Our History

See examples from our Heritage Wall on permanent display near the hospital’s first floor Atrium.

The beginning: 1889

The history of Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, began more than 120 years ago on October 7, 1889 when two Hospital Sisters of Saint Francis arrived from their Motherhouse in Springfield, Illinois to Eau Claire. Their work in establishing the first hospital began in the residence of Mrs. J. Fitzpatrick, located in the 100 block of Putnam Street.

In the following spring, a new three-story building was erected on the northeast hill facing north Dewey Street, with accommodations for 50 patients.

On July 28, 1890, the Articles of Incorporation of the Hospital were sent to Madison, Wisconsin and were acknowledged on August 1 under the title of the “Hospital of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Sisters of St. Francis.”

The new hospital served 275 patients in the first year. It grew to meet community needs; the total patients in the following year increased to 422, for 9,903 days of nursing care. By 1901, the patient load reached 666 for 16,972 days of care.

Expansion: 1912

A second unit of the hospital was built in 1912, as well as a west wing, which enlarged the institution to 160 beds. The hospital then had its special entrance for patients arriving by horse-drawn ambulance. This addition also provided a major surgery facility with the latest equipment for the administrations of ether and nitrous oxide anesthetics. Sun parlors for convalescing patients and more rooms for patients were included.

School of Nursing: 1917

An entirely new activity began in August 1917, with the opening of a School of Nursing. The first class, totaling seven, graduated on August 26, 1920. The school continued to grow and in 1924 an addition was constructed. In 1926, a gift of $100,000 from Mrs. Mary Dulaney made possible the construction of a new wing, with 120 additional beds. 

Further gifts from Mrs. Dulaney in the early 1930s made it possible for the Hospital Sisters to remodel the original building, as well as to complete the maternity and children's section. 

By 1937, the School of Nursing established in 1917, had to be discontinued in favor of enlarged technical departments due to advances in radiology, pathology and bacteriology.

From 1926 to 1952, the annual number of patients grew nearly 150%, to a total of 8,327 persons receiving 64,327 days of care. New developments in physiotherapy demanded additional space for beds. Overcrowded conditions made it imperative that a new hospital be built.

A new era for Eau Claire: 1962

Sacred Heart Hospital, having twice outgrown its physical capacity due to expanded services, opened a new era in 1962. Sister Clarine, Administrator, responding to local advice, acquired the excellent site on Clairemont Avenue. 

On June 29, 1962, Reverend Mother M. Odilia, O.S.F., Mother General of the Hospital Sisters of Saint Francis, came from Munich, in Westphalia, Germany, to turn the first spade of earth at the groundbreaking for the $12-million Sacred Heart Hospital of Eau Claire.

Most significant was the support for this project demonstrated by the Eau Claire community, which organized to provide more than $800,000 to supplement federal and borrowed funds to create the modern facility. 

An open house was held at the completed structure on November 13, 1964, and the Hospital was formally dedicated on December 6, 1964. It was the 75th anniversary of the founding of Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire. Patients and personnel moved into the new facility on December 14, 1964, without a single unhappy incident. Twenty-four Sisters in a variety of positions were on the Hospital staff during this period. 

The ground and first floors housed the administrative offices, waiting rooms, pharmacy, dietary department, cafeteria, physical therapy, radiology and laboratory, central sterilizing department and space for employee lockers. The next six floors were patient care units, assigned for 175 general medical-surgical, 20 psychiatric, 24 maternity, and 38 pediatric patients. The eighth and ninth floors were constructed in order to provide for future expansion, but at this time the interior was not completed. 

A special section of the new construction provided for the Sisters' convent, the chapel and auditorium; another for boiler, mechanical equipment and laundry. 

Early in 1968, it became apparent that additional beds were needed to satisfy the growing demand for hospitalization from the growing medical staff. It was decided in June 1968 to complete the interior of the eighth and ninth floors of the hospital as additional patient units. When finished, the hospital in 1969 provided a capacity of 390 adult and pediatric beds, and 22 bassinets.

Heralding a wave of improvements

Soon after the opening of the new Sacred Heart Hospital in 1964, a number of outstanding improvements were made. These included a more efficient centralized system in the medical records department, addition of the occupational therapy department, electronic data processing, the initiation of a new battery of 20 diagnostic laboratory tests known as the “Chem-Screen,” the purchase of an automated magnascanner for the radiology department and the installation of four cardiac monitors in the Intensive Care Unit.

In the fall of 1971, as part of the equipment for the new department of nuclear medicine, the hospital installed a $60,000 Pho Gamma Camera. In the early part of 1973, the L.E. Phillips Charities Inc. donated a total of $61,630 to the institution. Of this amount, $29,130 was designated for the development of a rehabilitation unit and $32,500 for the purchase of diagnostic ultrasound equipment. 

The L.E. Phillips Rehabilitation Center on the Hospital’s ninth floor was built through the grant. This physical restoration facility became one of only nine general hospital-based programs of this nature in Wisconsin to receive full accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities in 1978.

Gifts for expansion: 1975

A major expansion at Sacred Heart came about with the opening of neurodiagnostic and neurosurgical capabilities in the Hospital. In 1975, a special procedures section was established in the radiology department. In 1976, through one of its largest grants, the L.E. Phillips Charities made possible the L.E. Phillips Radiology Center with the area's first CT Head and Body Scanner.

Dramatic new growth

Sacred Heart Hospital began a new era of expansion in 2002 when ground was broken for construction of the $35-million Advanced Center for Medicine and Surgery and later the expansion of the Emergency Medical and Trauma Center and Regional Cancer Center. These two expansions marked the beginning of a phenomenal period of growth and development for the hospital. These expansions included the opening of a new lobby and gift shop, as well as a new Center for Spiritual Care. Other areas included a new Center for Critical Care, a Center for Surgical Intensive Care, a Community Auditorium and Center for Medical Excellence, a new central sterilizing department, and two new cardiac catheterization laboratories. 

In May 2007, the new Center for Imaging was also completed and opened on the east side of the Hospital. This $25-million investment in technology and facilities produced the largest and most comprehensive imaging facility between Minneapolis and Madison. The Center features a new 3 Tesla MRI, the most powerful clinical magnet in the industry. 

In October 2008, Sacred Heart Hospital opened its Smart OR® surgical suite. Our hospital is one of a very few in the country to have this amazing system for brain, spine and trauma patients. We are the first hospital in Wisconsin and the first hospital ever of our size to have both a BrainSUITE® with IMRIS intra-operative MRI (iMRI), and BrainSUITE intra-operative CT (iCT) Smart OR suites for neurosurgery, spine and trauma patients. 

Monument to the Work of Many Hands

Long is the list of Sisters, physicians, nurses, technologists, aides, workers, and volunteers who share ownership of Sacred Heart’s heritage of care, and to whom current and future generations are deeply indebted. There have been dedicated administrators, chaplains, nurses, physicians, surgeons, generous donors, volunteers and thousands of employees who ultimately made it all happen. Without them, the Eau Claire community would have been deprived. Because of them, Eau Claire is a better home for all of us. They are known to Him Who rewards in fullest measure. 

They have also laid the foundations on which we, to whom the future is entrusted, must continue to build. The reassuring, consoling presence of Sacred Heart in our community cannot be taken for granted. 

Just as many hands carried on Sacred Heart’s mission in the past, so, too, will many hands be called on to carry forward its spirits and help preserve its heritage of care in the future. Part and parcel of regional Eau Claire, Sacred Heart Hospital is pledged to hear and respond, to see need and provide, to safeguard and to share the heritage of care which is the hospital's legacy.