8 June 2023

History of the Largest and Oldest Children’s Hospital in the United States



The background of Philadelphia’s healthcare in general and medical care for pediatric patients, in particular, has its own peculiarities. This is due to its historical, geographical and other local specifics.

Today, we’ll discuss the history of pediatric medicine. To be more specific, let’s talk about the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the largest and oldest institutions of its kind in the world. Read more at iphiladelphia.

The History of the Hospital’s Establishment

The modern campus of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is best known as CHOP. It’s located in the heart of University City in West Philly. The city’s healthcare system has been around for a very long time. However, some information on the history of pediatric treatment and the science of pediatrics in the state remains obscure.

The first specialized pediatric treatment facility wasn’t a part of the cityscape until the mid-19th century. It was created by the efforts of Philadelphia physicians Francis West Lewis, T. Hewson Bache and R.A.F. Penrose. Here’s how it happened.

Image source: www.bluestonecomm.com 

In the 19th century, Dr. Francis West Lewis visited London. In particular, he toured the new Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in the Bloomsbury area of Camden. It was founded by Charles West in 1852 after a long campaign. This clinic became the first medical institution in England to provide inpatient care for kids. The Philadelphia physician was impressed. Upon returning to the United States, he founded the first children’s clinic in the city with two fellow doctors. It was the first medical center of its kind in Northern America.

It’s worth noting that the need for medical facilities for young patients had existed for a long time before that. Dangerous diseases were spreading through the city at the time: smallpox, typhoid, various infections, etc. The mortality rate was high, especially among kids. It’s estimated that about 300 Philadelphia children under the age of 12 died over the course of a month in 1855. That’s why the issue of medical care and treatment facilities remained acute. 

The Founders of the Medical Institution

Francis West Lewis was a medical pioneer and a driving force behind the establishment of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He wasn’t alone. Drs. Thomas Hewson Bache and R.A.F. Penrose contributed to the creation of the city’s first clinic for young patients. At the newly-established healthcare facility, Bache served as a physician, treasurer and manager.

He was a member of several societies: Philadelphia County Medical Society, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and the Philly Pathology Society. 

Image source: cbtn.org

Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose, Sr. was a prominent obstetrician, pediatrician and educator. 

First Clinic for Young Patients

In the same year, the daily local newspaper The Public Ledger published an announcement. It informed all citizens of a free reception at the clinic for young patients on Blight Street. The building itself was small. The first Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia had only 12 beds and 1 outpatient clinic.

Its opening was an important event not only in the city itself but throughout North America. In 1855 alone, over 300 outpatient visits were recorded. The emergence of the new medical center significantly reduced the child mortality rate from typhoid fever, smallpox, and other dangerous diseases.

Image source: www.hatzelandbuehler.com 

The clinic moved from Blight Street to 22nd Street immediately after the end of the American Civil War. The number of beds increased significantly compared to previous years. By 1892, it was expanded to accommodate up to 94 beds. An early recovery facility was opened near Overbrook. 

The CHOP: 20th Century

Another expansion project began in 1913. Three years later, CHOP opened its first department. The children’s hospital had close ties with the city’s medical institutions. The School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic were among them. In 1962, the health center opened an intensive care unit for newborns and a surgical unit for infants.

These accomplishments were due to the American pediatric surgeon Charles Everett Koop. Interestingly, this was the first healthcare department of its kind in the history of US medicine. 

Roberts Center for Pediatric Research. Image source: www.thorntontomasetti.com 

In 1967, Dr. John Downes created the first pediatric intensive care unit in the United States. The Philadelphia doctor was inspired by European adult intensive care units. In Philly, he decided to create pediatric intensive care units with certain features.

The late 60s saw the beginning of new hospital construction. It was located on 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard. The first building started operating in 1974. A year before the official opening, the hospital launched the system for air transportation of critically ill children. 

Children’s Seashore House. Image source: www.bluestonecomm.com

This is a large medical complex. It occupies part of the city’s old general hospital. Its main focus is the treatment of children and infants. In particular, it specializes in pathology detection and correction and vaccine development. 

How Did the Health Center Change in the 21st Century?

Since the 2000s, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in University City has doubled in size. A $1.5 billion investment made it possible to build outpatient departments and research facilities on hospital grounds.

The south campus of the clinic includes an underground parking garage and an outpatient care building. The expanded facility also includes the 11-story Colket Translational Research Building. Over the years, the small hospital has grown to an impressive size. Its expansion continues to this day. 

Specialty Care Center. Image source: www.chop.edu 

The present-day health center has 594 beds. 40% of them are used for neonatal intensive care. The CHOP is one of the largest medical institutions of its kind. This is why it’s hardly surprising that it accepts over a million patients every year. The U.S. News & World Report recognized CHOP as the best healthcare center in the United States. In 2021 it was ranked 2nd on the Best American Hospitals list.

From the 19th to the 21st century, CHOP acquired the Children’s Seashore House, a comprehensive pediatric rehabilitation center. It created the largest pediatric healthcare network in the United States, The CHOP Care Network. It also opened a second hospital with a full range of pediatric services, medical research centers, etc. 

Image source: www.inquirer.com 

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia not only treats young patients but also actively undertakes research in various medical fields. This is where medical scientists study cardiology, genetics, oncology, neonatology and more. Their achievements in their respective fields gained worldwide recognition. Today, they help young patients from all around the globe.

Vaccine development is also an important area of research for Philadelphia doctors. They continue to develop new medicines that will help to overcome terrible diseases in the future.