Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville celebrates 100 years

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Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville celebrated its 100th anniversary and legacy as the city’s first hospital by unveiling a commemorative wall that celebrates more than a century of service to the community and beyond.

The hospital unveiled the centennial wall with a reception Thursday evening in the Catherine Stillman Lobby of the hospital’s main entrance.

Then, hospital officials lifted the curtain on the wall, which consists of 11 panels in the adjacent hallway that follow VBMC-Brownsville’s timeline from its beginnings as Mercy Hospital at the turn of the century through more than 100 years of serving the community while linking it with the history of Brownsville, the Rio Grande Valley and the world beyond.

Each panel capsulizes one decade in the hospital’s growth and emergence into what it is today.

“I came to the hospital in 2005. Valley Baptist had just acquired Brownsville Medical Center and one of the first commitments to the community was to restore the chapel. For those of you who aren’t familiar, we have a real chapel in he old original convent building,” CEO Leslie Bingham said while introducing guests at the reception, among them Sandra Sweeney, “who led the initiative at the time,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful part of our history, past and present,” Bingham said of the chapel, built in 1935 by the Sisters of Mercy and the focus of the 1930s panel.

The Brownsville Chamber of Commerce co-hosted the event. Chamber President Esme Villarreal said she sometimes gets emotional when she comes to the hospital because of the role it has had in her family and caring for her 64-year-old mother.

Mayor John Cowen read a proclamation passed by the Brownsville City Commission commemorating the milestone.

“My father was born here and his 10 brothers and sisters and that has created a real legacy for me. … Also, during the pandemic I am forever grateful to you. Our community lost 800 people during the pandemic. This hospital and our area hospitals saved thousands and thousands more, and its due to your leadership. You helped bring us together,” Cowen said before reading the proclamation.

Morris Edelstein, vice chairman of VBMC-Brownsville’s Board of Governors for the past six years, said he and all of his children were born at the hospital, so he, like most of the people in the room, feels a close connection to the hospital.

Brownsville Medical Center-Brownsville CEO Leslie Bingham, center, holds an oversized pair of scissors and gets ready to cut the ribbon on the hospital’s centennial wall exhibit in the hospital’s main hallway on Thursday evening. With 11 panels, the wall follows VBMC-Brownsville’s timeline from its beginnings as Mercy Hospital at the turn of the century through more than 100 years while linking it with the history of Brownsville, the Rio Grande Valley and world beyond. (Gary Long | The Brownsville Herald)

“My family has a long and proud history with this hospital, beginning with my uncle, Ruben Edelstein, who was part of the Mercy Hospital lay advisory board established in May of 1959. This group included many community leaders who left a legacy of civic engagement to Brownsville. Its members included Camille Lightner, Gladys Porter, Fred Rusetberg Emmy Garcia and others. I’m pleased that some of their family members are joining us,” he said.

“This group led a fundraising campaign reaching their goal of over $1.8 million. Expansion was completed in 1964 adding 84 beds as well as a new obstetrics unit, a nursery, an emergency department, upgraded operating rooms and much more,” Edelstein said.

“Ruben Edelstein’s civic involvement extended beyond the hospital, included founding of Brownsville Community Health Clinic, Brownsville EMS, United Way of Brownsville, as well serving as mayor of Brownsville. … In recognition of his over 35 years of service on the governing board, the Edelstein Professional Building (next door to the hospital on Jefferson Street) opened on June 4, 1999,” he said.

City Commissioner and Brownsville obstetrician Dr. Rose Gowen also spoke, saying the hospital has been an important part of her life, starting with her birth in November of 1958.

“So I have to thank Mercy Hospital, Brownsville Medical Center, Valley Baptist for all of the physicians that took care of me and my family and all of those that I didn’t have the privilege of working with. Thank you for your attention, your dedication, your care. It is a pleasure to be here to celebrate,” she said.

Gowen joined the hospital as a practicing physician in 1994. As a city commissioner she introduced the proclamation Cowen read.

Gowen then introduced retired former state Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.

“I was here at the hospital 72 1/2 years ago as a patient. I remember my doctor back then he had the deepest of voices. Since then I’ve never heard a deeper voice. Dr Miller said we’re going to put you back together son,” Lucio said, recalling the time he was run over by a school bus as a kindergartener.

“It was a great ending, even though I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter here. I wasn’t brought to the emergency room in an ambulance like we have today. It was a police car. I was laid out on the street … St Joseph’s Academy was right next to Sacred heart and they brought me to the emergency room, and three, four months later, I went home,” Lucio said.

“I’m one of those, like anyone, that doesn’t want to go to the hospital, … The Sisters of Mercy were all over the place. They were wonderful,” he said, adding that two of the sisters who were at the reception might even have treated him.

Lucio referred to Sister Mary Louisa Vera and Sister Rosemary Welch, now living in Laredo. The pair traveled from Laredo to be at the ceremony.

“I attended the Canales School of Nursing in 1960-61 and I worked in the emergency room until 1963, at which time I joined the Sisters of Mercy,” Sister Vera said.

“I loved what happened with the hospital and I’m extremely proud that it is in the hands of a faith-based community because I think that Brownsville is a very faithful community and I think it’s important to care for the spiritual well being of patients,” she said.

“We were in St. Louis the last few days for a meeting, flew back last night, and took off for Brownsville this morning. We just had to be here.”