Broward Health hospital system celebrates 85th anniversary

Broward General’s Iron Lung, a mechanical respirator, arrived in 1957. The respirator “enclosed most of a person’s body and varied the air pressure in the enclosed space to simulate breathing,” according to Broward Health. This is the equivalent to what we know as intubating someone now.

Broward General’s Iron Lung, a mechanical respirator, arrived in 1957. The respirator “enclosed most of a person’s body and varied the air pressure in the enclosed space to simulate breathing,” according to Broward Health. This is the equivalent to what we know as intubating someone now.

Courtesy of Broward Health

Maiah Arnold owes her life to the doctors and nurses at Broward Health.

Her birth was long and difficult. Once she was born, doctors determined she had erbs palsy, a condition that causes muscle weakness in the arms. (Newborns sometimes get erbs palsy due to an injury during birth. It often resolves itself on its own.)

Shortly later, her parents learned she had jaundice, which is common among newborn babies. The condition turns the skin and the whites of the eyes yellow. This is caused by the body producing too much bilirubin or the liver not processing it fast enough.

While jaundice normally isn’t harmful and eventually disappears, some babies have too much bilirubin in their blood, which can cause complications. In Arnold’s case, she had severe jaundice. The doctors said she could be brain dead.

Arnold remained in the neonatal intensive care unit for weeks, underwent a blood transfusion, and was eventually able to go home, fully recovered.

Now 23, Arnold is a registered nurse at Broward Health. Her dream is to work in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and “take care of babies just like they did for me when I was born.”

Her father Matthew Arnold, 45, a senior mechanic at Broward Health Coral Springs, is a proud dad. He began working at the hospital a few years after she was born. Sometimes, the pair run into each by chance. Other times they take breaks together. Everyone at the hospital knows he’s her Papa Bear.

“It’s just even more of a blessing that I take care of the building that she’s in,” Matthew Arnold said. “On my side, we make sure the building is safe for not only our patients, but for our staff. And that hits home a little bit more special for me that the building is safer for my daughter to be working in.”

The father-daughter duo are just two of the many lives Broward Health and its staff have touched since the hospital opened its doors on Jan. 2, 1938. Back then, the Fort Lauderdale hospital was known as Broward General. It was a 16-unit apartment building with 45 beds, one operating room, a delivery room and an X-ray machine.

The hospital system touts a lot of firsts: In the 1940s, it opened one of the country’s first radiation treatment centers and was the first hospital in Broward County to offer a dedicated pediatric unit. In the 1950s, it received the first electrocardiogram machine in Broward County (it was one of two machines in the state). In 1974, Broward General Medical Center became the first facility in Broward County to open a cardiac catheterization lab and the first in the county to offer a CT scanner. And in 1983, in response to the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic, it became the first health system in Broward County to offer a “complete network of HIV/AIDS outpatient services for children and adults.”

A woman with a young boy in front of Broward General Hospital on April 28, 1953. Courtesy Broward Health

Fast forward to today and the public hospital system has turned into one of the 10 largest safety net healthcare systems in the country, with 30 locations, including four hospitals (Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Broward Health North in Deerfield Beach, Broward Health Imperial Point in Fort Lauderdale and Broward Health Coral Springs).

The public hospital system has served the community through the years, including most recently through COVID-19, monkeypox and RSV.

Now as Broward Health prepares to celebrate its 85th anniversary in January, it is clear to longtime workers like Thelma Coates how much the hospital system has changed. She was 21 when she began working as a nursing aid at the hospital in 1963. That was 60 years ago.

Coates, 84, remembers taking the bus to work, seeing it drive onto a dirt road and “then it was all forest” until you got to the hospital, she said. Now, the flagship hospital is surrounded by homes, businesses and paved streets. It’s a city. And just as Broward County has expanded and changed, so has the hospital.

“I never thought I would see a Black doctor here. And Black nurses that have positions now, they’re like, head nurses and managers,” Coates said. “I didn’t think I would ever see it here, but that’s how much the hospital has changed and advanced.”

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Thelma Coates, 84, has worked at Broward Health for nearly 60 years. Courtesy

Coates, is now a patient observer. Her job is to accompany patients, keep them safe, and help with their hygiene care. This can involve a variety of things, such as making sure they don’t fall from the bed, giving them a bath, trimming their nails. One man asked for a haircut — make me bald, he told her.

And she does it all with a smile. She likes helping people, and while not all of her patients are easy to work with, once they see that she’s there to help them, and that she wants to befriend them, they tend to change their tune, she said.

What’s next for Broward Health?

Making sure patients are happy and cared for is central to Broward Health’s mission, said Shane Strum, the hospital system’s president and CEO. He predicts healthcare will continue to become more personalized for patients. And while Broward Health is planning to celebrate its 85th anniversary year-round in 2023, the staff is also looking to the future.

Some of the hospital system’s upcoming projects include:

Building a freestanding emergency department in an underserved area of Sunrise. This will be done in partnership with Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in order to ensure that both adults and children can be treated at the center.

Participating in a new clinical trial that seeks to study the use of focused ultrasound for Alzheimer’s care. Broward Health is partnering with the University of Florida and Incitec for the trial, which Strum hopes will help the hospital better serve its large senior population.

Growing the hospital system’s graduate medical education and nurse residency programs to continue educating future providers and help end physician and nurse shortages.

Bringing healthcare services, such as preventative care screening and physical checkups, to underserved areas with Broward HealthPoint’s mobile health unit. Strum said the concept of bringing health services to the patient came about following an assessment the hospital did to determine what the community really needs.

“COVID was a tough thing and a lot of people stopped getting their health and wellness, they stopped going to their oncologist for cancer,” said Strum. “And a lot of folks who were coming in for some of the basic treatment they needed, some of them are afraid to come to the hospital or go to the ED, some don’t have insurance — as a safety net, we take care of everyone regardless of their ability to pay. So what we now have is a really wonderful RV, it’s a mobile unit, and we will actually go out into the community. So we know exactly by ZIP code, who needs what services.”

How to celebrate Broward Health’s 85th anniversary

What: Family Fun Day Celebration to celebrate Broward Health’s 85th anniversary

The family friendly event, done in partnership with the Florida Panthers, will have food trucks, face painting, music, games and giveaways.

When: Sunday, Jan. 8 at 2 p.m.

Where: Huizenga Plaza, 32 E Las Olas Blvd in Fort Lauderdale

Cost: Free

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Michelle Marchante is the Miami Herald’s Health Reporter. She previously covered all things Florida for the Herald as a Real Time/Breaking News Reporter. She graduated with honors from Florida International University, where she served as the editor-in-chief of Student Media PantherNOW. Previously, she worked as a news writer at WSVN Channel 7 and was a 2020-2021 Poynter-Koch Media & Journalism fellow.