On August 26, 1873, an article appeared in the Reading Eagle announcing the opening of St. Joseph Hospital, "for the reception of all classes of patients, rich or poor, and of whatever sex, nationality or faith.”
Three days later, St. Joseph Hospital opened its doors to all—regardless of race, color or creed. There was no fanfare or ribbon-cutting on that long-ago day, just the simple, charitable offering of our services to the poor, the sick and the injured.
Our commitment to the community started nearly 150 years ago and has remained the foundation of all we do – bringing loving service to those in need.
This is Penn State Health St. Joseph
The rich history of Penn State St. Joseph Medical Center illustrates our goal of improving the health of the communities we serve. Here’s a look at some of our many milestones over the years.
In 1873, Reading Hospital operated a dispensary downtown, but it did not accept inpatients. It was becoming evident that this growing hospital desperately needed a hospital. The Reverend Msgr. George Bornemann, Pastor of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, set about seeking the ways and means of accomplishing this goal.
Msgr. Bornemann lost no time in securing a suitable site. He approached Reverend Mother M. Agnes of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia to accept responsibility for the Hospital. Reverend Mother Agnes sent three Sisters to Reading, Sister M. Walburga, Sister M. Margaret and Sister M. Paul, with Sister Walburga as Superior of this visionary group.
The small building accommodated twelve patients: six males and six females. The new facility was dedicated to St. Joseph. His statue was blessed years later by the Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan of Philadelphia. It was placed over the entrance of a later building facing City Park, where it remains today.
A short time after the opening of St. Joseph, the Pathological Society of Berks County offered its services as a Medical Board. These devoted men were the predecessors of today’s medical staff. Their loyalty to St. Joseph Hospital has been a long-standing tradition for all who serve here.
1882 – 1884
By 1882, there was an obvious need for more hospital space and the Medical Board made a plea for a larger facility. An appeal went out to the public. The Sisters made calls from house-to-house to solicit the funds necessary for the erection of another building.
The new facility’s cornerstone was laid in 1882. Two years later, the building as dedicated by the Most Reverend P. Ryan, D.D., Archbishop of Philadelphia. The new hospital could now accommodate seventy-five patients. It was built in the form of a cross with a wide hall bisecting the four wings. Elevators and dumb waiters were installed. Porches ran along the East and South Wings, providing a welcome place for our convalescent patients to enjoy the mountain’s gentle breeze.
The hospital's interior was not finished due to the lack of funds, but that did not deter plans for an addition later to meet the ever-increasing need for patient accommodations.
The Sisters had little or no income as many of their patients were unable to pay little, if anything, for their care. The Sisters were very poor and often begged from door-to-door and at the Farmer’s Market in the city for food for those under their care.
By 1884, the number of patients increased from 12 to 209.
1885 – 1892
In 1885, a $40,000 legacy was bequeathed by Mr. Francis A. Drexel of Drexel, Morgan and Company. This legacy was a boon to the St. Joseph Hospital at a time when the funds were greatly needed. The gratitude of the Sisters still shows today. On February 15, each year since Mr. Drexel’s death, a Mass is offered in the Chapels of our Order in his honor.
With the growth of St. Joseph Hospital, an official Board of Management was needed. In 1890, influential men of the City of Reading formed a group to help the Sisters meet their challenges. These men were a tower of strength, working with the Sisters and the Medical Board to give the City of Reading the best in health care. In 897, an official Board was organized.
In 1893, more land was purchased, extending the hospital’s footprint from Walnut to Elm Street, or about half a city block. The expansion gave St. Joseph's capacity of 135 beds.
The smallpox epidemic in 1893 put a severe tax on the facilities of the Hospital. The Reading Board of Health requested that a stable on the hospital’s grounds be used temporary quarters for patients of limited means until they could transfer to the Berks County Home in Cumru Township. Doctors and Sisters cared for the smallpox patients day and night, making every possible effort to keep the disease from spreading.
St. Joseph Hospital is the proud possessor of a copy of the “Resolution of Gratitude” passed by the Board of Health of Reading in recognition of the Doctors and Sisters for their heroic work during the smallpox epidemic.
On September 27, 1895, the deed to St. Joseph Hospital of Reading, Pa., was sold to the Sisters of St. Francis for the cost of $1. The gift was given with the following stipulation: “IN TRUST, nevertheless, for only the proper use, benefit and behoof of St. Joseph Hospital of Reading, Pa., forever, or if circumstances should render it inexpedient that a hospital should continue in locality for such other religious or charitable purposes as shall be determined by the Catholic Ordinary of the Diocese.”
In 1897, the State of Pennsylvania incorporated St. Joseph Hospital. Twelve laymen petitioners formed the first official Board of Trustees.
1902 - 1904
In 1902, the State of Pennsylvania appropriated a $2,000 annual grant to St. Joseph Hospital for the first time in its history. This State appropriation increased annually until it reached $10,000 a year. The grant ended in 1921.
The demand on the Sisters increased with the hospital’s growth. Not only did they perform all nursing duties, they also handled the work needed to keep the hospital running, including administration, housekeeping chores and numerous other responsibilities. To meet the hospital’s growing needs, nursing training was offered to carefully selected young women. The first class included three women. Those young women of long ago formed the first class. They established a tradition of loyalty, devotion to good nursing care and esprit de corps manifested by our nurses of today.
In 1903, construction for a nurses’ residence began on the site of the original 1873 facility across from the present hospital.
Upon its completion in 1905, His Excellency, Archbishop James Pendergast of Philadelphia dedicated the building. The building was called the Annex and intended for use as a Nurse’s Residence, with the two lower floors used for patients. A bridge crossed Birch Street at the second-floor level and connected St. Joseph Hospital and the Annex. The building is now known as the Nurses’ Residence.
The Annex enabled the Hospital to increase the number of public ward beds, infant and children’s departments and add private rooms to the Maternity Department. There are still citizens of Reading who were born in the Annex.
In 1914, many changes were made to the hospital’s departments. A Neurological Department opened. The X-ray department moved to the front of the Hospital and the Pathological Department moved to the second floor. It is noteworthy that St. Joseph Hospital Laboratory was the only one in the vicinity equipped to complete the tests that were so vital in the care of the patient.
1915 - 1918
In 1915, Financial stress was relieved when the Berks County Commission allocated $650 a year to increase the hospitals’ budget. This was the first time in the facility’s history it had been done. This year marked many changes. Windows opening onto the porches were converted into doors so that patients could enjoy nature's benefits during their convalescence. The School of Nursing enrolled a male student for the first time. An incubator and infant lung motor were added to the Nursery in the Obstetrical Department.
In 1917, the Ladies Auxiliary began.
In 1918, many of the doctors left to serve their country. The Spanish Influenza swept the nation that year and Reading was no exception. Doctors and Nurses worked day and night. Every bed was filled, with beds and cots placed on the porches as patients continued to come.
In 1921, the withdrawal of State Aid created a hardship on the Hospital. New equipment and extensive repair work inside and outside the building were needed. The Board of Trustees, Sisters, Medical Staff and Board Members launched a fundraising drive, which raised more than $80,000.
Sisters, Doctors and Board Members were untiring in the work of the drive. The ever-generous people of Reading contributed to the drive for an erection of an added wing to meet the demands made on St. Joseph Hospital.
1923 marked a half-century of public service at St. Joseph’s. Changes since the hospital’s opening included:
- The original 12-bed capacity increased to 131 beds.
- Forty nurses were on staff, up from the three Sisters that made up the original nursing workforce.
- St. Joseph Hospital was approved by the Pennsylvania State Board of Medical Education and licensed as a teaching institution.
- A dispensary staff was organized to keep adequate histories of dispensary patients.
- The Dental Department opened with a Chief and four assistants.
- A basal metabolism machine and powerful X-ray machine were purchased for the laboratory. A powerful X-Ray Machine was added to the X-ray Department.
During the hospital’s first fifty years, 43,514 patients were treated at St. Joseph Hospital. Just over 18,105 of them received care free-of-charge. Although the hospital’s went without state aid, the quality of service and the tender loving care given the patients never faltered.
A new wing was dedicated on Sunday, June 13, 1926. Upon its completion, patients transferred from the Nurses' Residence to the hospital.
St. Joseph Hospital was considered a very up-to-date hospital, not only in equipment but also in construction. It could be ranked proudly among hospitals of its size. The airy private and semi-private rooms were well-furnished. The Operating and Delivery suites on the sixth floor were well lighted and removed from the patient area. The Outpatient Department on the ground floor and the other areas mentioned above, made it a hospital in which it was a pleasure to work.
Other changes included converting the old stone building, formerly used for isolation patients, into a residence for women employees. The Sisters’ quarters on the fourth floor were renovated and made more comfortable.
In 1933, the Country was still feeling the effects of the Depression years. Inpatient and outpatient charity patients both increased, but services to the patients did not lessen. Despite the lack of funds, the utmost economy and good management made it possible to purchase equipment and provide some very badly needed repairs.
The Community Chest of Reading and Berks County allocated $52,500 to St. Joseph from 1933 to 1934. Berks County Commissions also contributed $10,000 a year toward the cost of charity patients. These additions to the budget enabled the hospital to buy much-needed equipment and further improve the services offered.
In 1937, an electro-cardiac and stethograph for use on patients with heart conditions. This addition made St. Joseph Hospital the first general hospital to have this advanced equipment.
In 1939 the hospital was gifted an iron lung. It was used for patients with respiratory problems and paralysis. When presented to the Hospital, the iron lung was the only one of its kind in Berks County. We were happy to lend it to other hospitals in the vicinity when it was needed.
In 1944, the United States was still involved in World War II and many of our Doctors and Nurses left to serve their Country. Despite shortages on many necessities like manpower and supplies, the hospital continued providing the best patient care available.
Doctors at St. Joseph Hospital were among the first to recognize the lifesaving value of plasma and whole blood. It was the first hospital in this area to establish what was known as a Blood Bank. Blood taken from donors could be "banked" by a special process until needed.
In 1946, a wing was added to the Nurses’ Residence. Though the School of Nursing at St. Joseph Hospital had the greatest number of nurses in the area, it lacked space in its housing and facilities to properly educate the young women who came to study Nursing.
In 1948, a Residency in Ophthalmology was established.
In 1950, hospital leaders finalized plans to build a new hospital wing and an addition to the Nurses’ Residence.
In 1951, the Department of Welfare accepted, approved and guaranteed financial aid to construct the additions to the Nurses’ Residence and an additional wing to the hospital.
A Diabetic Clinic was created, which included a free course outlining symptoms to those suffering from diabetes.
1953 brought further improvements, including:
The School of Nursing accepted 32 nurses.
The Nurses’ Residence was dedicated by His Excellency, Archbishop John F. O’Hara, C.S.C., D.D., of the Philadelphia Diocese.
St. Joseph Hospital received full accreditation from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals.
The hospital was among 21 hospitals in Pennsylvania re-designated to receive grants from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
In January 1954, plans were maturing for another wing to be added to the hospital, extending from Twelfth and Walnut Streets northward. The new wing would be the continuation of a long-range plan for future expansion of St. Joseph Hospital.
1955 marked the 100th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Foundation of the Sisters of St. Francis, of which the Sisters of St. Joseph Hospital are members. This branch of the Franciscan Order was founded by Mother Francis Beckman of Philadelphia in 1955, under the guidance of the Venerable Bishop John Nepomocene Newmann, C.S.S.R., fourth Bishop of Philadelphia.
A beautiful statue of St. Francis was placed in the chapel to commemorate the Franciscan year.
In 1956, the Board approved a plan to serve kosher food to Jewish patients when requested. This service was the first to be offered by the hospitals of Berks County.
In April that year, surveyors arrived and spent hours deciding where to start excavating. On April 10, the monster shovels took their first "bite" out of the "Hill."
On December 31, officials received word that the School of Nursing of St. Joseph Hospital had received full accreditation by the National League for Nursing. This great honor was accomplished after years of steady recognition by the accrediting agency and its approval of the school’s curriculum and teaching methods.
In 1958, the cornerstone was blessed and placed in position. Enrollment in the new nursing school consisted of 52 students.
The various departments of the hospital’s latest addition functioned with increased efficiency. The main kitchen, with all its modern electrical equipment, was beautiful as well as functional. With great shining pots and pans and the long ranges, the new accommodations were a far cry from the old wood-burning stove of the kitchen of 1873.
In 1960, a Vitreous Humor Bank, a sterile storage facility for eye fluid, was set up at St. Joseph Hospital. The vitreous fluid is removed from a donor’s eye after death, refrigerated and used for patients in need of this treatment. It was one more effort toward combating blindness or other eye problems. St. Joseph Hospital was the first facility in Berks County to offer this service.
In 1961, two departmental schools were started at St. Joseph Hospital:
A school for students in anesthesia
A school for teaching X-Ray technicians
Later that year, the Intensive Care Unit and Isotopes Department in the South Wing opened.
St. Joseph Hospital once again achieved accreditation from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals.
An outpatient clinic opened the summer of 1961 to treat mental patients on leave from Wernersville State Hospital. The clinic was staffed by personnel from the State Hospital.
In 1962, the National League for Nursing again granted accreditation to the School of Nursing.
St. Joseph Hospital became the first hospital in the area to use a special microscope for delicate ear surgery. The West German microscope was described as a binocular-type affording up to forty-power magnification and containing its own source of illumination.
In 1964, renovations continued throughout the hospital. The facility’s old Surgical Ward was converted into a conference room for doctors and seated approximately 72 people. The room was located adjacent to the Doctor's Library and Library Work Room for added convenience. With its own visual aids and projectors, the addition was ideal for lectures and conferences.
The Inhalation Therapy Department opened with a physiotherapist in charge.
Equipment added this year included:
A Hubbard Tank for the Physio-therapy Department orthopedic equipment was purchased.
A new model X-ray was purchased with funds raised by the hospital’s combined Auxiliaries.
In 1967, a fundraising campaign to raise $1.5 million got off to a great start with a pledge of $100,000 from the Women’s Board of the Combined Auxiliaries.
Fluoroscopic examination of patients on closed-circuit television was this year’s innovation in the hospital’s Department of Radiology. The monitor was one portion of the elaborate image intensification system of the $28,000 installation.
In 1968, with the approval of the Pennsylvania State Board of Nurses’ Examiners, St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing shortened its nursing program from 36 to 33 months. This revision would go into effect June 3, 1969. The graduates of this program would be eligible to take the State Board Examination for registered nurses the month following graduation.
In 1969, a program for the training of Medical Technologists was initiated. The program consisted of a three-year academic course at Alvernia College, sponsored by Alvernia College, St. Joseph and Reading Hospitals. It was followed by a one-year internship at either of the two hospitals. Completion of the four-year program led to a Bachelor of Science Degree in Medical Technology. Graduates were eligible to take the examination of the National Board of Registry for medical technologists.
In 1970, bids went out in January for the latest addition to the St. Joseph Hospital. Groundbreaking took place on June 1. The building would extend along 12th Street to Elm Street with completion expected in late 1971 or early 1972.
In August of this year, classes for expectant mothers began. Certain exercises, proper food and periods of rest were included in the instructions. For the first time, husbands would be eligible to join the study of labor and delivery techniques.
In 1971, the hospital purchased a mechanical ventilator known as the Drager Spiromat 661. The machine ventilated infants and children who had respiratory distress.
In 1972, the latest addition to St. Joseph Hospital, the North Wing, was dedicated.
In 1973, St. Joseph Hospital entered into its 100th year of continuous service to the people of Reading and Berks County.
In 1980, St. Joseph Hospital became a member of the Franciscan Health System.
In 1996, St. Joseph Hospital became a member of Catholic Health Initiatives. It relocated to the state-of-the-art building on Bern Campus, where the current hospital still resides.
In 1997, St. Joseph:
Acquired the Reading Community General Hospital at 6th and Walnut, which is currently Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Campus
Joined the Catholic Health Initiatives
In 2002, St. Joseph:
Announced the building of a new hospital in Bern Township
Opened Maidencreek/Bandon (urgent and diagnostic care)
In 2005, Langan Allied Health opened as part of the Downtown Reading campus revitalization.
In 2006, St. Joseph:
- Created the St. Joseph Medical Group comprised of Primary Care and surgical specialties
- Opened the Bern Township campus hospital
In 2009, St. Joseph began an Oncology partnership with Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
In 2010, Haven Behavioral Health began providing its inpatient behavioral health services in the Downtown Reading campus.
In 2010, Strausstown opened for urgent, primary and diagnostic care.
In 2015, St. Joseph Regional Health Network was acquired by the newly created Penn State Health, becoming the organization’s first hospital. It is now known as Penn State Health St. Joseph.
Muhlenberg opened that year for urgent, primary and diagnostic care.
In 2016, St. Joseph:
Expanded Spring Ridge for primary and diagnostic care
Expand the Cancer Center to include the Infusion Center
Opened Exeter Township for primary and diagnostic care
In 2017, St. Joseph:
Acquired Commonwealth Primary Care with several primary care physician practices in Fleetwood, Oley and Exeter
Introduced the Langan Launchbox with Penn State Berks on the Downtown Reading campus
Launched the DaVinci Robotics Surgery program
Launched pro-health screening HEALTH4cast
Launched community health outreach, HealthOne at Giorgio
Opened Robesonia for primary and diagnostic care
In 2018, St. Joseph:
Announced a Cancer Center addition and a new linear accelerator
Began Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Services
Went online with New Cerner (CareConnect) Patient Medical Record