St. Bernards had its beginning when a malaria fever epidemic spread throughout Northeast Arkansas. The Olivetan Benedictine Sisters were asked to help take care of the sick. They purchased a six-room frame house on East Matthews in Jonesboro and set up rooms with cots for beds and covered orange crates for wash stands. On July 5, 1900, St. Bernards Hospital took its first patients.
The hospital was named St. Bernards after the Sisters’ patron saint, St. Bernard Tolomei, who founded the Olivetan Benedictine Congregation in 1319. He and about 80 of his monks cared for the sick in Italy during the Bubonic Plague.
From those humble beginnings, St. Bernards Healthcare has evolved as the area’s premier healthcare provider, thanks to the Sisters, physicians, community leaders and others who have planned, worked, volunteered and contributed on its behalf.
1900 - 1930s
The hospital saw steady growth throughout the years, but with this growth came overcrowding problems, and once again, the Sisters and community leaders began to develop plans to expand the hospital to a 60-bed facility in 1923. However, by the end of 1929, the citizens of Jonesboro had fallen on hard times as the Great Depression took its toll on America, and St. Bernards was no exception. In January of 1931, the Sisters faced the challenge of providing healthcare in addition to feeding patients in the face of food scarcity.
In the 1940s, war was raging in Europe. Jonesboro and St. Bernards Hospital were experiencing growth and plans were being drawn for a new addition to the hospital, despite the dire situation America was in overseas.
In 1950, St. Bernards had been serving patients for 50 years. The hospital continued to grow, and efforts were underway to raise funds again for a new addition. The expansion reflected the Sisters’ commitment to serve those in need to the best of their possible ability.
By the 1960s, the hospital hired its first lay administrator and continued to serve those in need.
In 1967, Mother Benedicta Boeckmann founded the Pastoral Care Department to minister to patients of all faiths and to welcome local ministers as they visited with members of their congregations. This department helped fully live out in St. Bernards the Sisters’ belief in caring for the whole person: physically, emotionally and spiritually.
By 1974, St. Bernards had grown to a 274-bed facility and was the fourth largest medical facility outside of Little Rock in the state of Arkansas.
One of the many firsts for St. Bernards Medical Center was achieved when physicians performed the first coronary bypass surgery. Other services added in the 1980s included Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, Sleep Disorders Center, Balloon Angioplasty, helicopter landing pad and MRI Unit.
The 1990s were exciting and challenging years for St. Bernards. At the beginning of the decade, the medical center was recognized for its quality and range of services. These new and burgeoning amenities had been the direct result of great leadership and the efforts to provide Christ-like healing to the community. St. Bernards Behavioral Health was also brought into the umbrella of services and two new facilities were added: St. Bernards Village and St. Bernards Dialysis.
The hospital continued to expand services, adding a variety of new technologies. On the Matthews Medical Mile, a host of health services are added, including One Day Surgery, Imaging Center, Flo & Phil Jones Hospice House, Total Life Healthcare, St. Bernards Health and Wellness.
St. Bernards Healthcare continued to expand well into the 2010s, including opening St. Bernards Villa, the only memory care community in the area, as well as the region’s only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which continues to help families receive the care they need for their baby without having to travel to Little Rock or Memphis.
The St. Bernards Cancer Center and St. Bernards Heartcare Center were renovated and updated in the late 2010s, offering expanded facilities for patients. In 2018, care was extended beyond state lines as St. Bernards opened its first clinic in Kennett, Missouri. The next year, St. Bernards leased the hospital in Pocahontas, renaming the facility St. Bernards Five Rivers.
In the fall of 2019, a new four-story tower will change the face of downtown Jonesboro and will provide a new front door to St. Bernards Medical Center. This tower will house all surgical and intensive care services for the medical center, allowing the hospital to expand these services.
The work done by St. Bernards is that of genuine Catholic Christian charity as a healing ministry of Jesus to the sick. The Sisters, physicians and community leaders have demonstrated their commitment to the health and well-being of the people in Jonesboro, Craighead County and all of Northeast Arkansas for the past 118 years and will continue to hold that commitment for the next 100 years to come.