"And I think our patients here love hearing the prayer every morning," she said. "Not many places you can pray in the morning."
The hospital hasn't been immune to controversy and in the 1950s, was the setting for a civil rights dispute. In May of 1951, 23 white nurses walked out of their jobs when the hospital refused to fire three black nurses.
"It was probably the first time you heard about what would be considered a civil rights issue," Lauffer said. "But it was a situation where there were some black nurses who were hired here at the hospital and there were a number of nurses who were concerned about the hospital hiring black nurses.
"The sisters were confronted by the employees and had some objections to it and they said that they were going to stand their ground and the black nurses were obviously welcome to continue working here," Lauffer said. "There were a lot of employees who either left or were terminated because of the dispute."
Sister Helen Clare, the hospital's superintendent at the time, told the Charleston Daily Mail that the Catholic Church had endeavored to fight racial prejudices and injustices and so the hospital refused to fire anyone because of race.
Being a small, faith-based medical facility down the street from Charleston Area Medical Center, with its four hospital campuses, hasn't been a bad thing, hospital administrators say.
CAMC has one of two Level 1 trauma centers in the state. But administrators say despite its size, the hospital competes with most anything a larger hospital can do.
Saint Francis has the state's only retinal surgeons in the state. They also have the only ear, nose and throat group in the city, Rendinell said.
"Anything else, as long as it's not trauma, we can treat it here," Rendinell said.
And its size means there are things Saint Francis can do better than larger medical facilities, Lauffer said.
"We're able to really know our patients, know our employees, know our community," he said. "If you're in a big place, not because you're good or bad, but you're just so big you don't have the ability.
The partnership between Saint Francis and Thomas Memorial in South Charleston is going well for both hospitals, said Steve Dexter, CEO of Thomas Health System.
"The commitment we made at Saint Francis when we came together was that every penny we generated here we would reinvest into Saint Francis, and we've been able to do that," Dexter said. "We've put about $25 million into facility improvements, all generated at Saint Francis."
And the hospitals have been able to cut back on duplication of services. They used to compete with one another, Dexter said.
"Now [we] say, 'Look, it makes more sense to do this at Saint Francis, [and] it makes more sense to do this at Thomas,'" he said.
As they face the future, administrators say they want to continue to attract the best doctors and provide them the technology they need to do their jobs well.
"We spend a lot of time recruiting new, young doctors that are cutting-edge. We want to make sure they have the technology they need so they can practice their specialty," Dexter said.
There will be changes related to the Affordable Care Act, but the hospital is prepared for that challenge, Rendinell said.
"In the 30 years that I've been in health care every year is a challenge," she said. "There are changes that are never-ending. We know that. So is it the end? No. It's just the next challenge."
And if there's one thing that a hospital that's been around as long as Saint Francis can do, it's adapt to change, Lauffer said.
"It's like death and taxes. There's things that are always going to happen," he said. "So people have to be nimble to react to change and I think this hospital has done a good job at that."Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.